Pittsburgh Airport therapy dogs alleviate stress, inspire holiday travelers
On a busy Friday morning at the Pittsburgh International Airport just four days before Christmas, this little guy had travelers stopping, suitcases and boarding passes in hand, on the way to their gates.
He took a little of the hustle and bustle of the holiday stress away. Airports can be chaotic this time of year, so having a soothing soul nearby to help alleviate the tenseness definitely makes it more enjoyable.
Boone is a therapy dog; one who understands challenges. The one-and-a-half-year old hound-beagle mix had both rear legs intentionally and brutally cut off and was severely beaten by his owner at 5 months old.
His owner left him at a Texas shelter and scheduled him for euthanasia, but Tanya Diable of Butler found Boone online and immediately offered to foster him.
Friday was the first day for Boone to serve as a therapy dog at the airport. He and three other canines hung out in the concourse of the airside terminal in front of the Christmas tree for two hours.
“Boone has the perfect disposition for this,” Diable said. “Being here at the airport he got to meet so many people from all over. A lot of people enjoyed loving on him today. For his first day on the job, he did a great job. I am proud to be his dog mom.”
“Meeting Boone just gave me ten minutes of calm,” said Ally Becker of Coraopolis, who was traveling to Chicago to see family for Christmas. “I have some social anxiety, but when I saw Boone, I just relaxed and he made me smile, because I love dogs. My dog Sadie, a puggle, died, and I was thinking of her today because this is the date I got her. I miss her a lot.”
The therapy dog program started about a year and half ago, said Elise Farris, manager, customer relations for the airport. The idea was a group effort of individuals who felt the animals could offer support to travelers. The Pit Paws Program is about pups alleviating worries and stress.
Boone is the sixth dog in the group. Farris said she tries to schedule at least one of them weekly. All are certified by Therapy Dog International and have previous experience. They start off in the main concourse on the airside terminal but often take a walk down the hallways to the gate areas, stopping so guests can pet and talk to them.
Therapy dogs are becoming a trend in airports. Farris said Los Angeles has them. She said the animals appeal to most people, even if they aren’t dog lovers.
They help start a conversation and often create a comforting feeling, like a sense of home, she said. A dog such as Boone has overcome challenges and when people see him with his wheels to help him navigate, they can relate to overcoming obstacles in their lives. He shows he can do what other dogs do, Farris said. Boone also looks sharp in his colorful bow tie.
Clayton Friday was drawn to Boone. The Gibsonia native who lives in Los Angeles and was traveling to Atlanta to be with his girlfriend and her family for Christmas knelt down to pet the dog.
“This warms my heart,” said Friday, a dog owner of an Italian mastiff. “Boone is one strong pup. He’s an inspiration.”
The airport has two pet relief areas which have fake turf and fire hydrants. And there are no restrictions saying the dog has to stay the entire two hours. Their handlers know them best and can decide the proper amount of time.
“These dogs give lots of emotional support and passengers and our employees and airline agents enjoy seeing them, too” Farris said. “It has really been successful, and we are excited to grow it more each year.”
JoAnne Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.