Zoe Fermaint, 3, and Zophia Fermaint, 5, sat through a three-hour plane ride from Orlando, Fla. Any jet lag they might have been feeling was gone the instant they saw the dogs.
"A tail. A tail," Zoe said, while holding up Page's tail. Sophia leaned in for a hug.
Page and her owner Janice Johnson spent the early evening Nov. 30 at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport as a part of the airport's Runway Rovers program. Some 14 certified therapy dogs and their owners volunteer their time in an effort to make flying easier for passengers.
Hazel reached out to lick the face of Reagan Edwards, 4, of Rogers. "She just wants to kiss you," said Carol Wagner of Bentonville, Hazel's owner. "Hazel loves kids. She doesn't care what they are doing."
"Can I go see that other dog over there," Reagan asked her mother, Lurana Edwards. "There are so many."
Dressed in a Minnie Mouse dress, red with white polka dots, Reagan and her family were headed to Orlando and Walt Disney World. "I think it's awesome," Lurana Edwards said of the Runway Rovers program. "I brought an iPad [to entertain Reagan and her brother Max, 7], but I want to save it for the flight. It's better than going up and down the escalator."
The Runway Rovers program got its start in August through Roberto Sucre, the former special projects coordinator for the airport, and Julie Jarrett of Rogers, owner of therapy dog Haylee.
The volunteers don't follow a set schedule or even record their hours, Sucre explained, but an informal count totals 86 hours with dogs at the airport.
All dogs must be registered with one of four therapy dog organizations -- the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Love on a Leash, Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International -- ensuring the dogs have the proper training and insurance for their work, Sucre said. Many also serve elsewhere in the community, such as at schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
"So far, we haven't needed to set a schedule," Sucre said. "We want them to be able to come out whenever they can."
"A lot of people think they're drug dogs or service dogs," said Warren Smith, an administrative assistant with the airport and the new volunteer coordinator.
"As soon as I found out I could pet them, I was overjoyed," said Shannon Wilson of Bentonville, who was in the airport to pick up her daughter. "They bring such peace."
Sloan Cambron agreed. On her way home to Florida, she joined Obi, a Great Pyrenees, as he laid on the floor and stroked his fur with long strokes. She said she had been away from her own dogs for a month. "I could do this all day," she said. "I think it's a good idea. They say it does release a chemical."
"It's kind of a stress relief," said Matthew Hess of Monet, Mo., taking his son and grandsons to Orlando for an NBA game. "It's a distraction -- a pleasant one. Dogs are fun."
"Look at this guy," Dylan Hess, 10, said of Obi. Dylan bent to look under Obi's chin and then ran to tell his dad, Josh Hess, what he had seen.
"It just makes you smile to watch the kids with something," said Carol Bradford of Seligman, Mo., who was going to visit her children and grandchildren in Florida for an early Christmas.
"It's not just the kids," Smith said. "I've seen passengers just go crazy. I've seen adults get down on their knees."
As he spoke, passengers snapped cell phone pictures of the dogs then laughed when one rolled over to pose. "I've even seen some break down a bit as the dogs remind them of their pets at home."
Jarrett brings Haylee to the airport because she likes to travel herself. "It can be stressful and sad," she said. "A dog can brighten your day."
She told of one passenger who came from Holland to care for her teenage daughter and then bury her. "She was sad to go home and leave her daughter behind," Jarrett said.
"It was so unexpected," Larry Granling of Centerton said of an encounter he and Obi had with a passenger. "Obi was there, and this guy had just come out of the TSA screening area. He had just lost his 14-year-old Great Dane the week before. He was happy to see us, but he was sad."
"They love the attention. They love to be petted," said Johnson, Page's owner. "When she lays down with a huff, it means she wants a belly rub.
"To Page, nothing is more rewarding. And people need this love, these hugs. And Page loves every single person ... and shoes. She's obsessed with people's shoes."
NAN Our Town on 12/21/2017
Print Headline: Curing 'pet lag'