Dogs Help Flyers COPE at Lehigh Valley Airport

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LEHIGH VALLEY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- We've heard of therapy dogs at nursing homes and hospitals,  even in court, bringing calm into an environment of tension and stress.

There can be a fair amount of that at the airport.

An airport that people from our area use got a dose of 4-legged tension relief with the rollout of a new program.

Have you ever missed a flight? Been delayed? Lost your luggage?

Time at an airport can be stressful. That stress is exactly what two therapy dogs are hoping to alleviate.

The German shepherd is Bella, the golden retriever is Storm. They're among two therapy dogs that will visit passengers at Lehigh Valley International Airport near Allentown for a new program called "COPE" -- Canines Offering Passengers Encouragement.

"When you come to an airport right now, it can be an unnerving experience. Things are out of your control, and sometimes passengers have anxiety," said airport executive director Charles Everett.

Airport authority officials, in an effort to make a more enjoyable flying experience, are inviting trained therapy dogs to visit with passengers.

The handlers are volunteers, and as of now, they'll be there for various flights.

Lynn Johnson of Nazareth perked right up when he saw them.

"I'm a dog lover and I lost my dog last year, so to interact with a dog is pretty cool."

Not surprisingly, Bella and Storm are a hit with kids cooped up and waiting to board.

The program is already successfully used in many airports across the country, according to Joel Schwartz, a dog handler with the COPE program.

He adds that many dogs, with the right training, can get the job done.

"If your dog has a good temperament, loves to be around people, you can be certified as a therapy dog," Schwartz said.

"It's funny, when people are all dressed up, ready to go somewhere, and they get down on their hands and knees to pet them, hug them, kiss them," said dog handler Eileen Klinefelter.

Airport officials will be watching what kind of reaction Bella and Storm and the other therapy dogs will get in the days to come.

Traveler Louis Depauli, from Schuylkill County, thinks COPE can't hurt.

"There's enough stress and tension out there and anywhere we can get less of it it's better, for sure!"

The handlers know there are people who don't like animals, or are allergic to dogs. They say they'll always ask first if they want a visit from the dog.