Therapy dogs

Therapy dogs bound into Aberdeen airport to alleviate stress

This article from The Guardian shares this great initiative from Aberdeen airport to have therapy dogs visit and alleviate stress from nervous passengers.


The passengers fresh off the afternoon flight from Southampton are scanning the information boards at Aberdeen international airport for the whereabouts of their baggage when their attention is drawn to something altogether less stressful, as members of the UK’s first ever team of airport therapy dogs bound into the arrivals hall.

A group of teenage girls, visiting Aberdeen for a diving competition, are the first to spot the Canine Crew and zoom over, chattering excitedly and crowding around the dogs, who respond with perfect calm, friendly wags and, in the case of Breagh the golden retriever, an inviting display of furry tummy.

“I think this is a really good idea,” nods Emma Bolton, 14, enthusiastically. “They would calm me down a lot.”

“You have happy thoughts when you see them,” explains her friend Felicity Cronin, also 14, “instead of dreading things about the airport. It gives you something else to think about.”

Therapy dogs at Aberdeen Airport

As Breagh, along with Grace the Scottish deerhound, Noodle the beagle and their owners, trot through the terminal sporting bright yellow bandanas that identify them as “therapets”, the effect on passengers and staff is instantaneous and exponential. There is plenty of research showing that dogs can improve mental health and wellbeing, alleviate stress and calm nerves and, while these dogs are being brought in from 4 May specifically to assist anxious travellers, it seems no one can walk by without pausing for a pat and a play.

“You can’t not smile when you see them,” says Rob Hobkirk, 34, who is checking in for a long-haul flight to Australia with his partner Anne-Marie and enjoying some waggy cheer from Noodle. “It’s nice to see dogs that are so friendly and well-behaved. You usually expect dogs looking for drugs in airports.”

The team will initially work in two-hour shifts and comprise 14 varying breeds from pug to lurcher, provided by Canine Concern Scotland trust, which has been training therapy dogs and their volunteer owners across the country for more than three decades. The animals will mingle with passengers both landside and airside during the airport’s busiest periods, weekly at first.

“It warms my heart,” coos Zee Matzain, 21, after a close encounter with Breagh. “She’s so fluffy!”

Therapy dog at Aberdeen Airport

His friend Arej Rahmani, 19, agrees: “This would definitely relax you before a flight.”

The pair have come to the airport to wave off another friend and both are studying occupational therapy at Robert Gordon University in the city, where they have been learning about the benefits of therapy animals as part of their course. “They are really good for wellbeing,” says Matzain, “especially if people already have a connection to dogs.”

Therapy dogs undergo rigorous training and assessment to work in a variety of environments – the dogs have be able to remain calm, not react to loud noises, bark or jump up – and already visit care homes, hospitals, hospices and even prisons, but this will be the first regular airport team in the UK.

Therapy dog at Aberdeen Airport

“Mindblowing” is how Diane Wood, crew leader and area representative for Canine Concern Scotland, describes their reception so far. “You see people’s faces light up when we come through the door. The act of stroking a dog reduces blood pressure, slows heartbeat and releases happy hormones.”

It is notable, given the detoxifying effect of the dogs, that their first day at work coincides with the passage through the airport of a number of senior members of the the Westminster government, who are visiting Aberdeen for the Scottish Conservative party conference. Wood replies diplomatically that Breagh’s political leanings only extend to who has the best doggy biscuits.

Fraser Bain, the airport’s duty manager, says initially he was inspired by similar schemes operating across North America, as well as the work that therapy dogs undertake with children with autism.

Bain, who himself grew up with West Highland terriers, explains: “More than 20,000 people request assistance with travel through Aberdeen airport every year, but there are also many more who want to travel independently but may have a hidden disability, additional support needs, autism or dementia. A lot of people are anxious about flying to some degree, and we wanted to give those people the same opportunities to travel.”

The Canine Crew’s schedule for the first six weeks is already posted online so that passengers can find out in advance which dogs will be present when they are flying and read their biographies.

Bain is likewise a little overwhelmed by the initial popularity of the project. “People are now saying they want to fly from Aberdeen because it’s the only airport in the UK to do this. The only danger is that people miss their flights because they are so well distracted by the dogs.”

This article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.


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