In March 2019, Philadelphia International Airport's (PHL) Guest Experience (GX) Department introduced the Wagging Tails Brigade, including a group of furry, friendly dogs in partnership with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and most recently, Comfort Caring Canines. Within both organizations, dogs go through a variety of training and tests.
"The airport's Wagging Tails Brigade has a great calming effect on all of our guests, especially children,” said Airport Public Information Program Supervisor Sharron Roantree. “Children seem to enjoy our beloved pups, and the parents are delighted that their children are enjoying themselves. Some of our guests strike up conversations with one another while petting the dogs and start sharing pictures of their animals. I like to think we create mini friendships for the moment. It's a rewarding experience for everyone involved - even the dogs!"
PHL's current list of friendly furry dogs includes Allagash, Bella, Buddy, Casey, Chi-Chi, Copper, Django, Endeavour, Enzo, Exon, Gladys, Gus Gus, Memphis, Rex, and Tarik. Within the Wagging Tails Brigade, some dogs have attained more trainings and qualifications that broaden their scope of support for people who need their assistance. Copper, Exon, and Tarik were originally trained as Seeing Eye Guide dogs, meaning they can assist visually impaired people. Additionally, Django, Tarik and Exon are also trained Crisis Response Canines (CRC) and deploy after traumatic events.
“The dogs are very good at being that bridge for people that have just gone through a traumatic incident,” said Becky Langer, Exon’s handler. “They bring comfort and grounding because sometimes people are still in shock. They’re very overwhelmed with intense emotions over what happened. Petting the dogs, they can become at ease. It helps lower their blood pressure a little bit.”
Django, Tarik, and Exon have provided comfort to survivors in the aftermath of traumatic events including:
- · Las Vegas Harvest Route 91 shooting
- · Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack
- · 2019 Virginia Beach shooting
- · Fatal death of three firefighters in Baltimore
- · Virginia Bridgewater College shooting
- · Robb Elementary school shooting in Uvalde Texas
- · Pleasantville New Jersey High School football shooting
- · Highland Park Parade shooting
- · 2023 Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion
“I hope that the dogs provide respite to people for a few minutes,” said Nancy Mittleman, Tarik’s handler. “It’s powerful enough to change someone’s mood from anxious or despair to happiness. I hope they provide it to trauma survivors, passengers, and employees. People always say this is the best part of their day when they see the dogs. We get to see a positive change in their demeanor.”
The Wagging Tails Brigade provides PHL guests and employees with positive and memorable experiences. Each week different brigade members walk the terminals bringing smiles and joy to our passengers.
“These are very affectionate and caring dogs,” said Maria Gifford, Django’s handler. “They momentarily improve the quality of people’s lives. It’s wonderful to watch the expressions on passengers' faces. I love watching their faces as they spend that moment with the dog. It’s so nice to meet so many different people from so many different places and learn about their relationships with their dogs. It’s wonderful.”
-Photo above shows all three dogs, Tarik, Exon, and Django, at the 2023 anniversary of the end of the 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts.