09 December 2016

HEALTH - The First Airport Therapy Pig

(Courtesy San Francisco International Airport)
LiLou’s job at the San Francisco International Airport is the same as the rest of her Wag Brigade team - to reduce traveller’s stress through animal assisted therapy.

The difference with LiLou? She’s a pig - likely the first animal therapy pig working at an airport.

While her work at the airport started this week, LiLou has been busy at senior’s centres and hospitals since she completed animal assisted therapy training at the San Francisco SPCA.

“We have more than 300 dog, cat and rabbit volunteer teams, but LiLou is the first pig in our program,” said Dr. Jennifer Henley, SF SPCA Animal Assisted Therapy manager.

LiLou is a Juliana pig, a breed that typically grows to be 30-50 pounds and 13-15 inches high, and can do tricks including playing a piano.

Like the more common therapy animals, LiLou had to complete the full training program and pass an evaluation before starting visits and joining the airport team.

“Since its launch in 2013, the SFO Wag Brigade has become a favorite amenity among travelers,” said Director-Guest Experience Christopher Birch. “With the addition of LiLou, we can look forward to more moments of surprise and delight for guests at our airport.”

Canine programs are becoming more common at North American airports including Calgary, who launched the Pre-Board Pals program this year, Denver and Los Angeles to name a few.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport conducted a pilot program in the spring using miniature therapy horses.

Medical studies have proven the benefits of animal therapy programs including a reduction in pain, depression, anxiety and fatigue.

Airport animal programs strive to reduce anxiety for travellers - not only when they fear flying but also due to delays, and to create a more pleasant travel experience.

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