Therapy dogs help travelers relax

Published: Feb. 28, 2014 at 9:18 PM EST
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WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's not uncommon to see dogs at an airport.  Larger airports employ dogs who can sniff out drugs or explosives.  Some travelers have the assistance of service dogs.

But you can't pet those working dogs.

Two dogs working at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport have a different job: easing passengers' stress. Loki and Ziva are therapy dogs, who roam the airport with their volunteer handlers, looking for someone to pet them.

"When folks realize that it's okay to pet these dogs, that is the advantage," said Lynne Douglas with the airport. "A lot of times when you're in an airport or public facility, you might see the service dogs, and everyone pretty much knows you're not supposed to pet a service dog...whereas with these dogs, we want you to pet them."

The dogs are provided through Therapy Dogs Inc. The dogs and their handlers have undergone specialized training.  They wear brightly-colored vests that say "pet me."

Loki is an Aussiedoodle, Australian Shepherd- poodle mix. And Ziva is a German Shepherd.

"Loki has the perfect personality and he's perfect for the program," Douglas said.  "We've kind of dubbed him the airport mascot now.  He knows everyone around and about and he's actually become a very important part of the airport team."

Loki liked one little boy so much, he rolled over for a tummy rub.

A Sumter couple on their way to visit family in Washington, D.C. stopped to pet Loki.

"We have dogs of our own, and it's nice to see them here," they said.

Some visitors to the airport are under more stress than flying.  Many recruits headed to Fort Jackson are away from home for the first time.

"That was one of the key components was to have the dogs here for the military," Douglas said. "Particularly when the new recruits are coming through because they're away from home.  Many of them have never traveled before.  They're nervous.  They're scared. And a lot of them do have pets at home so we're finding these pets are bringing back nice memories and sort of calming those frazzled nerves."

"It's been really good for our military travelers, particularly families, too, who are saying good-bye to their loved ones for a few months."

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