Life Travel Talk

Sunday 21 September 2014

When PUPs help passengers...

Canine customer service takes off in Los Angeles LAX.

Published 30/07/2014 | 11:09

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Finn, an Irish wolfhound, greets a passenger.
C.C, a nine-year-old Field Spaniel, at work in LAX.
Hazel, an 8-year-old Pointer mix, meets two young travellers.

Travelling can be stressful, this we know.

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Delayed flights, long queues and a fear of flying are all factors that can create anxiety for passengers passing through an airport. But LAX has come up with a unique solution.

"We welcome you to visit, hug, kiss and take pictures with PUPs," the airport says.

PUPs (Pets Unstressing Passengers) are a team of 30 therapy dogs and handlers providing comfort, information and wearing little red vests inviting passengers to "pet me".


One of the PUPs - an Irish wolfhound named Finn (pictured among the cards below) - won fame when he comforted passengers after a gunman opened fire at LAX Terminal 3 last November, killing a Transportation Security Administration officer.

“When people normally see Finn, they are taken aback by his size," said his owner, Brian Valente.

"On his hind legs, Finn can stand taller than some men. I think after the shooting, Finn attracted attention because he represented something comforting. As passengers asked questions about Finn and started to pet him, I could see their bodies relax and their demeanors change."

Another PUP, Jackie - a nine-year-old is Doberman - is currently nominated for a 2014 Hero Dog Award in the American Humane Association's annual awards.

"Jackie had been neglected starved and denied human contact," says her owner, who acquired her at nine months. "He works the international Terminal seeing passengers off on flights going all over the world. He is an incredible ambassador for the Doberman Pinscher breed, as well as L.A. He is currently helping one young woman at the airport get over her life long fear of dogs."

PUP cards LAX.jpg
Therapy dogs and handlers roam the departures levels, interacting with passengers. Both dogs and handlers wear red vests with a PUP logo, and their brief is to provide airport information as well as comforting and chatting with passengers.

LAX is not alone in providing canine customer service. Some 20 airports around the US now use therapy dogs, including San Francisco International and Miami International.

PUP dogs are privately owned and at least two years old.

Their handlers are all volunteers, and required to have have at least one year's experience working with a recognised dog therapy organisation.They are registered with Therapy Dogs, Inc. (TD, Inc.), take in-terminal training at LAX and complete walk-throughs with their dogs to make sure the fit is good for both.

Could we ever see something similar in Irish airports?

"The PUP initiative in LAX sounds like a very interesting concept," says a spokesperson for Dublin Airport.

"While there are no plans to anything similar at Dublin Airport at present, we are always looking for ideas and suggestions that improve efficiency, comfort and help passengers to relax going through the airport."

Paws for thought?

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