Ambassadors, Not Assholes. When a Dog is Just What the Doctor Ordered
Stuck for some five hours in the Los Angeles Airport after a brutally long set of flights beginning in Denpasar, this duo was a sight for sore eyes. Cali, the charmingly happy, pink- toenailed bulldog and Chaco, the Chihuahua were walking by my seat a few moments ago. As a dog lover, and as one who loves pitties, I leapt at the opportunity to pet both.
These two pups are walked through LAX as passenger de-stressors. The Pets Unstressing Passengers program provides volunteers with properly-trained dogs to offer exhausted folks like me a chance to sit on the floor with a red-vested chubb-butt and get them to give me belly. Cali’s a thick girl, and she was only too happy for me to dig my nails into her butt and give her a proper scrub.
Here’s what I love best about this program:
Certification and Training
PUP volunteers wishing to apply must have at least one year experience working with a recognized dog therapy organization. The dogs must be privately owned and be at least two years old. All PUP volunteers and dogs must be registered with Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national organization that registers, insures and supports members who are involved in volunteer animal-assisted activities. These activities include visits to hospitals, special needs centers, schools, nursing homes and for the first time for Alliance of Therapy Dogs — airports. https://www.lawa.org/en/volunteer-opportunities/pup-program
The last time I went to Denver International, it reminded me of The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show there were so many pooches. As I am something of a seasoned traveler (at least 1.5 million flight miles and counting) so it would be fair to say I’ve seen my fair share of airports. Never have I seen so many dogs, with the majority not having anywhere near the training outlined for public consumption as above.
Therein lies the difference. As someone who massages animals, I always always ask permission. Too many people don’t, and a dog that hasn’t received training and is thrust into the noisy, smelly, people-pushy and stressful environment of an airport could well bite an unsuspecting child. As it was, one little girl rushed Chaco and grabbed at her, giving the sweet little dog a fright. Chaco was well behaved, but it’s a perfect example of how people- especially curious kids- are in danger around animals which aren’t properly trained- and with owners (and parents) who are also not properly trained. Both need to be prepared for the kinds of interactions that can happen around unruly people.
As Cali rolled on her wide, expansive pittie back and waved her legs in the air while I scrubbed her belly, people gathered to watch as she then slathered me with kisses. After a very rough time in Immigration which almost kept me from leaving Indonesia, being able to sit on the floor with a happy dog whose sole purpose was to make ME happy is a gift indeed.
What a long cry from self-centered folks with fake credentials (wanna see how easy? See https://www.amazon.com/s?k=service+animal+products&ref=nb_sb_noss_2) who insist on bringing an emotional support animal that is nothing more than the family dog- with no training, no experience, and a potential walking time bomb.
Not the animal’s fault. The owner.
Because even if the dog is well-trained, a rookie owner, or one that is already pissed off at the world enough to get fake creds and demand special treatment no matter what danger their animal might pose to allergic people or overly-eager kids is likely to telegraph to his dog that it’s time to attack to protect their owner. That’s what our dogs do when they love us.
Not the animal’s fault. The owner.
Here’s the other piece about the PUP program I love:
Each volunteer goes through an initial meet and greet and walk-through with their dog to make sure there is a good fit for both volunteer and dog. Next step is in-terminal training to learn about LAX and how to assist passengers. In addition, handlers are fingerprinted and badged.
I like the idea that if you have a dog in the terminal, you’re fingerprinted and badged. Being ex-military I am already fingerprinted. While some might feel this is an invasion of privacy, I would posit that the process of ensuring that you can be identified if your dog goes haywire and happens to remove some child’s Little League pitching hand is, to me, a good idea. It might by god prevent the widespread abuse of so called “emotional support animals” that has made my home airport(and others, and the flights) so hairy.
Which has got to be holy hell for those allergic to dog danger, not that those who abuse the policies give a damn.
Again, therein lies the problem.
The PUP program is designed specifically to make people like me happy, relaxed, and wet-faced with happy dog kisses. The owners have them under careful control. The dogs are calm, happy and very attentive to their owners’ commands. I felt completely safe with both dogs (I am very happy around pitties anyway, mean ones are made that way). I cannot say the same with the onslaught of puppers pulled along by needy owners who not only don’t bother to train their dogs, but the most certainly are not themselves trained.
The ADA’s guidelines on who can have and what kinds of animals qualify for disability support are crisp and clear (https://www.adatitleiii.com/2018/08/service-animals-vs-emotional-support-animals-ferreting-out-the-truth/). My guess is that the fur factory on display at DIA has perhaps one in a thousand that actually matches the criteria. As a disabled person myself, while I don’t qualify for one, I feel strongly about the rights of those who do qualify, and the rights they have to that animal. Which, by the way, can be trusted. And, by the way, the owner knows how to manage.
Here is another article that can help with the misunderstandings about what’s what: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/amp-stories/service-and-support-animals-explained/?hpid=hp_hp-visual-stories-desktop_no-name%3Ahomepage%2Fstory.
The ADA does not cover emotional support animals. Service animals provide a specific service- just being your best bud ain’t among them. In other words your mini-me has to have a job, perform that job (like Cali and Chaco) and be under close control.
As an animal lover I am far more concerned about the pups than the people in this case. Because if a terrified animal bites, it likely has to be put down. Again, not the animal’s fault. To me, that’s criminal and abusive to the fur ball who didn’t sign up to be put in a small cabin with screaming kids, people sitting way too close to Mom and the big sweaty fat guy in the middle seat whose cat smell makes Nigel the Cairn Terrier nervous.
Finally there’s this:
The dogs in red Pet Me vests and handlers in red shirts with the PUP logo are an excellent addition to the customer service team. Passengers love seeing warm, wet noses and wagging tails that create a friendly, “PAWSitive” experience at LAX!
This article in Psychology Today gives some examples of where the author has witnessed abuse plus solid information about the guidelines: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animals-and-us/201406/service-animal-scams-growing-problem
I would say that passengers who aren’t allergic to pups and who like dogs are happy to see them around. I’d love to see lots more folks get their pitties engaged, get rescue pitties trained and engaged, as these big-jawed, roly-poly happy butts make superb ambassadors. I’ll sit on the floor and play with one any day. It might help the unfortunate and widespread prejudice about the breed, while giving more of us a joyful distraction from the long layover hours at LAX and everywhere else.
But that’s just me. I love pupper kisses, especially from well-trained and trustworthy animals who have a job to do-make you and me happy.