A dozen dogs walked the "orange carpet" – don’t call it a catwalk - today at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport's Terminal D at the launch of a pet therapy program. DFW Airport's K9 Crew of 12 experienced therapy dogs and their handlers provide fliers with stress relief and comfort by being a friendly presence in the terminal. Dogs can be spotted in official "DFW K9 Crew" harnesses with “Pet Me” signs and accompanied by handlers wearing DFW K9 Crew uniforms. After the star-studded "Dogs of DFW" debut, passengers were invited to meet and greet the DFW Airport K9 Crew.
"For many, flying can be an uneasy experience," said Ken Buchanan, executive vice president of revenue management at DFW Airport. "The DFW K9 Crew can change that perception. There's nothing more soothing than the presence of a friendly dog, and we hope interacting with these animals will put anxious passengers at ease."
To be eligible for the program, all dogs and handlers must be current members of a local and national pet therapy organization. They are required to volunteer at least two times per month with a one year commitment. Handlers are required to become a DFW Airport Ambassador Volunteer, attend mandatory orientation sessions and have regular evaluations.
One of the K9 Crew members, Mary Callinan, was in charge of Penny, a pug-Chihuahua mix. Like many of the K9 Crew, Penny is a rescue dog.
“I wasn’t really looking for a dog like Penny, but when I walked into the shelter there was chaos all around and Penny was sitting there not bothered by it at all,” said Callihan. "I knew she was the one.”
Penny was small, several pounds lighter than Zofie, a big fluffy white Great Pyrenees trained by Stacie Hanson.
“I always wanted a pet therapy dog, but I just never had the right dog,” said Hanson. “Then she came into my life.”
While one of the largest of the K9 Crew, Zofie couldn’t be less threatening. For one thing, she seems more likely to roll over on her back in anticipation of a belly run when approached than make any gesture that could be perceived as aggressive.
While the dogs get the glory – and the affection - the handlers also are trained to provide service to the traveling public by providing directions and answering general questions about airport amenities and services, Buchanan said.
Each therapy dog has a collectable trading card, distributed by its handler, that includes the dog's name, age, weight and training certifications. Customers can meet the dogs at designated interaction areas in Terminal B, both before and after security. There also will be roaming therapy handlers throughout the terminal.
At the moment, the program is limited to Terminal B, but it will be expanded to more terminals as more dogs – and trainers – come on board. By 2017, DFW plans to expand the DFW K9 Crew program to over 60 handler teams throughout all terminals.
Customers are encouraged to take photos with the therapy dogs and share on social media platforms with the hashtag #DogsofDFW. Customers who post three photos to social media over a period of time will earn "DFW Terminal Bucks" or DFW-branded items.