Reducing traveler anxiety at the airport with therapy dogs

March 28, 2017 Chuck Koster

As a Travel and Transport employee-owner, Lainey Kennedy understands how stressful and challenging travel can be and she works very hard to provide services and tools that improve the traveler experience. Since last September, however, she’s been working even more directly to ease the burden of travelers by volunteering with her two dogs Bono and Amelia in the Canine Airport Therapy Squad (or ironically, CATS) at the Denver International Airport (DEN).

Through the CATS program, which was introduced in October 2015, certified therapy dogs and their handlers visit the airport in order to reduce anxiety in and bring smiles to travelers. Similar dog stress-relief programs are in place San Jose, Miami, San Antonio and Los Angeles, but with over 60 teams, CATS is one the largest in the U.S.

Lainey first heard about the program via a story in the newspaper and thought that Bono, an 11-year-old longhaired dachshund, and Amelia, a two-year-old dappled smooth haired dachshund, might be a good fit. All dogs in the CATS program are certified and ensured through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, to make sure they have the patience and laid back nature necessary to be around large groups of strangers in a sometimes hectic environment. With their therapy certifications in hand, both the dogs and Lainey were put through an extensive on-site orientation process. The dogs were observed riding the intra-terminal train and elevators, interacting with people, and going through airport screening. Lainey, herself, had to be cleared by thorough security protocols. As she and the dogs passed all of their assessments, they officially became members of the CATS program and were eventually given trading cards with the dogs' photos and information on them to hand out to travelers.

At the airport Lainey and the dogs don distinctive blue and gray vests, designed by skiwear company Spyder, so that they are quickly identifiable as members of the program. Lainey says, “The dogs love the vests and know where they are going once they are put on. They both really love seeing the passengers and staff at the airport. When we arrive, we feel like we are famous! People love the dogs and what they stand for!” Their most memorable experience was when they were able to be there for a flight attendant who had just worked two canceled flights. Sitting with Lainey and Bono, he was able to vent and decompress for a moment and then return to work with a renewed spirit.

Moments such as that one are why Lainey loves being parts of the CATS program, and why programs such as these have become so popular. As DEN CEO Kim Day said during the announcement of the CATS program, “Every once in a while, we all need a little stress release and nothing does it better than a friendly animal.”

At a recent event celebrating that a record number of passengers traveled though DEN in 2016, Michael Hancock, the mayor of Denver, let Amelia eat icing off of his cupcake as a sign of thanks for the work she does as a CATS member. Of course, Amelia is only there to help travelers if Lainey is willing to donate her time. We are very proud and to have one of our employee-owners so deeply involved in making travel a better experience for others. Thank you Lainey. Keep up the good work!

Do you have any experiences with airport support animals that you’d like share? Let us know!

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