Dogs have been important airport employees for years, with TSA canines sniffing out explosives and other illicit items, but a new team of therapy dogs at Istanbul Airport is providing a different kind of security.

Therapy dogs at airports are nothing new — there are programs in place in dozens of airports worldwide. While many of these programs involve weekly visits rather than a constant team of therapy dogs, Istanbul Airport has recently hired five certified therapy dogs as official airport employees.

According to The Associated Press, the dogs work during the peak travel hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., although their veterinarian said their hours may vary depending on the dog’s temperament. Each dog is assigned a handler, who cares for the canines and facilitates interactions with airport guests.

What is a therapy dog?

Therapy dogs are dogs that have been trained to provide emotional or physical support. According to the AAHA, emotional support dogs can assist humans by offering companionship and can often help with “depression, anxiety and certain phobias,” but they aren’t trained to perform specific tasks.

Volkan Gul is the handler of one of Istanbul Airport’s dogs, a border collie named Alita. He told The Associated Press that Alita has been very popular at the airport, with people constantly petting her, and that she helps them relax while traveling.

According to San Jose Mineta International Airport, the first airport therapy dog program began in the wake of 9/11. The airport’s chaplain brought her own trained therapy dog, Orion, to help calm passengers and airport employees who were stressed by the event. Orion was a hit, and the airport’s program continues today with 42 dogs, one cat and one rabbit.

Which airports have therapy dogs?

There were therapy dog programs in place at 72 U.S. airports as of 2020, according to Vane Research. Dogs aren’t the only kind of therapy animal: LiLou, the world’s first airport therapy pig, made her debut at San Francisco International Airport in 2017.

There are therapy dog programs in place at a number of U.S. airports, including the Welcome Waggin’ Program at Tulsa International Airport, the K9 Crew at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) at Los Angeles International Airport, the Canine Airport Therapy Squad (CATS) at Denver International Airport and the Wagging Tails Brigade at Philadelphia International Airport.

While the Istanbul crew is Turkey’s first airport therapy dog program, there are others in Europe, such as the Essex Therapy Dogs at London Southend Airport.

A traveller pets the airport therapy dog Kuki while walking through Istanbul Airport in Turkey, Wednesday, April 3, 2024. Istanbul Airport has made five new hires to provide stress-free travel experience for anxious passengers: therapy dogs that are ready to offer support with snuggles, belly rubs and sloppy kisses. | Khalil Hamra

Does the Salt Lake City airport have therapy dogs?

Although Salt Lake City International Airport does not have a formal therapy dog program, animals from Intermountain Therapy Animals, or ITA, come to the airport once a week to provide comfort to anxious travelers. According to KSL, handlers bring them both by the gates and in the terminal.

Cindy Yorgason told KSL in 2022 that she had been with ITA for a decade and bringing therapy dogs to the airport for about nine years, and she had seen firsthand how the animals can alleviate travel stress.

“We’ve had people that have flight anxieties, and just having the dogs sit with the people, they get their blood pressure down, they relax,” she said. “Everybody — employees, flight attendants, pilots — it doesn’t matter who, they just love to see the dogs and get a little relief.”