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The Pup Patrol Comforts Travelers At Pensacola Airport

Bob Barrett

Do you find air travel stressful? Travelers at Pensacola International Airport have been getting a little stress relief from some four legged volunteers. "These [dogs] are the Pensacola Pup Patrol, they are airport ambassadors." said Connie Flemming, one of a trio of dog owners who were volunteering their time last week at Pensacola International Airport.  The Pup Patrol has been visiting the airport two days a week since last May. "We come here to the airport to provide comfort to passengers coming and going. So we greet people coming off flights and welcome them to Pensacola, and the folks that are sitting around waiting to go out, we spend time with them. We let the dogs to tricks for them. We let folks pet the dogs, they are here to be petted. [And] sometimes just walking through the concourse people look up and when they see the dogs they smile."

Plans for The Pup Patrol began a little over a year ago according to City of Pensacola Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart. "Other airports throughout the country started offering different types of therapy dog programs as part of their customer service efforts and we wanted a way for our airport to be able to participate and offer this service as well."

Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF News
Connie Flemming with Connor at Pensacola Intergalactic Airport

The dogs belong to the handlers who bring them to the airport. Connie Flemming says each member of the Pup Patrol has gone through some training. "Each one of the dogs in the program has been required to have at least a year with a therapy group, and they have several tests that they have to pass that shows they are able to function properly in an environment such as the airport with all the noise and the carts and the gates and the sliding doors and elevators and stairs and all that. They are our pets, they go home with us every night and do 'dog things' at home, but here in the airport they know how to behave themselves and they are here to greet people."

The dogs and their handlers are given full run of the airport both before and after security, so they can interact with passengers who are waiting for their flights at the gate. Sarah Joy Leak, who was there with her dog Dexter, says she has been flying since she was 9 years old but her husband has a tough time getting on a plane. "I figured that a lot of people are probably nervous [when it comes to] flying so I figured that this would be a great opportunity to help other people."

And the public, nervous or not, seems to like getting to know the pups. Vernon Stewart said "Our pups have their own trading card with an email address for people to reach out and let us know about their recent visit with the dogs. Since the program started we've gotten several emails from travelers giving their praises about the program and expressing their gratitude for the interactions."

"We just love being able to offer this kind of comfort to the people that are here in an environment that can be very stressful" said Connie Flemming. She says there are 10 dogs and nine handlers in the Pup Patrol. Usually there are two or three pups at the airport, though at times there are as many as six or seven.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.