SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Between security measures, Covid protocols, and just trying to stay on time, travel today can get a little hairy. Sometimes, you just need a little love. That’s where Koa comes in. Koa is a therapy dog. She’s part of the PET Program. P-E-T, for Pets Easing Travelers at Syracuse Hancock International Airport.
Koa and her human, Ruth Schussler, visit the Airport every week or so to just hang out with travelers and make new friends. “Like me, I haven’t traveled that long,” says Dalton Winters of Dallas. “So seeing stuff like that can get your spirits up.”
Koa reminds traveler Gabby Rios-Giacona of her pup back home in Seattle. “And it helps with not only killing time but helping with anxiety. Airports are stressful by nature, so I think that petting a dog is something that I haven’t seen in any other place.”
There are currently six dogs and their handlers in the Pet Therapy program here at Hancock. Some come once or twice a month. Some come every week. “People really like Koa,” says Ruth. “They really enjoy it. And she’s good. She tends to know when somebody wants or needs her, which is wonderful.”
Ruth especially likes visiting the Gregory Harris Military Courtesy Room to thank the military personnel passing through for their service. She and Koa started doing volunteer work like this after visiting Ruth’s Mom in an assisted living center.
“I would bring Koa in just to visit with my mom, and other people would want to come visit her,” says Ruth. Ruth and Koa’s main job is to take the edge off for travelers. But that often leads to serving as an airport ambassador, pointing people to the right terminal, or helping them find the correct gate.
It’s just one of several volunteer programs at the Airport that are all about one thing: Enhancing the customer experience.
Matt Szwejbka is Hancock’s marketing and communications specialist. He coordinates volunteer programs at the Airport. “We want locals to feel pride in their Airport. And we want visiting passengers to say ‘Huh. I’m gonna fly back through there again.'”
After all, flying the friendly skies begins here at home.