Airport therapy dogs relieve travel stress

The journey is only fun when you arrive.

Source: Photo courtesy of Sarah Hoggan DVM

Covid has held up travel for years. At its peak, people spoke of plane travel wistfully, recalling how magical it was to board a plane and wake up a few hours later somewhere brand new.

Like most things, the magic eraser of time has allowed us to fool ourselves into remembering plane travel far more rosy than its actual reality. Visiting exotic places and getting together with family is great. But spending time in an airport hardly rhymes with fabulous; this is tense. Stressful in small aspects, like paying $10 for a coffee and $20 for a cocktail, and stressful in big aspects, like listening to toddlers cry incessantly or experiencing your own anxiety and fear of flying.

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Fortunately for any animal lover, Reno-Tahoe International Airport has recognized how stressful air travel can be; and they have a team of canine ambassadors who help people all over the airport feel a little better.

The program is called Paws 4 Passengers: 36 therapy dogs and their devoted humans roam the airport, spreading smiles. They are allowed in all areas of the airport from security to boarding gates. For reasons of hygiene, they do not enter restaurants.

Unlike service animals, these dogs are meant to be petted and showered with attention. Cody, a friendly German Shepherd and one of P4P’s ambassadors, poses for photos with fuzzy bunny ears.

Even if you don’t want to pet them, just seeing them walking around wagging their tails is nice. Paws 4 Passengers is based in Reno and is the only location in Nevada. Fortunately, 22 other states and three countries (Canada, Italy and Mumbai) have programs that parallel Paws 4 Passengers.

While the smile generated by seeing a friendly dog ​​in an unexpected place is obvious; The presence of Paws 4 passengers at the airport is based on science. A 2012 study by Crotts and Zehrer documented that the process of traveling to your destination is stressful. In contrast, a 2020 meta-analysis by El-Qushayri et al. show that sharing your home with a dog or cat reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 19 percent.

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Stress contributes to cardiovascular disease because it causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. These two factors put a strain on your heart. The presence of animals lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, thus reducing the strain on the heart. Paws 4 Passengers serves the purpose of not just bringing smiles, but literally trying to help your heart health.

When I stopped for a photo with Cody, instead of hearing a stressed-out toddler having a meltdown, I heard an excited little girl squeal, “Oh, puppy!” Another toddler, walking by with her hurried parents, pointed out Cody’s playful costume: “That dog is an Easter Bunny!”

Moments like this are an unexpected joy in a day that started as a marathon of stress. It is not by design that airports have bars. A glass of wine can help you relax. Fortunately, some airports now have dogs too!


Crotts, JC, & Zehrer, A. (2012). An exploratory study of vacation stress. Tourism Analysis, 17 (4), 547-552.

El-Qushayri AE., Kamel AMA, Faraj HA, et al. Association between pet ownership and cardiovascular risks and mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Cardiovasc Med (Hagerstown) 2020; 21 (5): 359–367. 10.2459/JCM.0000000000000920. A meta-analysis showing that owning pets reduces the risk of death and improves cardiovascular function.

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