Denver International Airport’s Canine Airport Therapy Squads (CATS) program has secured a spot in the prestigious 2023 Guinness World Records Book for being the ‘Largest Airport Therapy Program,’ based on the number of active teams. The dog-dominated CATS project had 87 volunteer owner-pet pairs as of 2021.
DEN’s Canine Airport Therapy Squad (CATS) comprises four-legged volunteers who help travelers de-stress and give them a tiny reprieve while waiting for their flights. Currently, the squad comprises 84 dogs from 33 breeds of various sizes as well as a feline member Xeli, who joined in 2017. Established in 2015, Denver’s airport therapy animal program has now gained recognition from the Guinness World Records as the largest program of its kind in the world.
Winning the title
Denver Airport is paw-sitively thrilled to win the title of the world’s largest airport therapy program, outshining its competitor Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which hosts an animal therapy program named Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP). LAX PUP has a current team of 75 members, down from 123 members before the pandemic.
Celebrating the record-breaking achievement, Phil Washington- Denver Airport’s CEO, expressed his gratitude to all volunteers who donated their time to bring joy to passengers and employees and said that they looked forward to welcoming even more teams as they continued to grow this beloved program.
Adam Milward, the managing editor at Guinness World Record, appreciated the role of furry fellows in making people smile and said,” Whether, it’s with a lick, a nuzzle, or some amusing antics, our four-legged friends have an amazing ability to make us smile even when we might be feeling stressed or anxious,
The Canine Airport Therapy Squad at Denver Airport has taken this innate skill and run with it. It’s a pleasure to recognize the hard-working dogs and their owners, who selflessly give up their time to brighten the day of thousands of travelers every year.”
Denver Airport initiated its Canine Airport Therapy Squad (CATS) in 2015 with just 28 active teams. Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the program had over 100 animals delighting the travelers with a friendly wag or furry cuddle. In 2021, when Guinness fetched the data for the ‘Largest Airport Therapy Animal Program’ category, DEN CATS had 87 animals, the highest number of any other animal therapy program in the world. Despite bearing the name CATS, the program has a high dominion of dogs representing 33 different breeds. The CATS squad currently includes more than 80 dogs and a domestic short-haired cat named Xeli. Throughout this year, volunteers have invested over 1,250 hours in the program, keeping up with the minimum work schedule of 10 hours per quarter.
Passengers passing through Denver International Airport will encounter them throughout the facility, sporting their distinctive violet plaid vests that say “Pet Me.” Each pet and owner team circulates through the airport to surprise, delight, and comfort passengers during their travel. Each flurry volunteer in the CATS program is trained, insured, and registered with a recognized pet therapy association. For travelers anxious about flying, CATS members provide an extra dose of joy and comfort. They help humanize the experience and become the sole reason travelers smile even during a stressful period like a flight delay. You can give them a big hug or belly rub, take selfies, and enjoy their friendly snuggles.
Animal therapy program in the US airports
A total of 90 airports in the United States have animal therapy programs to brighten their customers’ day and benefit them from the calming effects of therapy animals. While the title of the largest volunteer therapy service belongs to Denver International Airport, the credit for kickstarting the first and the longest-running animal therapy program goes to Mineta San Jose International Airport, US. Shortly after 9/11, Interfaith Chaplain Volunteer Kathryn Liebschutz and her trained therapy dog Orion started the animal therapy service in a bid to help flyers, who were nervous and anxiety-stricken in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, to calm down.
Following the service trail, Los Angeles International Airport made the second initiative to implement its animal therapy service ‘Pets Unstressing Passengers’ program. The project competes directly with DEN CATS, with 75 active teams. Under the PUP program, each flurry volunteer and its handler roam the departures level in gate areas of each terminal, working one weekly shift of one to two hours.