Meet the Wag Brigade! It’s made up of 22 dogs and 1 pig who help passengers relax at San Francisco International Airport
This is LiLou the therapy pig. She knows a whole bunch of tricks
The animals are all certified therapy pets
The Wag Brigade program started in December 2013 and ever since then, the doggos have been meeting and greeting everyone who’s feeling a bit down or in need of a pick-me-up.
And LiLou the pig joined the team not too long ago. She’s hypoallergenic (instantly a 10/10 for me), she knows how to do lots of tricks: she can greet you with a wave, stand on her back hooves, and perform with her toy piano! (Obviously, not all at once, though that would be impressive.)
According to Jen, back in 2013, they “had noticed a trend with a few other Airports that had started similar programs and I was asked to take a look at those programs to see if I could create something fun and unique to SFO. The idea for therapy dogs in Airports got started the day after 9/11 when an airport employee at SJC brought his therapy dog into work to ease passenger jitters and anxieties.”
Every doggo has its own unique way of cheering up stressed-out passengers
Jen told us that being in the company of animals helps reduce stress: “Scientific research shows that pets make us happier and healthier. Dogs love making people happy. It’s been proven that petting a dog increases levels of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for making us happy; and decreases levels of cortisol, the hormone responsible for making us feel stressed and anxious.”
We were curious to find out where the animals go and what they do when they’re off duty. “All of the Wag Brigade animals are personal pets and when the animals are off-duty they accompany their human handlers as they go about their day-to-day routines. Most of the animals live in San Francisco and they enjoy fun dog activities like playing fetch at the beach or the park! Some even pick-up additional volunteer shifts at local hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, and Puppy Dog Tales Reading (PDT) Programs.”
“Our main goal is to connect with our guests, bring people together, and to provide a memorable Airport experience,” Jen added. “Our Wag Brigade dogs are required to pass a Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC); and all of the animals must graduate from the SF SPCA’s Animal Assisted Interaction program; are required to have at least 6 months to a year of successful therapy experience working with other organizations prior to coming to the Airport to audition for the Wag Brigade.”
She continued: “Potential Wag Brigade teams are evaluated for their temperament, as well as Airport suitability. It is especially important that the animals are good with children. We look for animals with stable temperaments, friendly personalities, impeccable manners, and are very obedient. The animals are like Airport celebrities and they look forward to being loved and petted on here at SFO. It’s a win-win for the animals and our Airport guests!”
LiLou is one of the most popular members of the Wag Brigade
Meanwhile, Krista Maloney of the SFSPCA told us that the SFO approached them about starting the program when it officially launched in December 2013. “SFO had noticed other airports starting therapy programs and wanted to do something similar.”
Maloney confirmed that animals help reduce stress: “Several studies have shown that interacting with animals can improve mood, decrease stress, lower blood pressure, and possibly increase cardiovascular health.”
“All of the animals in the Wag Brigade are part of the SF SPCA’s Animal Assisted Interactions Program. They are trained and certified therapy animals who are owned. At the end of their Wag Brigade shift, they go home with their guardians. You can learn more about our Animal Assisted Interactions program here.”
“The reaction from our passengers is really positive,” Jennifer Kazarian, the manager of the program, previously told the media. “When a Wag Brigade animal walks into the terminal, we see people look up from their devices, and they start to interact with each other and they start to interact with the dog, and it puts a smile on everyone’s face.”
According to Kazarian, the pilot program initially had only 6 doggos. But “the engagement was just amazing. So from then on, we were like okay—send more dogs!”
Passengers tend to stress out when their flights are delayed or canceled. That’s the perfect time for the Wag Brigade to rush to the rescue!
Each animal has its own unique way of cheering people up. For instance, Brixton likes rolling on his back and letting others rub his belly. While Jagger likes weaving in and out and in again through people’s legs.
“We often hear people say things like: ‘I miss my dog more than my wife’ or ‘I just got back from a two-week vacation and this is the best part of my trip,'” Kazarian joked about how much passengers enjoy the emotional support animals.