Clarke Inghram is the CEO and master trainer of the Sit N' Stay Dog Academy. As part of their training, he brings his clients to Tampa International Airport to teach them the necessary skills involved in flying with a service dog.(See my article on Bengus: The Air Force Dog.)
The parade of service dogs and their owners, walking single file under the loving guidance of their trainer, is a new and welcome sight at Tampa's airport. There are always crowds, elevators, frenetic activity and noise at airports and these service dogs are specifically trained to cope with these extraneous distractions. (See my article on: Malec the Service Dog.)
Clients such as Joe Boisvert and his medic alert dog, Shooter, learn to cope with specific airport situations, such as walking through metal detectors, which go off consistently, and recall testing, which extends to locating both owner and baggage as well.
Boisvert and Shooter often travel together by car, but flying in a plane is a horse (or in this case, service dog) of another color. Joe needs to know that there will be no surprises or mishaps at the airport, and he won't fly unless he and his dog are completely comfortable with airport procedures, which include screening by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
In the words of Joe Boisvert: "I have a lot of anxiety issues and I sometimes stop breathing. So Shooter is trained to get my wife. He is also trained to stay with me. And he will howl until someone gives us attention."
A Unique Training Program
Part of situation training is to help owners walk their dogs through the shrill- sounding metal detectors without resulting anxiety, and this particular aspect of the training, according to TSA agent, Vanessa Valdez, "actually prepares us so we can screen them properly, and we can also create peace at the checkpoint."
Clarke and his trainers are patient with the dogs and owners, and they realize that no one, neither dog nor owner, wants to make mistakes. Clarke encourages his trainees to move on, incorporate errors into the learning process and do better the next time around.
Lee Kair the TSA's federal security director for the greater Tampa Bay area, knows of no other airport that offers this kind of specialized training for service dogs and their handlers. In his own words: When you have somebody who doesn't know how to go through the process, it does slow things down, so having people train and understand how to get through makes it go much, much faster."
These service dogs are heroes in every way. (See my article on: Lucca: A Military Dog For All Seasons.) They loyally serve their human companions every moment of every day and that includes when they decide to fly to a destination. Their devotion is far beyond the limits of anything that money could ever buy.