Nothing Scary About These Hounds

Therapy dogs are a Halloween treat for passengers – and a moment of comfort for a city in mourning

By Blue Sky Staff

Published November 2, 2018

Read Time: 4 mins


Bob Ossler (pictured above) traveled to Pittsburgh from Florida to offer his services following the synagogue shootings.

Airports can be stressful and sometimes downright scary places, from parking and navigating the terminals to getting through security and making sure you didn’t forget your cellphone in the restroom.

But for those traveling through Pittsburgh International Airport on Halloween between 10 a.m. and noon, it was delightful, not frightful.

The PIT PAWS therapy dog team, dispatched in full costume, provided a few tricks and lots of treats for passengers traveling through the airport Wednesday. PIT PAWS (Pups Alleviating Worry and Stress) was created in 2017 for the purpose of providing passengers a warm nuzzle, a comforting pat on the head and a few minutes of relaxation before flying.

The dogs added an extra bit of comfort to a city grieving over the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, said Bob Ossler, a chaplain with First Baptist Church of Pine Island in Bokeelia, Fla., who flew into Pittsburgh to offer his services at the synagogue.

“I am mentally and physically drained,” Ossler said, “and as I am heading to the concourse, I was pleasantly surprised to see the therapy dogs. They immediately lifted me up. I am a dog lover. As a chaplain, I go around consoling hundreds and hundreds of people. This is a blessing to me.”

Therapy dog teams consist of a certified dog and its handler/owner. The handlers are trained to help with customer service in the terminals by providing directions, solving problems and answering general questions about airport amenities. The dog teams have put in more than 300 hours over the past year and roam the terminal weekly looking to make passengers smile and feel more at ease.

“It was very refreshing to see the smiling faces and the therapy dogs,” said Barb Matson of Warren, Pa., who was traveling with her family to Florida. “This is my children’s first time flying and they can relate to the dogs.”

Not any dog can be a therapy dog. The PIT PAWs therapy dogs are tested and registered through organizations such as Therapy Dog International and Alliance of Therapy Dogs. They go through extensive training in their therapy programs and at the airport to ensure they are prepared and comfortable working in a busy airport environment.

“I love to share the joy that my dog brings in everyday situations,” said Megan Schiffer, a dog therapy ambassador and handler for Lucie, who was wearing a dinosaur costume. “The airport can be stressful at times to the staff, travelers, and those passing through. To know that we made their day a little brighter is what makes this program so amazing!”

Lisa Lemmex said her therapy dog, Hercules, can sense when a person is stressed. (Hercules dressed as a pirate for Halloween.)

“When Hercules goes up to them, I can see the stress release from their face. It also allows us to interact, and the passengers love to share stories about their own dogs, too!” Lemmex said.

Fellow ambassador Tara Hoover said it’s common to see passengers with their heads down in their phones or tablets as they wait for a flight.

“People keep to themselves and don’t talk much, if at all, but when the pet therapy team arrives, we spur conversation and bring people together,” she said. “It’s fun to see people interacting and starting their travels with friendly conversation!”

To learn more about the PIT PAWS therapy dogs, click here.

Meet the PIT P.A.W.S. team!

Charlie the Taco is a 5-year-old English Setter who is a
vigilant chipmunk and squirrel chaser.

Lucie the Dinosaur is a 7-year-old French Bulldog who loves to snuggle.
This is not her first rodeo. Lucie has a full wardrobe of costumes, dresses
and sweaters to go with any event she attends!

Juno the Lab-O-Lantern is a 10-year-old Labrador Retriever
who enjoys swimming and giving kisses.
Hercules the Pirate is a 6-year-old Newfoundland.
He loves to sleep and has a cute crooked smile!

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