Can You Guess Which Airport Hired a Cat to Calm Anxious Flyers?

Nevena Nacic
by Nevena Nacic

If you feel jittery in the moments before boarding a plane, you might be among millions of people who suffer from pre-flight anxiety. But worry not because San Francisco International Airport’s newest employee is there to help! 

The airport’s Twitter account introduced a 14-year-old black and white cat hired to help soothe anxious travelers. “Purrlease welcome our newest Wag Brigade member, Duke Ellington Morris,” the caption read. In a photo underneath, Duke is seen wearing a shirt collar and a tiny pilot’s hat. 

The Wag Brigade program, which was launched in 2013 by the San Francisco airport, brings trained animals to the terminal to help soothe nervous travelers. After a long break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, trained animals returned to terminals and resumed their duties to make passenger travel more enjoyable. 

At first, this program was limited to only dogs, but over time it has expanded to include other trained animals, like cats, rabbits, and even the “world’s first therapy pig,” LiLou.

All animals employed by the airport are carefully selected for their temperament and airport suitability. But that’s not all - the San Francisco SPCA certifies these animals and ensures they have completed its Animal Assisted Therapy Program. Members of the Wag Brigade wear special “Pet Me” vests, which make them easily identifiable in the crowd. 

Duke, the newest member of the Wag Brigade, has come a long way since he was a kitten. According to a bio shared by the airport, Duke was found starving in a San Francisco feral cat colony. During his stay at the San Francisco Animal Care and Control, Duke caught the eye of a five-year-old girl who convinced her mother to adopt the kitty and take him home.

Duke immediately adjusted to his new life. His new family quickly learned that Duke is one special cat and had him certified as a therapy animal. Since then, this cute feline has been helping people of all ages deal with stress, illness, and obstacles and brightening their days when they need it the most.

Duke’s owner, who manages his Instagram account, addressed the new job position in a post reading, “Happy is not the word… elated!” 

The great news for all frequent flyers is that Wag Brigade isn’t the only program that uses trained animals to soothe anxious travelers. The San Jose Mineta International Airport in California was the first to bring therapy dogs to terminals shortly after 9/11 to calm passengers before takeoff. Soon, this great idea spread around the world.

Although cats and dogs are most commonly certified as therapy animals and employed at airports, other animals can provide therapy, too. The San Francisco airport’s therapy squad includes a Flemish giant rabbit named Alex and a Juliana-breed pig named LiLou.

However, it’s hard to outshine the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport’s miniature horses. The much-loved therapy horses visit the airport once or twice a month, giving travelers a chance to relax, decompress, and enjoy before their next flight. 

So, the next time you find yourself at the San Francisco International Airport look for Duke, who will ensure you’re in purrfect mood for takeoff. 

Nevena Nacic
Nevena Nacic

Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!

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