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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Spotlight

Pets Unstressing Passengers at LAX

A new program at the Los Angeles International Airport is clawing its way into travelers' hearts.

With long lines, hectic terminals and delayed flights, air travel can be a chaotic experience -- but a new program at the Los Angeles International Airport is lending its passengers a helping paw.

Two dogs in a program of thirty, Maggie and Jasmine know their mission: to sniff out and relieve anxious travelers.

“The dogs went through a classroom training to make sure they were appropriate for the airport, and they passed with flying colors,” said the dogs’ owner Nadine Lederfine. 

She says the program, Pets Unstressing Passengers -- or PUPs for short -- is perfect for her dogs. But according to USC professor Jerry Jellison, an expert in business psychology, the program may be even more perfect for the airport: From a commercial perspective, he says, the emotional response fostered by the dogs could lead to more purchases at the airport than ever before.

He points to the difference between two types of thought patterns: System 1 thinking, an intuitive emotion-based approach, and System 2, a more rational and analytic approach.

“When you see the dog, you start to switch over into a much more systems 1 approach,” he said. “And so, your defenses go down; you’re much more willing to look at goods, even to test them out; and because you’re acting emotionally and intuitively rather than rationally, you’re much more likely to make a purchase.”

The program may be new for LAX, but Maggie and Jasmine have been therapy dogs for two years now, and the airport is just one of their many stops throughout the week. There is stress waiting to be sniffed out in other places -- like schools, hospitals and even nursing homes. 

After all, even the elderly need a helping paw.

“I had one gentlemen who, after the first visit, was just thrilled with Maggie,” said Grace Lengkeek, an employee at the Artesia Christian Nursing Home. “He had to leave his dog at home because we don’t allow pets here, so he went out and bought dog treats. He would ask, ‘When is Maggie coming again!’”

Whether at the nursing home or even at a busy airport, sometimes all we need is a wet nose and a wagging tail to relieve our anxiety.

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