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'Everybody loves it': Pet therapy program returns to YEG Edmonton International Airport

The popular pet therapy program has returned to the YEG Edmonton International Airport.

The program was put on hold when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, but seven dogs and their handlers have now returned.

"It’s one of the programs that people in past years loved to see. Employees loved to see it. Anytime you can have pet therapy program going and the dogs wandering around, everybody loves it," Steve Maybee, vice president of Edmonton Airports, told CTV News Edmonton.

"I think it’s more important than most people realize. Travel in itself can cause some anxiety and some stress. And people, they see the dogs and they’ll search them out, they’ll go right up, and they’ll feel better right away."

Passengers say they're happy to see the dogs back too.

"I just love dogs, I had to leave mine at home. We’re leaving for three weeks so just already miss her, and saw a little puppy, I got to pet it you know," Aaron said.

"Not that I was necessarily feeling anxious but whatever I was feeling it certainly dropped even lower, feeling really relaxed so it’s really nice to kind of have that interaction," said Guilia.

Janet Waltho and her dog Tucker at the YEG Edmonton International Airport.

The airport initially launched the program in 2015, and Maybee says it was the first airport in Canada to launch this kind of program.

"We made it a priority to bring them back when it was safe to do so. We wanted them back as early as we could."

Janet Waltho and her dog Tucker started working at the airport shortly before the pandemic.

The pair is happy to be back at work in 2023.

"It is so great to be back. Tucker was very depressed when he couldn’t go to work. So getting back here at the airport, it’s amazing to see him do his job, make people smile, take some fear and stress out of people," she said.

Tucker therapy dog at the YEG Edmonton International Airport.

Waltho is a volunteer with the Pet Therapy Society of Northern Alberta, which is the organization that facilitates the volunteer teams.

"We do obedience and temperament evaluations to see, do they have some basic obedience commands? Can they walk on a leash? Do they like being pet by strangers? Those kind of things."

Waltho says the program offers value to travelers and employees alike.

"We have kids who are bored, toddlers having meltdowns, and once they see the dog, everything calms right down. The parents are very grateful for that."

"With a staff member, actually. She had recently lost her pet, and when she saw Tucker, the tears came, she got down on the floor with him, cuddled with him, and it gave her a sense of relief that she could go back and finish her day."

Maybee and Waltho say there are plans in the works to add more handler and dog teams at the airport in the near future.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson. Top Stories

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