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Therapy dogs calm anxious travelers at Reno airport

The dogs are used to calm travelers during holiday travel.
Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 7:14 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -We’re all a little stressed these days. Add to that crowded terminals, TSA screening, standard pre-flight anxieties, worries about making connections, and, well, the holidays and it’s not hard to imagine there are not a lot of smiles behind the masks everyone is wearing at Reno/Tahoe International Airport these days.

But with the sight of a dog all that changes. the mood lightens. a pat on the head. a belly rub. it would be harder not to smile.

“It’s always stressful traveling. so seeing dogs here makes everybody feel good,” says Sheri Heimerdinger, straightening up after administering a belly rub to Brooke, a black and white Miniature American Shepherd.

That’s the simple idea behind the work of a volunteer organization called ‘Paws 4 Passengers’ and their dogs.

“They just bring some calmness to people who are a little nervous flying,” says Brooke’s owner, Sheri Harrell. “They just bring warmth, love and joy to all the people here.”

And it works. Don’t mistake this for public relations. The dogs are all certified therapy dogs and their owners will tell you they do more than simply wait to be petted. They seem to sense who needs them most.

“If we see a child that’s really crying and upset. we’ll try to go over. That’s what Brooke does. She’ll go over there and just sit there with that little kid and calm them down. The parents are always saying ‘thank you, thank you.’’”

The real veteran of this crew working this shift is Amy, a serene, but approachable poodle princess. She’s been doing this since the beginning, eight years ago. But new or old, poodle, greyhound, Miniature American Shepherd each has the ability to lighten the load of the weary, stressed-out traveler.

“When those vests go on that’s their job and they know it and they love coming here and greeting people. That’s their job and what they love to do.”

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