The amazing ways animals help holiday travelers

Crowds, long lines, delays, lost luggage: Navigating a busy airport can be stressful in the best of circumstances—and it’s even worse during the busy holiday season. Luckily, at a number of airports nationwide, you can now find various animals on hand to reduce stress and anxiety, boost happiness—and, in some cases, even keep us safer.

At my local airport SFO, LiLou the pig greets weary travelers and calms nerves by offering snorts and selfies. She’s just one of about 300 therapy animals (including dogs, cats and rabbits) taking part in the airport’s SPCA Animal Assisted Therapy Program. But LiLou is special not just because of her adorable costumes and painted hooves, but also because she is the very first pig greeter!

Luckily, therapy animals don’t just roam around SFO. They also offer wags and kisses at numerous airports nationwide, including Dallas, Denver, LAX, Miami, Oklahoma City, San Jose, Reno and many others. Their vests say “pet me”—and travelers love to interact with them, a scientifically proven way to lower anxiety and increase happy endorphins. Here, you can check out LAX’s therapy dog photo album, or the dogs at Denver International Airport, and don’t miss this cute video of Albany International Airport’s therapy dogs:

In flight, Emotional Support Animals join their favorite human companions on planes, helping to reduce panic attacks, phobias and fears. It’s pretty easy to get your animal registered as one; they just need a special vest and a letter. And we’re not just seeing dogs and cats in the cabin at 10,000 feet—registered ESAs run the gamut, from monkeys and pigs to ferrets, bearded dragons and even turkeys.

We’ve all seen the amazing drug-sniffing dogs at security, but have you ever thought of the awesome animals working hard behind the scenes to keep our runways safe? (If you saw the movie “Sully,” you know that bird strikes are dangerous—and a growing problem.) At Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan, K-9 dog Piper keeps runways clear of both fowl and foxes.

Southwest Florida International Airport employs Areo, a border collie, to scare wildlife away from planes. Meanwhile, pigs and falcons help keep runways safe—in Salt Lake City, pigs work to prevent nesting in the runway areas, and in the Canadian cities of Montreal and Toronto, falcons scare off other birds that would otherwise impede aircraft.

Did you know? Even trains are becoming animal-friendly: Amtrack’s new pet program allows cats and dogs to travel with their holiday-stressed humans (even year-round) for just $25. Yay Amtrak!

So if you find yourself in packed planes and overcrowded airports this holiday season, take a moment to thank the incredible team of animals working hard to ensure a happier (and safer) travel experience for all of us. Like so many things in life, animals just make everything better!

Have you run into any airport therapy animals in your travels? Share your stories here!

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Kathleen Prasad is an entrepreneur, author, educator, spiritual seeker and animal advocate living in beautiful Marin County, California, with her husband, daughter, dog and two horses. She loves being with animals, listening to hip-hop, eating out at vegan restaurants, riding dressage, hiking in the redwoods and traveling the world to meet animal people.

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