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"The Pup Patrol Comforts Travelers At Pensacola Airport"


 
Monday, January 23, 2017

The Pup Patrol Comforts Travelers At Pensacola Airport 
By Bob Barrett
WUWF AM Radio 88.1 (NPR), Northwest Florida


Do you find air travel stressful? Travelers at Pensacola International Airport 
have been getting a little stress relief from some four legged volunteers. 
"These [dogs] are the Pensacola Pup Patrol, they are airport ambassadors." said 
Connie Flemming, one of a trio of dog owners who were volunteering their time 
last week at Pensacola International Airport.  The Pup Patrol has been visiting 
the airport two days a week since last May. "We come here to the airport to 
provide comfort to passengers coming and going. So we greet people coming off 
flights and welcome them to Pensacola, and the folks that are sitting around 
waiting to go out, we spend time with them. We let the dogs to tricks for them. 
We let folks pet the dogs, they are here to be petted. [And] sometimes just 
walking through the concourse people look up and when they see the dogs they 
smile."

Plans for The Pup Patrol began a little over a year ago according to City of 
Pensacola Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart. "Other airports throughout 
the country started offering different types of therapy dog programs as part of 
their customer service efforts and we wanted a way for our airport to be able 
to participate and offer this service as well."

The dogs belong to the handlers who bring them to the airport. Connie Flemming 
says each member of the Pup Patrol has gone through some training. "Each one of 
the dogs in the program has been required to have at least a year with a 
therapy group, and they have several tests that they have to pass that shows 
they are able to function properly in an environment such as the airport with 
all the noise and the carts and the gates and the sliding doors and elevators 
and stairs and all that. They are our pets, they go home with us every night 
and do 'dog things' at home, but here in the airport they know how to behave 
themselves and they are here to greet people."

The dogs and their handlers are given full run of the airport both before and 
after security, so they can interact with passengers who are waiting for their 
flights at the gate. Sarah Joy Leak, who was there with her dog Dexter, says 
she has been flying since she was 9 years old but her husband has a tough time 
getting on a plane. "I figured that a lot of people are probably nervous [when 
it comes to] flying so I figured that this would be a great opportunity to help 
other people."

And the public, nervous or not, seems to like getting to know the pups. Vernon 
Stewart said "Our pups have their own trading card with an email address for 
people to reach out and let us know about their recent visit with the dogs. 
Since the program started we've gotten several emails from travelers giving 
their praises about the program and expressing their gratitude for the 
interactions."

"We just love being able to offer this kind of comfort to the people that are 
here in an environment that can be very stressful" said Connie Flemming. She 
says there are 10 dogs and nine handlers in the Pup Patrol. Usually there are 
two or three pups at the airport, though at times there are as many as six or 
seven.
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