Harry is a slouch. But that’s just what PVD Pups looks for in a companion dog to lighten the hearts of travelers at T.F. Green Airport. Celebrating its second year of operation, the pet therapy dogs and trainers of PVD Pups brought smiles to the faces of weary travelers and provided stress relief through furry interaction.
Over two years ago Liberty Luciano, executive services administrator at T.F. Green, saw an opening to give additional customer service at the airport. At the time, 13 other airports had companion dogs walking through the terminal. Luciano teamed up with Susan Baker of Dynamic Dog Training to get the wheels going. Luciano said that there are now 30 airports with similar programs.
At the anniversary party on Wednesday, Aug. 9, both agreed that the program is a success. Sitting at the top of the escalators inside the entrance were five happy pooches, all wearing green vests with “Pet Me” written on the sides.
“People love the experience, it just makes them smile,” Luciano said. “It’s amazing how much happier people are with dogs.”
Katie Westrin is from Connecticut but flies out of Green because it is the closest and most affordable from her home. She and her husband, son and two daughters all stopped to pet Harry, a white, fluffy Great Pyrenees rolled over on his back waiting to get his belly rubbed. Everyone within a 10-foot radius of Harry let out a long, “Aww.”
“What a treat. I think it’s wonderful to have the dogs here,” Katie said as she and her three young children all scratched Harry, whose tongue at that point was hanging out of his wide-open mouth. The Westrins are traveling to Michigan to visit family, but that’s not always the case for travelers.
Traveling and flying is normally thought about as fun and exciting, but for many people, Parker elaborated, it is not always a pleasant ride.
“A lot of people flying are traveling due to death, sickness, children flying alone due to divorces, people held up for delays,” she said. “We want to help brighten up their day.”
Parker said the training for the service dogs is a vigorous eight weeks, and not all dogs make the cut. The PVD Pups mascot is named Theodore Francis Green, although everyone calls him Teddy. He is a black and brown brindle pit-bull boxer mix who was rescued from a Smithfield dog pound after showing promise at Parker’s training sessions.
At a busy airport, there are announcements that go over the sound system, people walking by with luggage, other dogs traveling and even police dogs.
“This is not a stress-free environment, but we want to make it one,” Parker said.
There are 28 PVD Pup pairs. All were trained at Parker’s canine training school in Warwick. Each volunteer is required to donate at least two hours twice a month at the airport. Parker said she is always motivating the teams, but most pairs really enjoy the work.
Best of all, she said, “the dogs will work for food.”