SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Traveling can be a stressful experience for many. There are flight delays, cancellations and long lines at security checkpoints.
The San Francisco International Airport has a group of volunteer therapy animals, known as the Wag Brigade, who help relieve the stress and anxieties and make travelling a more enjoyable experience.
SFO launched the program in 2013 and teamed with the San Francisco SPCA to train and certify animals for the airport environment.
"At the present time we have twenty-two dogs and a pig on the Wag Brigade," said Jennifer Kazazrian, Wag Brigade Program manager. "When we launched the program our main goal was to de-stress our passengers, however what we found was a way to connect with our passengers."
SFO is the first airport to have a therapy pig. Lilou is a 5-year-old Juliana-breed pig, who likes to play her toy piano and perform for all passengers.
The idea for the Wag Brigade was inspired after 9/11 when a Mineta San Jose International Airport employee brought his therapy dog into work. That day he was able to see how is dog was able to relieve the tension and stress from everyone around him.
Several years later, many airports across the U.S. caught on to the trend and have similar therapy animal programs.
"The reaction from our passengers is really positive," said Kazarian. "We find that not everyone is traveling for positive reasons. We come into contact with people who are traveling to funerals, they might be leaving home for the first time, they might be traveling on military orders. We also meet a lot of people who have lost pets or can't have pets so seeing a dog at the airport is always fun."
The Wag Brigade can be seen walking around SFO's gates and terminals. Passengers can pet, play and take selfies with the therapy animals.
"It has been proven that petting a dog reduces blood pressure and it makes people happy," said Kazarian."When a Wag Brigade animal walks into the terminal we see people look up from their devices and they start to interact with each other and they start to interact with the dog and it puts a smile on everyone's face."
"The dogs really love it and its rewarding to see all of the people respond very positively to seeing the dogs," said Eric Espejo, Pet Caretaker of Benga, a Peke-a-Poo-Tzuzu. "It is pretty incredible, a lot of people are missing their own animals when they are traveling so this provides them with a little bit of comfort.Traveling is stressful so any distraction that you can provide while people are traveling is pretty positive."
The Wag Brigade volunteers at SFO seven days a week. To join the furry pack, contact the Wag Brigade through their social media platforms.
For more information, visit their Instagram page for the Wag Brigade's location.