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Life's a Trip

Therapy dogs help anxious travelers


I’ve never really flown in an airplane. The only thing I know of flying is what I’ve seen in movies. I can only imagine the joy of pressing my snout against a tiny window and getting lost in the view. I have a feeling the airline people would disapprove.

For many people, flying is far from a pleasant experience. Schedules are delayed, security lines are long, and travelers are often grumpy. But what if you were walking down one of the many corridors, and suddenly locked eyes with a fluffy pup?

Airports across America are trying to make traveling a little less stressful with the addition of therapy dogs. Let’s be honest: You can’t help but have happy thoughts when you see a crew of friendly canines trotting through the terminal. (The ‘stewardesses’ in Catch Me If You Can come to mind, but that was long, long ago.)

These animals are trained to mingle with passengers both landside and airside during the airport’s busiest periods. I met with Anne Bell, volunteer coordinator for JaxPaws, to learn more about the program.


Digging into JaxPaws

Davi: Tell me about JaxPaws.

Anne Bell: The JaxPaws program aims to curtail anxiety for nervous travelers. Specially trained canines and their handlers walk the airport, bringing smiles and stress relief to those who might need a little comfort or support before departing.


How long has this program been around?

Just over a year. The JaxPaws program officially launched in July 2018.


What’s a typical day for a JaxPaws therapy dog?

The dogs commit to two-hour shifts and wander—with their handlers, of course—around the ticketing area, courtyard and terminals beyond security checkpoints, helping travelers feel more comfortable before they board the airplane.


What kind of dog is a good candidate for an airport therapy program?

The size or type of dog is not an issue—we don’t discriminate against breeds. Our dogs range from Yorkies to retrievers. What’s more important is the personality and willingness to approach or be approached by all kinds of strangers.


What training do dogs encounter before they can serve on a JaxPaws team?

The dogs undergo training and certification by a national registry therapy animal organization to make sure they are safe to pet, play with and meet. Each team must also pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen Exam and the AKC Urban CGC Exam.


What canine talents should a good therapy dog possess?

Dogs must have a stable temperament, good manners and be very obedient. They should be great with strangers and comfortable in a crowded, hectic environment.


How do humans benefit from airport therapy animals?

The mere action of stroking a dog slows down the heartbeat and reduces blood pressure, so these dogs are a great help to anyone feeling nervous about their journey. Even seasoned travelers can benefit from canine interaction during long waits and delayed flights. Instead of dreading different aspects of traveling the wild blue yonder, the interaction with a therapy dog gives travelers something else to think about.


How many dogs are in the program now?

The crew has 13 dogs and their handlers.


Where can travelers find JaxPaws dogs?

The distinctively outfitted dogs and their handlers roam throughout Jax International airport. We place a banner sign near the information booth to tell everyone a team is visiting the airport.


Therapy dogs are spreading good vibes at Jacksonville International Airport. These pooches are qualified to help folks face their fears before they fly and they’re prepared to greet travelers with licks, hugs, maybe a paw-shake and a whole lot of cuteness.

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