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Denver's airport relieves stressed flyers with emotional support dogs

During one of the most stressful weeks to fly, some special four-legged airport workers can help keep travelers from flying off the handle.
Posted at 7:55 PM, Nov 22, 2023

It's one of the busiest weeks at the Denver International Airport, for people and for pups like Olaf.

"It can be very stressful, depending if you're used to traveling or if you haven't been traveling for a while," said Stephanie Figueroa, spokeswoman for the Denver International Airport.

Nearly 30 million passengers will be in the air this Thanksgiving week, which would be a record according to the industry group Airlines for America. And with that many people, there's bound to be some stressed-out flyers.

"So there's various things that airports can do to mitigate stress for their customers — that could be public art, that could be creating safe spaces for people to rest and recharge. We also have a very special program," said Figueroa. 

Which is where Olaf comes in — he's part of the Canine Airport Therapy Squad. And with more than 80 animals, he is part of the largest airport therapy program in the country. 

"Honestly I think they relax people a lot, there's a lot of stress in life ... Dogs are total companion animals. I think they actually change your perspective on life, especially when you're right near one," said Brian Seiber, an animal therapy handler.

Dogs like Olaf are here year-round to help soothe anxious flyers during their time of need.

"I had one that we actually ended up sitting with a person till they took off on their flight because they were so nervous," Seiber said. 

Johns Hopkins researchers say that simply petting a dog lowers the stress hormone cortisol in humans. A feel-good hormone called oxytocin is raised when people and dogs play. 

Researchers  have found that a combination of these two things relaxes many people, lowering their blood pressure.

"Most of the time just the presence of a dog there is just a huge help," said Seiber.

Hopefully, more airports will incorporate animal therapy, bringing nervous flyers something to be a little more thankful for. 

WCPO: Therapy animals spread joy to health care workers
Nurses pet a dog.

WCPO: Therapy animals spread joy to health care workers

Doctors and nurses at a hospital in Cincinnati visited the animals in an effort to reduce stress levels.