Arrivals & Departures Furry friends and a porcine pal reduce stress at US airports

Photo of Gemma Nisbet

The stress-busting capabilities of pets are being harnessed to make waiting for your flight a more enjoyable experience.

When my boyfriend was delayed while transiting through Los Angeles International Airport recently, the airline staff had two tricks to keep him and other passengers calm and relatively happy. 

The first was the time-honoured remedy of free food (in this case, pizza). But the second was a little more unusual: a therapy dog.

LAX is one of a number of US airports that employs canine companions and handlers to provide stress relief to passengers in the departure terminals. Others include Dallas-Fort Worth airport in Texas, Charlotte-Douglas in North Carolina, San Jose and Reno-Tahoe in California and Denver in Colorado.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport introduced miniature horses to serve the same purpose in mid 2016. And now San Francisco International Airport has gone one better and introduced what's thought to be the first airport therapy pig.

According to the airport, LiLou the pig "loves performing tricks for her audience" and delighting passengers with "her winning personality, charming costumes and painted nails". She also visits several other facilities in San Francisco including seniors centres and hospitals, and has a healthy Instagram following.

LiLou joins the more than 20 dogs in the airport's Wag Brigade of therapy pets certified by the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Animal Assisted Therapy program. The animals are carefully chosen for their temperament and wear vests that read "Pet Me!" to encourage passengers to interact with them. 

"We have more than 300 dog, cat and rabbit volunteer teams, but LiLou is the first pig in our program," said Dr Jennifer Henley, manager of the Animal Assisted Therapy program. "It’s wonderful to witness the surprise and delight that LiLou brings to people during therapy visits."

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