(Photos and video by Beth Hollerich)
Pokémon cards, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, baseball cards … and airport therapy dog trading cards?
That’s right. With more than 70 programs at airports across the country, therapy dogs are a growing trend in aviation. And now trading cards to promote these pups have become a real fad at airports, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, and Miami International.
Pittsburgh International recently hopped on the bandwagon and released its own set of cards featuring the dogs that roam the terminals to comfort passengers. The airport launched the PIT PAWS (Pups Alleviating Worry and Stress) program in 2017 to provide passengers a warm nuzzle, a comforting pat on the head and a few minutes of relaxation before flying.
Each card is unique, featuring that pup’s favorite treats and activities, among other fun facts. Take Bernese mountain dog Zeus, for example: his card reveals his biggest pet peeve is not getting a treat from the garbage man.
“We get a ton of questions about the dogs when we are walking around, and the trading cards are a nice keepsake for the passengers,” said Tara Hoover, a therapy dog ambassador at PIT (and pup mom to Juno, a Labrador retriever). “We want to leave them with a good impression, share the personalities of the dogs with them, and provide information about our amazing program.”
Each handler is equipped with a pack of their dog’s trading cards to share with passengers. There are currently eight different cards for passengers to collect.
PIT’s program includes 13 certified dogs, and the airport continues to receive more and more inquiries from therapy dog owners interested in volunteering, according to the customer relations team.
The two largest programs in the country are Denver International Airport, with 121 dogs, and Los Angeles International Airport, with 110.
Billie Smith, executive director of the national organization Alliance of Therapy Dogs, explained that these programs could be growing in popularity because more and more people are dealing with stress and anxiety-related issues, especially when it comes to travel.
“Through ATD, we work with the teams to ensure the dogs are well-mannered, well-behaved and enjoy meeting people. They go through an extensive training and certification process to ensure they are fit to make visits to different sites and in different environments,” Smith added.
The PIT PAWS team encourages visits from passengers and employees alike as they roam the airport’s landside and airside terminals. The team is easily recognizable, with handlers dressed in bright yellow PIT PAWS shirts and the dogs wearing yellow bandanas.
For passengers, including Andrew Paul, a recent visitor from the Czech Republic, seeing the dogs is a pleasant surprise.
“I was thousands of miles away, and these dogs reminded me of home. I was completely speechless and amazed at how calming these animals make you feel,” said Paul, who traveled to Pittsburgh for a Penguins game.
The trading cards were just an added bonus.
“It’s nice to learn a little something about the dog,” he said. “Now I know Zeus’ favorite treat is banana with peanut butter. That’s my favorite treat too!”
Next time you’re at PIT and spot a therapy dog, give them some love and don’t forget to collect their trading cards. Read here for more about the program.
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