They wear coats that say “Pet Me” and use their cool, wet noses and soft fur to turn stressed-out passengers into pure mush.
“They” are a dozen dogs, the initial crew of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport’s K9 Crew. They range in size from a small pug-Chihuahua mix to a large furry white Great Pyrenees. Their job is to bring tense, stressed-to-the-max passengers some much-needed relief with little more than a nuzzle and a “Hey, it’s not that bad,” look.
DFW Airport introduced the rovers of relaxation on Oct. 27, bringing the dogs and their handlers out to walk the “orange carpet” – don’t call it a catwalk.
To judge from the reaction of the cynical, pessimistic journalists at the press conference, the De-stress Dozen will work miracles. They – the journalists, I mean – lapped it up.
“This is so much better than what I usually do every day,” said one journalist, rubbing a dog’s belly.
One radio reporter wanted one of the dogs to bark.
“It may be tough,” said the dog’s handler. “They’re trained not to bark.”
“How am I going to get a sound bite?” the reporter said, no hint of irony in his voice.
Overall, the reporters, the cameramen and other media types began cooing, oohing and ahhing, even squealing. Yes, reporters can squeal.
The next time a presidential candidate wants his/her henchmen to beat up reporters they should have a phalanx of pet-me furrballs to placate the other reporters. No one will remember the physical altercation as they ooh and ahh the doggie distraction. Talk about a pivot.
One of the K9 Crew members, Mary Callinan, was in charge of Penny, the pug-Chihuahua mix. Like many of the K9 Crew, Penny is a rescue dog.
“I wasn’t really looking for a dog like Penny, but when I walked into the shelter there was chaos all around and Penny was sitting there not bothered by it at all,” said Callihan. “I knew she was the one.”
Penny was small, several pounds lighter than Zofie, a big fluffy white Great Pyrenees trained by Stacy Hanson.
“I always wanted a pet therapy dog, but I just never had the right dog,” said Hanson. “Then she came into my life.”
While one of the largest of the K9 Crew, Zofie couldn’t be less threatening. For one thing, she seems more likely to roll over on her back in anticipation of a belly rub when approached than to make any gesture that could be perceived as aggressive.
I followed a few dogs and trainers as they walked through Terminal D. Two parents with a small child approached. The child began crying, but the parents, seemingly oblivious to the child’s cries, began petting the dogs, their hands disappearing deep into the thick fur. As their spirits lifted, the child stopped crying. As the dogs walked away, the child watched the animals leave with a look of sadness on her face.
“You never know what reaction you’ll get,” one of the trainers said.
The dogs then were approached by two businessmen who looked like they had just closed a million-dollar cutthroat deal. Regardless of their shark-like financial finesse, the two men were reduced to cooing like second-grade girls.
That human-dog bond is deep. It goes back at least somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 years, to when the wolf evolved into an animal genetically indistinguishable from the modern dog that leaves fur on your couch.
And somewhere along the line, dogs developed what many experts call “the gaze,” that hypnotic, imploring stare. Recent excavations have shown that humans and dogs have lived – and died – together for thousands of years, with many dogs buried with their human companions. Somewhere along the line, a deal was struck. They needed us and we needed them. .
So here, far from the ancient campfires and mammoth hunts of our ancestors, amid the gleaming, technological wonders of a modern airport, we still do.