TULSA — The Tulsa International Airport is welcoming therapy dogs into the terminal to greet passengers and relieve stress.
The program is new and still in the early phases. Currently there are only three dogs in the program, Merlin, Sarah and Twister. The ultimate goal is to staff the airport with pups from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. every day.
"It’s well proven that it helps passengers relax and unwind," Dustin Meyer with Alliance Therapy Dogs said. "It helps with their anxiety to have a dog close by."
Meyer is Merlin, the Golden Retriever's, handler. He is also the one who came up with the idea for the program.
As passengers and airport employees make their way through the terminal, Merlin, Sarah and Twister are ready to greet them. The dogs do not approach anyone. They wait for people to approach them.
Passengers headed straight for the dogs and their handlers who said "Welcome to Tulsa" as passengers walked to baggage claim. What starts out as an exhausted look on their faces, quickly turned to smiles as they pet the dogs.
The therapy dogs roam throughout the terminal, near the gates, check-in and baggage claim.
Both Merlin and Sarah are rescues turned therapy dogs. Their handlers say their purpose in life is to greet people and take their mind off their worries.
Tulsa is the 61st airport in the country to implement the therapy dog program, a spokesperson for Tulsa International said.
In the few short weeks they have been in the airport, Meyer and Shirley Johnson, Sarah's handler, have countless stories about their interactions with passengers and employees.
"You do get a wide range of emotions," Johnson said. "I get a lot of parents who like to take pictures with her so they can show her to their kids, or they'll FaceTime their kids. We spend a lot of time on devices."
Sandy Smith spent several minutes with the dogs as she and her husband waited for their luggage that coincidentally had a picture of a Yorkie on it.
"The minute I saw them, they just bring this sense of a friendly place," Smith said.
Smith said she hopes other airports take note of the program and adopt it.
"It would have been great to just sit down and pet a dog and just decompress," Smith said about a previous longer flight she recently took. "You just get anxious sitting there so long."
The same joy passengers and airport employees get from seeing and petting the dogs, Sarah and Merlin get knowing they get to be one of the first faces people see when they touch down in Tulsa.
"She saw my [airport] vest and she knew it was time," Johnson said. "She started dancing at the door [of my home]. When we got off the shuttle, she pranced all the way in to the airport."
After the program is fully up and running, Meyer said they will send out a message to all certified therapy dogs in the area to join the Welcome Waggin' if they would like.
The dogs will work in two hour shifts.
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