Aug 18, 2022 - Things to Do

Meet SFO's Wag Brigade, the "unicorns of therapy animals"

Image courtesy of Wag Brigade
LiLou the pig. Image courtesy of Wag Brigade

The Wag Brigade at the San Francisco International Airport has one job. Well, maybe two: Look cute and make airport travel suck less.

State of play: The Wag Brigade program, launched in 2013, partners with the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to train and certify animals to offer emotional support and stress relief for travelers.

  • The Wag Brigade includes LiLou the pig, a 34-pound rabbit named Alex and a mix of 12 dogs and cats.
  • The animals undergo rigorous evaluations to determine if they are equipped to handle a chaotic airport environment. The animals must demonstrate they can remain calm in a variety of situations, like when someone is circling them in a wheelchair or on crutches, throws an aluminum chair on the ground nearby or pulls at their ears.
  • Each animal works a two-hour shift once a week.

What they're saying: "We do meet a lot of people here in the airport who have never met a dog, who've never pet a dog," Jennifer Kazarian, who runs the Wag Brigade at SFO, tells Axios. "As a child might do, they walk right up to the dog and try to stick a finger in the eyeball or in the mouth, or just grab a tail or an ear. So we need to make sure that [the animal is] going to be okay."

  • She added, animals that qualify for the Wag Brigade are "the unicorns of therapy animals."
A big brown bunny wearing a black vest
Alex, a 34-pound bunny and member of the Wag Brigade. Image courtesy of Wag Brigade

How it works: In all my years flying in and out of SFO, I've never noticed these animals.

Here's what you, and I, need to know to find them:

  • They go "where the crowds are," Kazarian says.
  • Each animal wears a black "Pet me" vest.

What's next: Wag Brigade wants to scale the program by recruiting more animals, Kazarian says.

  • "We're open to as many teams as we feel are fit for the program," she says.
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