What do Bessie, MiniMoo, Murphy and Jax all have in common? All have four legs and spread smiles and joy on a regular basis at the Fort Wayne International Airport. These Therapy Dogs are greeters to passengers of all ages through the FWA Hospitality PAWS (Pets Assisting Well-Being and Success) program.
“We are extremely proud of this program and our partnership with PAWS, Inc.,” said Rebecca Neild, Air Service and Marketing Manager of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority. “Traveling can be a very stressful experience and we want to make traveling through FWA as enjoyable as we possibly can. The dogs and their handlers provide comfort for passengers while they are waiting to board their flights. They are a huge hit with the kids who come through our terminal and their parents are always appreciative of the distraction that the dogs provide during the wait.”
FWA’s Hospitality PAWS program is currently comprised of nine handler/dog teams, with each dog being a different breed and possessing a unique personality. The PAWS teams currently go to the airport once a week for a two-hour shift, with more frequent visits during higher traffic seasons such as holidays and spring break. All of the therapy dog teams are certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
Chris Bohlman and his dog Bessie are one of the Alliance of Therapy dog teams that help out regularly at the airport. Chris describes himself as “an old retired guy who volunteers.” He is much more than that. He and his wife Anne own three Great Danes and are busy four to six days a week spreading cheer at a variety of sites such as The Allen County Library, Erin’s House, Parkview Hospice, Indiana Tech, Purdue University Fort Wayne, St. Francis, IVY Tech and of course FWA. They also work with Mike Rowland, supporting his great efforts in animal training and development, especially Service Dogs for Veterans.
The Alliance of Therapy Dogs is a nationwide volunteer organization with over 15,000 members that began in 1990. ATD’s goal is to provide testing, registration, support, and insurance for members who are involved in volunteer animal-assisted activities. These activities include visits to hospitals, special needs centers, schools, nursing homes and airports. Their objective is to form a network of caring individuals who are willing to share their special dogs to bring happiness and cheer to people, young and old alike.
There are many benefits to pet therapy. Petting a dog can take a person’s mind off of aches, pains and worries. Interacting with a dog can also lower blood pressure and stress, plus invoke laughter. Warm memories of people’s own pets are often shared while socializing with the therapy dogs and their handlers.
Pam Paxson and her retriever Murphy are among the regular teams at the airport. She too owns three dogs and is heavily involved in PAWS. Pam said “This was on my bucket list for when I retired. I enjoy meeting and interacting with people. Sometimes they are afraid of dogs and this is a good opportunity to show how well behaved dogs can be and how they can help relieve stress.”
Chris finds his work very rewarding and his goal is to get more people involved in volunteering with a Therapy Dog. The easy to use website for Alliance of Therapy, www.therapydogs.com walks you through what is required to become a handler and get your dog certified, along with what to expect during visits.
For the folks passing through Fort Wayne International Airport, faces will continue to light up as they see the wagging welcome in store for them. Chris and Pam agree “The best therapists have fur and four legs.”
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