Travel to many people is a gateway to the rest of the world. The opportunity to explore new places, meet new people and try new experiences. To meet up with family and friends, conduct business or even part of a commute for some workers.
And with the holiday season fast approaching it’s easy to get caught up in the mad dash at the departure gate, or bustled through security meaning stress levels can increase significantly.
There are also some passengers who find travel so traumatic that they need medication just to get on the flight.
But there is another way!
Many airports are turning to therapy animals who can not only be a comfort within the stress of an airport but can also put anxious children at ease thanks to a spot of petting the animal. Although most airports have employed therapy dogs there are also some airports who use other animals such as miniature horses. Or pigs.
Meet LiLou, who is not just an ordinary pig; she’s a therapy pig, and wants to help travelers have a more relaxing experience.
The ‘Wag Brigade’ is a program the San Francisco International Airport has set up to help ease the anxieties some passengers may have, enabling them to get on their flights without popping pills or having that extra drink.
Owner Tatyana Danilova brings the five year old Juliana pig to the airport not only dressed in a pilots cap but also with bright red toenails.
Lilou then heads to airport security, passes through the metal detectors – never needing to be searched – and makes her way to the departure gates where she loves to entertain the passengers with selfies or by playing a tune on her toy piano. She also greets everyone with a raised hoof to make sure you notice her.
Danilova explains, “People are very happy to get distracted from the travel, from their routines, whether they’re flying on their journey for vacation or work. Everybody is usually very happy and it makes them pause for a second and smile and be like, ‘oh, it’s great’.”
Many airports around the world have ways to help passengers have a more relaxing flight but pigs are not one of the most popular, though LiLou has become a firm favourite at the airport.
And to make sure she keeps healthy she lives on a diet of protein pellets and organic vegetables in her apartment in downtown San Francisco that she shares with Danilova. She also has her own bed and keeps in shape by heading out to explore the neighbourhood each day, taking in the sights and again, meeting new people.
However LiLou is still a prey animal so it is important not to approach her from behind as she can react so if you do have the pleasure in meeting her make sure you say hello to her face!
Back at the airport a young girl from California is ecstatic to meet LiLou and watches in amazement as she plays her a tune on her piano — she uses her snout and hooves to create a good melody — and enjoys taking a few selfies together.
Although the airport has many dogs of different shapes, sizes and breeds in the Wag Brigade, Guest Services Manager Jennifer Kazarian confirms that LiLou is the world’s first airport therapy pig, which she says has helped the airport build a feel good community spirit.
Jennifer said, “When we first launched the program, our main goal was to relieve stress for our passengers. However, what we have found is we have formed a connection with our passengers and it’s been totally amazing.”
There are not many requirements that the therapy animals need to take part in the training program. However, the San Francisco SPCA confirms they must have good manners, a stable temperament and a friendly personality. They must also be house-trained so that there are no incidents that could embarrass the animal, something that LiLou can agree would not be fun!
And if a therapy pig isn’t quite what you have in mind to ease your flying anxieties maybe a cat is? Stitches is 11 years old and has been helping ease passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport since she started her new position this month.
The first therapy cat to join the 96 Animal Ambassador program, Stitches gets wheeled around in her stroller complete with a ‘pet me’ sign on top. She even has business cards available which her owner Nikki Christopher hands out after she receives a good neck scratch, Stitches that is!
Many animals work for several years training to be a therapy pet and Stitches is no different. She worked with the North Star Therapy Animals program for three years before joining the airport and is now happy to be pushed around Terminal 1 and the entrance of Concourse C.
If you are lucky enough to see one of the therapy animals – or even LiLou or Stitches – make sure you stop and say hello.
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