Therapy Dog Program at JWA to Reduce Traveler Stress

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John Wayne Airport travelers pet Patriot, a rescued husky who is part of the newly created AirPAWS therapy dog program, on Feb. 26.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©

Traveling through John Wayne Airport just became a lot less “ruff” and a lot more “PAWS-itive,” thanks county officials and a local animal advocacy group.

A trip to JWA may include an encounter with a certified animal ambassador following the start of a new program created by the Orange County Board of Supervisors and OC Animal Allies (formerly OC SPCA).

Board of Supervisors Chair Michelle Steel, whose district covers Newport Beach, explained in a press release shared on Wednesday that the program was created in an effort to reduce stress for passengers by bringing in therapy dogs to cheer people up.

“We all get stressed while traveling,” Steel said in a prepared statement. “I am delighted to see that we can have a program that can both be a benefit for passengers going through John Wayne and a project that won’t be a burden on taxpayers.”

There is a lot of difficult things going on right now in Orange County, Steel said during a Feb. 26 press conference event announcing the program, but this is a happy occasion. She thanked the OC Animal Allies volunteers for their work in making it happen.

“I love these dogs… you can pet them and you’re going to get rid of all the stress while you’re traveling,” she said at the event.

OC Board of Supervisors Chair Michelle Steel shakes the paw of a golden retriever who is part of the new;y-created AirPAWS program at JWA.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©

The Board discussed the program about two weeks ago and things moved fast to get it started, she noted.

“I’m the happiest camper (right now),” said Steel, who has three dogs at home and noted that it’s great to come to work and see more dogs. “I just love this.”

Her fellow Supervisor Don Wagner said the AirPAWS program will bring joy and comfort to travelers passing through the local airport.

“More importantly, we are giving new life to animals in need with the positive attention they certainly deserve,” he added.

At the press conference, Wagner talked about Patriot, a husky who was rescued from the San Diego area. He was found with wire wrapping his mouth shut.

“You can see the scars, but what you can’t see is the fact that this dog has not only healed from that trauma, but is helping so many other people,” Wagner said.

Wagner said he was happy Patriot, along with about nine other furry friends, could help kick off the event at the airport.

“I’m happy to be covered in dog hair, it’s a great look,” he joked.

Approximately 60 airports in the United States have a similar program, according to JWA officials.

OC District 3 Supervisor Don Wagner takes a selfie photo with one of the dogs in the new AirPAWS program at the airport.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©

Research shows that therapy dogs can provide physical and mental health benefits, officials noted in the message. For example, interacting with a therapy dog can reduce anxiety, provide comfort, diminish pain, aid in relaxation, and lower blood pressure.

OC Animal Allies is comprised of human and dog ambassadors, who are dedicated to providing these benefits to the public while educating about responsible pet ownership, and advocating against animal cruelty.

The group “brings smiles to senior citizens at care facilities, with children affected by autism spectrum disorder, child victims of crimes at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and much more.”

They have provided dog therapy services throughout Orange County for  several decades and are excited to bring it to the millions of travelers passing through John Wayne Airport every year, OC Animal Allies Director Kevin Marlin said in a prepared statement.

“AirPAWS will make the often stressful process of traveling much more enjoyable and will create yet another opportunity for OC Animal Allies to uphold its mission of giving back to the community and strengthening the human-animal bond,” Marlin said.

Airport Director Barry Rondinella speaks as OC Supervisor Don Wagner and Board Chair Michelle Steel listen during the Feb. 26 press conference.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©

This is an important step for Orange County to be taking, Marlin said at the Feb. 26 press conference. The dogs in the program will be the furry welcoming face to people flying into JWA, he added.

Airport Director Barry Rondinella agreed that the program will help relax passengers at JWA. It’s an “awesome” day for the airport, he said at the Feb. 26 event, this is another way to put the fun back into flying.

They have been looking into bringing dogs into the airport for a number of years, Rondinella explained at the press conference, and this program is the perfect fit.

“John Wayne Airport is known for providing a superior guest experience, and we are committed to making travel enjoyable and stress-free,” Rondinella said in the statement. “From nervous travelers to animal lovers, the AirPAWS therapy dogs are sure to put a smile on every guest’s face.”

For more information, visit ocanimalallies.org and ocair.com

Kids play and pet with a dog who is part of the AirPAWS program at John Wayne Airport.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©
A child visits with a dog who is part of the AirPAWS program.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©
Airport Director Barry Rondinella pets a dog in the new AirPAWS program at JWA.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©
OC Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner pet one of the dogs in the new AirPAWS program at John Wayne Airport.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©
OC Animal Allies volunteers pose for a photo with their dogs in front of the John Wayne statue at the airport.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©
(standing, left to right) OC Animal Allies Executive Director Kevin Marlin, OCAA board member Kristen Monson, OC Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel, Supervisor Don Wagner, and Airport Director Barry Rondinella at a press conference on Feb. 26 at John Wayne Airport to announce the AirPAWS Therapy Dog Program.
— Photo courtesy of JWA ©
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