Cities Journal

Dogs Unstressing Flyers

There are few places more stressful than a large airport. People are rushing to make connections, or stand in line for a $10 coffee and donut. Also, many people have experienced the calming effect of pets on their life.

Therefore, a Los Angeles group is experimenting with bringing animals and airports together to help with the stress. Soon, you may have a chance to pet a dog as its handler walks by you at gate 75B.

Pets at the Airport

The Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) program at LAX is an attempt to provide stress relief to the anxious passengers in the terminals. Handlers walk their dogs through the airport, visiting waiting passengers, offering information and a chance to interact with the animals.

Each handler is a volunteer with experience, owning a therapy dog. All volunteers and animals must be registered with Therapy Dogs, Inc. (TD, Inc.). TD is a national group that certifies people and animals to go into schools, hospitals and care centers. Handlers and dogs go through a training program in the airport to make sure they are a good fit for the environment.

How Dogs Relieve Stress

Dogs can produce a physiologic response in people that calms and sooths them. Dog owners profess this, and there is even scientific evidence to that fact. If a dog can reduce the stress on someone at an airport, then they can do it anywhere!

According to WebMD, dogs are natural mood enhancers. Interaction with a pet reduces your cortisol level, a hormone your body produces in response to stress. It keeps you alert and mindful of what’s going on around you. Your serotonin levels also increase. This hormone gives you a feeling of well-being. This combination makes you less anxious and feeling calmer.

Pets can also help reduce blood pressure. In another study noted by WebMD, people who owned a pet had lower heart rates when resting than people who didn’t own a pet. Children also experienced a lowering of blood pressure when petting a dog.

Pet Partners reports on a University of Buffalo study that showed just having a dog in a room with you can reduce your stress. This could mean that just the act of walking a dog through the airport terminal will help stressed-out travelers feel calmer.

How Dogs Make You Happier

Petting a dog may help you get “out of yourself” if you’re stewing about a missed flight or other travel mishap. Focusing on the interaction with the dog lets you forget about your problems for the moment. Your body has a chance to relax and your mind can stop cycling through the anxious thought cycle.

A study done at Azabu University in Japan showed an increase in one of your “happy” chemicals, oxytocin, when petting a dog. They demonstrated that just looking into the eyes of a dog increased this chemical. You may experience a calming effect by watching other people in the airport interact with one of the PUP dogs.

Therapy dogs have been used for years in hospitals and nursing homes, often very stressful locations. With the success of the PUP program at LAX, you may see dogs walking through the major airports as you travel for business or pleasure. One day you may get through security, find your gate, get your $10 coffee and donut, and go looking for the nearest airport dog to pet.

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