Stressed At The Airport? New CLT Program Features Therapy Dogs

May 19, 2015

This is Lucy, a West Highland White Terrier. In addition to being a member of the CLT Canine Crew, she also visits Alzheimer's patients at a memory care facility.
Credit Lucy Perkins / WFAE

A new team of volunteers is hounding travelers at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. A group of eight dogs and their handlers are on patrol, ready to be petted and cuddled by travelers. 

These dogs aren’t here for security reasons, they’re here to help travelers relax.

A Labradoodle named Tucker belongs to Tami Piper. She keeps him on a leash at one end of the airport lobby.  A group of eight dogs and their handlers are wearing vests that say ‘pet me.’

Tucker gets the attention of a few people walking by who aren’t rushing to catch a flight. 

Other team members include Rosco, an American Foxhound; Winston Churchill, a Yorkshire Terrier; and Lil Rocky Balboa, a Brussels Griffon. These dogs and their handlers are part of what’s called the Charlotte Canine Crew.

Interim Aviation Director Brett Cagle says the idea was pitched to him after seeing 27 other airports in the U.S. introduce similar programs. The goal is to make the airport feel more like home.

He had some concerns about how dogs would handle the busy environment and noise of airports. But, after a positive test run in March, he felt better.

"They are post security, and they will go through the different concourses," he says. 

To be part of the canine crew, each dog is evaluated at the airport and must have at least one year of experience as a therapy dog. Their handlers also sign a liability agreement. Many get liability insurance through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs in case of a dog bite.

"Pets are part of our lives, part of our families for a lot of people. The overwhelming majority of people, they just relax and light up and it's so positive for them. It’s amazing how well-received this has been."

Right now members of the CLT Canine Crew can volunteer any day of the week they’re available, between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.