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‘Wag Brigade’ Therapy Dogs Bring Affection To SFO Holiday Travelers

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A member of the San Francisco SPCA's "Wag Brigade" interacts with a passenger at San Francisco International Airport. (San Francisco SPCA via Bay City News Service)

A member of the San Francisco SPCA’s “Wag Brigade” interacts with a passenger at San Francisco International Airport. (San Francisco SPCA via Bay City News Service)

SAN FRANCISCO INT’L AIRPORT (CBS SF) — Travel at San Francisco International Airport just got a lot more cuddly thanks to a team of therapy dogs who began interacting with passengers at the Bay Area’s busiest airport Tuesday.

The Wag Brigade, a new branch of the San Francisco SPCA’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program, brings nine certified therapy dogs and their volunteer owners to SFO’s check-in areas, terminals and gates to spread a little four-legged affection to passengers feeling the stress of holiday travel.

Petting a dog for just a couple of minutes has been proven to lower a person’s heart rate, relieve anxiety and reduce stress, according to the SPCA.

The three therapy dogs who launched SFO’s Wag Brigade have been regular visitors to Bay Area hospitals, rehabilitation centers and youth facilities.

“These are pooches that have very high credentials,” SFO spokesman Doug Yakel said.

“Jenna,” a 6-year-old white curly-haired cockapoo whose full name is “Lady Jenna Barbara,” frequently visits hospitals to snuggle with patients, and loves children, according to her owner, Fabio Giuntarelli.

“She’s very cuddly,” Giuntarelli said. “She has a good, mellow temperament and I want to share her qualities with people.”

During a test visit through SFO on Monday, Giuntarelli said several passengers flocked to Jenna for a few quick pats, some of them saying that they missed their own dogs at home.

“She’s a total babe magnet,” he said.

Another member of the Wag Brigade named “Toby,” a lanky 3-year-old golden-doodle with a broad smile, wasn’t a perfect fit for hospital visits because he occasionally drooled on patients, according to owner Shari Marks.

However, Toby has become a big favorite among students of all ages at Bay Area schools, Marks said. This week, he’s scheduled to go to the California College of the Arts to interact with students who are studying for finals.

“He’s totally mellow and incredibly well-trained,” Marks said with Toby panting at her side. “The kids love him.”

At least one of the Wag Brigade dogs will be touring the airport seven days a week during peak times through the holidays, Yakel said.

The dogs vary in size, but each will be wearing a gray vest that says “Pet Me!” and has the dog’s name on the back.

If the Wag Brigade program goes well, there is a possibility that it will continue after the holidays, Yakel said.

“The goal is to have it running all year,” he said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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