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Where Dogs (and One Cat) are CATS

by Robin Russell, volunteer writer

CATS cat

Many of us find stress and anxiety relief in our pets. Realizing that travel can evoke those feelings, Denver International Airport took that concept to a new level in October 2015 when it introduced the Canine Airport Therapy Squad or CATS. This program is designed to help relax and delight airport passengers by having its members stroll the concourses. Did I mention those members are of the four-legged variety?

CATS started with 28 certified and registered therapy dogs and their equally qualified volunteer owners/handlers. At the onset, these dogs represented 14 breeds, and now there are more than 100 dogs – and one cat – representing more than 40 breeds. The breeds most numerous are the Newfoundland, golden retriever, Labrador retriever, German shepherd, and standard poodle. Smaller breeds are well-represented too, and Xeli – a domestic shorthair cat –that joined the team last year. While not the first such program in the country, it’s now the largest. Just another testament to how much Denver loves dogs!

Prospective animal members go through extensive screening that includes an interview and testing process. They must be family pets at least two years old and show a calm, friendly demeanor in public. The animals and people are trained, registered and insured by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and must have prior pet therapy experience elsewhere. After the animals and their volunteers complete the screening, they are outfitted in blue plaid “Pet Me” vests custom designed for them.

In addition, all volunteers must complete a customer service training and field evaluations to ensure the airport’s busy environment is a good fit. Human volunteers go through airport security background checks, fingerprinting and security testing prior to receiving an airport ID badge. CATS teams volunteer a minimum of 10 hours per quarter or two visits a month. Each CAT has their own trading cards with interesting facts about them including their “pet peeves”.

Ruthie and Jamey

I interviewed CATS team members Ruthie and Jamey (pictured) about their experience. Ruthie told me, “When Jamey, my 10-year-old golden retriever, was younger we participated in field, agility and obedience. While now 10 he’s not suited for inactivity, so our next journey was into pet therapy. We started with the CATS program last August, and not only has the experience been a hit with the passengers, it’s a really big hit with Jamey. He loves people! It doesn’t matter if they’re young, old, male or female; anyone who wants to pet him and give him a hug will get his undivided attention with a non-stop wagging tail. For me, the experience of watching the smiles and hugs from passengers is priceless.” Jamey added, “woof”, which I think meant “I’m just bein’ a golden.”

If you want to smile and learn more about the program visit www.flydenver.com/cats.

Press releases provided by Denver International Airport
Photographs courtesy of Denver International Airport and CATS team member, Ruthie
Interview with CATS team members Ruthie and Jamey

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