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Airport therapy dogs offer travelers some stress relief

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — If you were one of the unlucky travelers who had an airport delay or cancellation over spring break, you may have noticed therapy dogs walking around.

In West Michigan, volunteers from the nonprofit West Michigan Therapy Dogs volunteer in two-hour blocks of time to greet flyers and soothe travel anxiety with the help of their furry friends.

“We’ve seen that it’s really useful for kids,” said Haley Abbas, manager of marketing and communications for Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Dogs help “those who may have mobility limitations [and] those who may have cognitive or hidden disabilities. Really anyone of all ages can use these therapy dogs when they come to the airport.”

Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are meant to be petted and played with. The airport’s Gentle Fur In Action program began in 2013. Since its inception, Abbas said they’ve seen dozens of puppies help relieve stress and anxiety, especially during busy travel weeks like spring break.

“We own our own dogs and train our own dogs,” said Jan Mclean, one of the volunteers. “They come home with us and we volunteer our time at different facilities.”

She said each dog goes through rigorous training and is tested for temperament and noise sensitivity before being assigned to the city.

“When there are delays and when there are problems with the flight, people love to pet them,” Mclean said.

The therapy dog ​​service is free to the public. You can request the service for concerned or disabled travelers through the airport’s online portal.

Abbas said they usually like to have at least a week’s notice so they can coordinate the dogs and their handlers. The dog will then meet you at the baggage carousel and can stay with you at the gate until takeoff.

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