Man’s best friend is doling out stress-busting relief with Pet Therapy at the Edmonton International Airport.

Wagging Tails and Happy Trails

Let’s play a little word association game. When I say “Airport” what do you think?

If you said “peace” “serenity” or any synonym of “calm,” you are a liar. You should probably be working on that, not reading travel articles.

If you answered “bananas,” “Ativan-requiring,” or “anxiety-producing”, then welcome to the fold, friend. You have obviously traveled with kids.

I talk a good game about the journey being part of the vacation, and I try. A great idea in theory but in reality, well, not so much. I am a big fan of anything that makes traveling more comfortable, less stressful, or makes me less of the shrieking harpy my kids call “Mom.” If that thing is an airport (cue angelic chorus) it is pretty much on track for being my favourite airport.

I take comfort in the knowledge that I am not alone in suffering from acute airport-induced psychosis. I have witnessed many cases of it: children lying on the ground wailing; couples angrily searching carry-ons: accusation and blame writ large on each face; or my favourite: furious dad struggling to get car seat through the oversize security scanner, further enraged by disinterested guard. Whew boy, airports can be rough!

Or should I say ruff (see what I did there?) A saving grace for our dog-loving family is watching the dogs in the airport. My boys like seeing pups “going on vacation” or the working dogs in their official vests. The saddest part of aid dogs is you can’t pet those dogs when they are wearing their duty vest. For a 6 year old (and his mom), what good is a dog you can’t pet?

Buoyed by the plethora of studies citing the stress busting benefits of stroking a furry buddy, and the success of pet therapy programs in hospitals, assisted living facilities, prisons, libraries and a select few airports (namely LAX and Reno-Tahoe), Edmonton International Airport launched their own Pet Therapy program in March of 2014—the first at a Canadian airport.

It’s been delighting weary staff and anxious passengers ever since. In their teal vests boldly proclaiming “Pet Me!” the volunteer dogs from the Northern Alberta Pet Therapy Association are easily distinguished from their working kin (as service dogs or security) or regular pets.

Eight teams of dogs and their owners patrol the airport six days a week (soon to be every day) usually from 11 am-2 pm, although some work an evening shift. The teams go through a rigorous screening and training process with the Northern Alberta Pet Therapy Association. They patiently wait for visitors to approach them; they won’t make the first move. This policy alleviates some the of the concerns about allergies and the dog averse. Once a visitor greets the dog, friendships are easily made. Hugs, pats and the occasional kiss are all part of the job!

If you would like to support the work of the Northern Alberta Pet Therapy Association, I encourage you to visit their website for donation information. If you have a dog who may be suited for therapy work, you can talk to them about beginning the volunteer screening process as well!

Thanks to Sarah Cox, Manager of Passenger Experience for the photos and information, and especially for introducing the program to EIA!