By Don Glynn
Niagara Gazette — Dogs are often featured in news photos working alongside police or security officers trying to find hidden drugs. People in hospitals and nursing home also occasionally see dogs making the rounds, a welcome sight for patients who seldom have any visitors.
Now there's a new breed quietly gaining recognition at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport as part the SPCA Paws for Love, a program of the animal shelter agency serving Erie County. The program was announced Friday by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority which operates the airport.
A spokesman said the SPCA initiative calls for volunteers to bring their evaluated and approved pets to patients and residents at the health care facilities and now the concept has expanded visitation to include the airport. The Buffalo-Niagara airport is believed to be one of seven in the U.S. to offer such a program to passengers. The other airports include San Jose, Calif., Fort Lauderdale and Miami, in Florida, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Texas, and Grand Rapids, Mich.
"Traveling can create stress and anxiety for passengers," said Kimberly A. Minkel, the NFTA executive director. "This program is an opportunity for us to provide an overall enhanced customer experience at our airport by providing stress relief and comfort to passengers throughout this friendly interaction with the dogs."
SPCA public relations director Gina Browning said: "We've long known the impact animals have on the psyches of people. For many years, SPCA Paws for Love visiting pets have added a new dynamic to the lives of nursing home residents, assisted living patients and others. Since starting the new airport visitation program, the calming effect dogs have had on anxious travelers has been incredible to witness." Browning added: "Unnerved passengers, frightened children, even those just arriving in Buffalo in distressed circumstances are finding immeasurable comfort in the time they're able to spend with these animals."
People interested in learning more about volunteering for the program are asked to visit the SPCA's website, YourSPCA.org, or contact program coordinator Deborah Braun at email@example.com or call 681-0744.