Reduce Your Fear Of Flying With Some Cute Therapy Animals at Airports

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Pet Cat

New Research Shows Cats Like People More Than We Might Assume

When most people think of cats, especially in comparison with dogs, they imagine them as aloof, uncaring pets who view their owners as little more than a convenient source of food. This view is often mirrored in the scientific community, where cats are imagined not as social animals but as solitary creatures. Perhaps as a result, plenty of research has been conducted to determine the social cognition of dogs, but the science surrounding cats in this context is relatively barren. In recognition of this gap in scientific understanding, a team of researchers conducted a study entitled “Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans” which was published in the journal Current Biology. The study found that cats did indeed form bonds with human beings, and viewed their human companions as sources of safety and security, coming as no surprise to cat lovers.

Some prior research into cat behavior has been conducted which shows they share some social characteristics with humans and dogs. For instance, cats love to receive attention and affection from humans, and will even prefer to do so over eating food or playing with toys. Additionally, cats have been shown to be able to understand human emotions, and while they may not always respond when called, they can know their names. However, studies that have tried to determine the nature of the relationship that cats have with people have shown mixed results, so Dr. Vitale and her colleagues wanted to explore the bonds between cats and their owners.

Embed from Getty Images

The study involved what’s referred to in psychology as a “secure base test.” During this test, a person entered a room with his or her cat and stayed for two minutes, and then the owner left the room for two minutes, leaving the cat alone in the room, and then returned for another two minutes, during which time the researchers observed the cat’s reaction. As being in an unfamiliar environment can be stressful for cats, the researchers wanted to determine whether the cats saw their owners as reducing this stress, which would indicate a bond between the animal and the person. 

Around two-thirds of the cats greeted their owners when they returned to the room, and then went back to exploring the environment, periodically returning to their owners. This suggests that these cats were “securely attached” to their owners, meaning their presence relaxed and comforted the animals. The other third of the cats were “insecurely attached” to their owners, meaning they either avoided them or clung to them, indicating that their owners’ presence did not confer a sense of safety and calm. When the secure base test is performed with children and dogs, the results are similar, as 65% of infants demonstrated secure attachment to their caregivers, while 58% of dogs were securely attached to their owners. 

Embed from Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, kittens are able to be trained to perform tricks. The researchers wanted to determine whether cats that were trained had a different relationship with their owners than cats who were not, so after the initial test was conducted they enrolled half of the kittens in a training course, and the other half served as a control. Then they performed the secure base test again, and found that whether or not the kitten was trained had no bearing on how securely they were attached to their owner.

Despite the protests of cat lovers, the myth that cats simply don’t care about human beings has long persisted. Further testing of cat psychology may focus on comparing the relationships of cats with their owners to their relationships with strangers, as socialized cats may simply display attachment to human beings generally. As more research is conducted concerning the social lives of cats, however, we are likely to see how important social bonds are to the animals, although they may initially present as aloof or uncaring.