By now, most folks know about therapy dogs assisting returning vets. There’s even a special day of acknowledgment. The first annual National Therapy Animal Day was introduced by the non-profit ‘Pet Partners’ on May 18, 2015. Of recent date, there are so many comfort dogs taking passenger seats on airplanes that controversy has arisen as to how many of these flying dogs are truly registered and trained comfort dogs?
But what about other species trained for the therapeutic work of comforting humans? Can a non-canine pet serve the same purpose?
Since December, 2013 San Francisco International (SFO) was one of many airports in the country where handlers walk trained therapy dogs through the terminals to greet passengers and reduce the stress of travel.
Which begs the question: Why not use a pig for the same purpose?
No sooner said then done. It now looks like there is at least one airport in the U.S. ahead of the pack deploying a ‘therapy pig’ to the do the work of a dog.
That’s right, the growing list of airport employees of the animal variety just added a new member to their team. Representing the Sus scrofa domesticus species, Lilou the pig is the latest to join the airports “Wag Brigade,” which is the official name for San Francisco International Airport’s animal assisted therapy program.
As the first pig, Lilou is certified in the Animal Assisted Therapy Program of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
She shows up to work in a variety of costumes, including a Wag Brigade “Pet Me!” vest. Each animal on the team is also featured on trading cards. According to the stats on LiLou’s tag, she has a repertoire of tricks she can perform. This includes greeting airport passengers with her snout, waving, and twirling and standing on her back hooves. She can also play a toy piano and is said to end each tune with a proper, post-performance bow.
“I can see that she is happy showing off her tricks and getting her praise,” said LiLou’s owner, Tatyana Danilova. “It also brings positive emotions to me seeing that we can do something good for the community and bring more smiles in some unconventional way.”
While the dogs in SFO’s Wag Brigade have been quite popular, the airport has been working with the SF SPCA to expand the types of animals on the team, airport spokesman Doug Yakel said. “When we learned of LiLou being certified, and met her, we knew this had the potential to be a very popular addition at SFO.”
So, if your traveling through the San Francisco Airport in the not so distant future, look LiLou up. While there is no set schedule for when she might pop up on your next visit, it’s worth the effort to scout her out.
But Lilou is not the only unique animal to take on this type of restorative responsibility. If you can believe it, at the Cincinnati/Northern International Airport, miniature therapy horses have been making regular visits to welcome passengers coming and going. But that’s a tale wagger for another day. Happy Traveling!