Good News: YYZ Has Gone To The Dogs

With Martha Chapman

Jan Triggs and her husband Larry Shack with their canine colleagues Bella and Sofia

Cathy Loik and Zorie

Daisy and Pumpkin reporting for duty!

I’m a sucker for a wet nose. So it was a thrill to do a little excursion to Pearson Airport this week to meet some of its newest ambassadors, which have something in common: they all have four legs.

That’s because Pearson is just the latest Canadian airport to partner with the folks at Saint John Ambulance and their therapy dogs program. Usually visiting rest homes, seniors’ facilities and schools (where kids happily read to the dogs), the Saint John volunteer humans and their canine companions deliver calming, non-judgemental love wherever they go. The program at YYZ has been in operation for a few months in test mode with the official launch this week.

“I love it – it’s magical!” Larry Shack told me of his visits to the airport with 11-year-old Yorkshire terrier Sofia. “It’s such fun to put a smile on someone’s face – and it lowers my blood pressure too!” (Shack is familiar with the concept of blood pressure: his “real” job is airport duty manager.) 

Cathy Loik’s golden retriever Zorie is about as laid-back as you can get – a perfect therapy dog. “I volunteer to give back to the community,” she says. “It’s strange but each shift we’ve done we’ve encountered someone in tears, because they are sad to see someone off or perhaps they are heading to a funeral or they are anxious about flying. Yet so many of them are relieved and distracted to spend some time with Zorie.” 

What about people who are allergic to dogs – or afraid of them? “We can instantly recognize when someone isn’t comfortable to see us, so we just avoid them,” says Shack. And what about the, um, call of nature? There are actually “pet relief” stations both pre- and post-security at the airport.

It’s clear the program is going to be a hit with passengers and airport staff alike – there are 49,000 employees at Pearson, several of whom came by to welcome their new colleagues with pats and cuddles. “Some of the airline staff have asked if they can take a dog or two with them on their shift!” laughed Suzanne Gayle, Manager of the Welcome Team volunteer program.

A total of 13 dogs, all of whom have been assessed for their temperament, currently do 2-hour shifts each week, accompanied by their owners in the distinctive bright blue Welcome Team jackets. If like me you’re partial to a wet nose, please be sure to say hello when you see one!


Johnnie Carson - February 22, 2019 @ 17:40
I want to play with a hamster !

debbie - February 21, 2019 @ 10:43
What a fabulous idea!!! Animals are very grounding

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