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Dogs at the US airports want hugs, not drugs

world Updated: May 31, 2013 01:26 IST
University of Missouri

A recent research at the University of Missouri has discovered that an individual can indeed successfully try to be happier, especially when cheery music aids the process.

There’s a new breed of dog in US airports. They aren’t sniffing for drugs or bombs - they’re looking for people who need a friend, a belly to rub or a paw to shake.

The dogs are intended to take the stress out of travel - the crowds, long lines and terrorism concerns.

“His job is to be touched,” volunteer Kyra Hubis said of Henry James, her 5-year-old golden retriever that works a few hours a week at one California airport. “I am just standing there with him. They are talking to him. If I need to answer for him, I do. But I am at the end of his leash, he’s not at the end of mine.”

Mineta San Jose International Airport is widely credited with introducing the airport therapy dog in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when flights were grounded, anxious passengers were stranded and reaching friends and relatives was nearly impossible.

Then a volunteer airport chaplain got permission to bring his dog Orion to work. He made such a difference that San Jose formalized the program and now has nine dogs. Miami International Airport now has one, and Los Angeles International Airport has 30.

You never know why people are flying, said Heidi Huebner, director of volunteers at the Los Angeles airport, which launched Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUPs) in April. Travelers might be in town for a funeral, to visit a sick family member or to attend a business meeting.

“You can literally feel the stress levels drop. People start smiling, strangers start talking to each other and everybody walks away feeling really, really good,” Huebner said.