Ther­apy dogs make their air­port de­but

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - LOCAL - AN­DREA HILL

The Saska­toon In­ter­na­tional Air­port has opened its doors to ther­apy dogs to help calm down stressed-out fly­ers.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Deb­bie Lu­cas, whose flight from Saska­toon to Win­nipeg was de­layed for an hour on Fri­day af­ter­noon. She spent part of her ex­tended air­port wait play­ing with and tak­ing pho­tos of Nikki, a chi­huahua-Jack Rus­sell cross who works with Saskatchewan’s St. John Am­bu­lance ther­apy dog pro­gram.

“I could sit here and pout about it, but then the dog will make me think, ‘Re­ally, does it re­ally mat­ter in the big pic­ture?’ ” she said.

Ce­line Ward, a Uni­ver­sity of Saskatchewan stu­dent wait­ing for a flight to Nicaragua, agreed the dogs are “awe­some.”

“There’s a lot of anx­i­ety as­so­ci­ated with fly­ing, with peo­ple go­ing away, and dogs have a pretty cool abil­ity to calm peo­ple down,” she said be­tween slob­bery kisses from Su­bie, an af­fec­tion­ate boxer.

The St. John Am­bu­lance ther­apy dog pro­gram has op­er­ated in the prov­ince since 2007. More than 100 teams of dogs and their own­ers reg­u­larly visit hos­pi­tals, care homes and sum­mer camps. Now they’re adding the Saska­toon air­port to the list.

Ash­ley Balysky, com­mu­nity ser­vices co-or­di­na­tor for Saskatchewan’s St. John Am­bu­lance, said it makes sense to bring ther­apy dogs to air­ports where “emo­tions run high.”

“Peo­ple come here typ­i­cally two hours be­fore their flight, if they’re go­ing on a long trip; some­times they have to put their own pets in ken­nels, maybe there are de­lays, maybe they have to leave loved ones, so they’re go­ing to be up­set,” she said.

“What we’ve seen with dogs is that peo­ple just re­lax, they get to sit there and pet a dog, you don’t have to make con­ver­sa­tion.”

The dogs made their de­but at the air­port Fri­day af­ter­noon. Balysky said she hopes teams can con­tinue to visit twice a week.

Mona Etchev­erry, Nikki’s owner, said her dog would love to come back. While the duo usu­ally vis­its res­i­dents at long-term homes, Etchev­erry said Nikki “loves the at­ten­tion” and is un­fazed by the air­port en­vi­ron­ment, se­cu­rity and all.

PHO­TOS: GREG PEN­DER/The StarPhoenix

Ther­apy dog Su­bie, with owner Colleen Dell at right, vis­its air­port pa­trons to re­duce the stress of travel on Fri­day.

Ther­apy dog Nikki, with owner Mona Etchev­erry, at the Saska­toon air­port on Fri­day. More than 100 dogs reg­u­larly visit hos­pi­tals, care homes and sum­mer camps.

The St. John Am­bu­lance ther­apy dog pro­gram has op­er­ated in the prov­ince since 2007. Now they’re adding the Saska­toon air­port to the list.

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