Erin Clarke of Springbrook, P.E.I. was not finished being checked over after making her way through security and finding a seat in the departure lounge of the Charlottetown Airport.
She was in for an unexpected, but very welcomed, encounter with a well-trained, even-tempered two-year-old golden retriever named Bella.
Clarke, who was waiting to board a plane for her trip to New York, was one of the first passengers Thursday to get a warm nuzzling by the large, gentle dog.
The Charlottetown Airport has partnered with the St. John Ambulance to launch a therapy dog visitation program at the airport.
The program, says Vanessa Smith, marketing and communications manager with the Charlottetown Airport Authority, will see volunteer dog handlers and their trained pooches roaming the airport visiting passengers, visitors and staff.
“We hope that it just puts smiles on peoples’ faces, that it relieves the stress and anxiety that we know passengers have when they are travelling,’’ she says.
“At the end of the day, we just want it to be a positive experience.’’
Smith says many people have a fear of flying, adding delays, cancellations, bad weather and leaving family and friends behind can all contribute to a stressful flight.
“So, we thought a program like this would help multiple people,’’ she says.
Pamela Smith, a therapy dog handler with St. John Ambulance, made the pitch to offer dog therapy at the Charlottetown Airport.
“I’ve travelled most of the world and a lot of airports do have a therapy dog and I thought this would be a good place for us – a good fit,’’ says Pamela, who is retired from the military.
She hopes interacting with Bella will help passengers feel a little more relaxed as they wait to become airborne.
“Coming through security often creates a lot of anxiety for people,’’ says Pamela.
“(Bella) seems to quell some of that anxiety.’’
Clarke is an immediate and enthusiastic supporter of the therapy dog visitation at the airport.
“I think it’s a great idea to have for people of all ages,’’ she says.
“I’m a nervous flier, and so it’s nice to have something to keep you calm and distract you from the anxiety that can start to build up as you get closer and closer to your boarding time.’’
Clarke says she could just lose herself petting Bella, a dog she describes as soft, beautiful and gentle.
“So just petting the dog is a really calming thing,’’ she says.
“I love it. I wish it was something I can have all the time when I fly. This is a great service to supply.’’
The program will run every Wednesday, 10:30-11:30 a.m., with Pamela and her faithful, four-legged partner, Bella. The airport hopes to add more volunteers to the program over the coming months.