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Therapy Dogs To Greet Travelers At Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

large brown dog
(Courtesy of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport)
This friendly pup is one of 20 new Navigator Buddies who will begin doing shifts at the airport starting Monday. The dogs will be in Terminal 4 on and off daily.

In addition to free Wi-Fi and a bevy of local restaurants, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has added another good reason to arrive early for your flight: you might get to pet a dog. Starting Monday, volunteer pooches and their handlers will begin greeting travelers starting in Terminal 4.

The trained therapy dogs range in size from miniature poodle to Old English Sheepdog, said Misty Cisneros-Contreras, the airport’s customer service manager. The pups go by names like Apollo, Mia, Scotty and Nana.

They’ve all got distinct personalities, she said, including one that’s a big even a big Arizona State University fan.

The dog “knows how to identify anytime she sees a pitch fork,” Cisneros-Contreras said. “And we have other dogs who can wave a lot of dogs who wear great accessories. So, they all bring something special and unique to the program.”

She said airports across the country feature therapy animals — all kinds of animals.

“We know that our friends over at San Francisco Airport have a pet therapy pig, and our friends at the airport in Kentucky have pet therapy miniature horses,” Cisneros-Contreras said. “So we know that other airports have had success with other animals, and so we will definitely discuss that.”

The program, called Navigator Buddies, is still in the pilot stage. The airport plans to train additional dogs early next year.

When senior field correspondent Stina Sieg was 22, she moved to the desert. She hasn’t been the same since. At the time, the Northern California native had just graduated from college and was hankering for wide-open spaces. So she took a leap and wrote to nearly every newspaper in New Mexico until one offered her a job. That’s how she became the photographer for a daily paper in the small town of Silver City. And that’s when she realized how much she loved storytelling. In the years since, the beauty of having people open up and share their stories — and trust her to tell them — has never gotten old to Sieg. Before coming to KJZZ, Sieg was also a writer and photographer at newspapers in Glenwood Springs, Colorado; Moab, Utah; and the Smoky Mountains town of Waynesville, North Carolina. She always had her hand in public radio, too, including hosting Morning Edition on a fill-in basis at WNCW in North Carolina. It’s still the best music station she’s found. When she’s not reporting, chances are Sieg is running, baking, knitting or driving to some far-flung town deep in the desert — just to see what it looks like.