Paws 4 Passengers give airport passengers a feeling of ease
LVN Editor Emeritus
When passengers arrive at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, a welcoming party of wet noses and wagging tails greet visitors or residents returning home.
Sometimes the dogs take the edge off flying, especially if a flight is delayed or people are stressed for one reason or another. Others are just happy to see a cute little face and brown eyes waiting for them.
Paws 4 Passengers consists of teams of dogs and their owners walking through most areas of the airport giving passengers smiles and something else to think about such as a slow-moving line, delays, cancellations or a basic fear of flying. The program began almost four years ago.
“We started with three teams, dog and owner,” said Debbie Harvey, founder and board chairwoman for Paws 4 Passengers. “All these dogs are here with their owners. Now we have 30 teams. The airport supports us because they see the value of the program over the years, and they have allowed us to increase our numbers.”
Harvey said they are nationally registered therapy dogs sanctioned by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national organization that provides training, registration, support, and insurance for its members. A retired Southwest Airlines pilot, Harvey said the dogs have been tested with local testers, and owners must renew registration annually to retain their membership.
Harvey and her teams check the monitors at the airport to check on delays or cancellations, and then decide where to provide the most effective assistance.
“We provide therapeutic interaction to the public, flight crews, TSA (Transportation Security Administration), people who work with the airport and airport police, especially when the airport gets stressful.”
The dogs have been a big hit with children and especially with veterans when they return home after an Honor Flight Nevada trip to Washington, D.C. Dogs and their owners lineup on the upper concourse and then follow the entourage downstairs.
“We are all badged, had background checks and have been fingerprinted,” she added.
Kay Wright of Reno stood next to Harvey, waiting for a recent Honor Flight to arrive at the airport. Not only was she anxiously waiting for the veterans to return home, but she also wanted to help the other passengers.
“Our goal is to make it less of a problem for the passengers or kids who are traveling, people who are missing their dogs or coming back to their dogs,” Wright said. “There’s a bond we’re trying to help with.”
Wright proudly introduced her little four-legged companion, Vinnie, 5-year-old a male Australian Labradoodle who likes hiking and working as a therapy dog at the airport and library.
“His tail never stops wagging the entire time he is her,” she said. “We’ve been involved with the program for about a year-and-a-half. Ewe hard about the program and called Debbie.
Claudia Wiles has been an ardent supporter of Honor Flight Nevada. She flew on two separate trips to the nation’s capital as a guardian, and on this particular day, she had her male American Eskimo Echo in tow. Wiles feels a close kinship with veterans.
Her father, who is now deceased, served in the United States Marine Corps in the Republic of Korean and Vietnam, and she also served in the Marine Corps for four years. During her stay in the Marine Corps, Wiles deployed to Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm.
Her first Honor Flight as a guardian occurred four years ago, and her latest happened last year. “Absolutely,” she replied when asked the importance of helping World War II and Korean vets who took the flight. “We show our honor to the veterans who paved the way for us to come later.”
In addition to coming to the airport, Wiles and Echo visit the VA Hospital in Reno every Tuesday.
New to the program is Fernley resident Julianne Collmee, who waited near the gaming area with her boxer, Allie.
“She’s been pretty good,” Collmee said. “She lovers everybody.”
Collmee, like many volunteers, is also active with other veteran-related functions. Her husband belongs to the Disabled Veterans of America, and her dad is also a veteran. During the fall, she helps raise money for the Wreaths Across America program.
Heidi Jared, spokeswoman for the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, said the program has of all sizes ranging from a Chihuahua with the name of Spike to the large Newfoundland.
“This is a tremendous program helping relieve some of the stress incurred by our passengers,” she said.
Jared said the dogs also greet departure passengers as in the case of Honor Flight Nevada veterans who spent last weekend in Washington D.C.
“Our Paws for Passenger therapy dogs were at the departure at 5 a.m.,” she said. “We had four therapy dogs, three of them brand new. The vets would pet the dogs and ask questions about them. This was a nice way to send off the vets.”
Jon Yuspa, executive director of Honor Flight Nevada, said it’s a nice community gesture and 100 percent positive.
Jared, though, recalled one incident involving a Dalmatian and a little boy.
“Spirit was working the baggage claim area, and it was quite busy on arrival,” she said. “There was a husband and wife and a small child, about 4 years old.
The boy was on the floor, but when he noticed the Dalmatian, he approached Spirit and began talking to the dog.
“The husband and wife realized what was going on, and they watched their son talk to the Dalmatian. “It’s a big deal; for us,” Jared said of the parents’ reaction. “Our son is autistic, and he almost never speaks to anyone except to us on occasion.”
Jared discovered the boy’s favorite movie is 101 Dalmatians, a film that came alive for the young boy and his new relation with a real, not animated dog.
“Several months later, the parents adopted a Dalmatian for their son,” she said. “We’re so fortunate to have these dogs for our locals and passengers.”