December 25, 2018
First Coast News
Folks at Jacksonville International Airport got a bit of relief from the travel stress Christmas Day with a comfort dog on-hand to put their minds at ease before their flight.
It’s part of a program that the airport started just a few months ago with holiday travelers in mind.
Roaming the courtyard and concourse of the airport, Debbie Zahler and her pup Mookie bring comfort and joy this Christmas.
“Traveling is stressful for some folks, or the end point of their travel might be a stressful experience, so it’s nice to be able to bring something back to other folks,” Zahler said.
She’s been with Mookie since he was 9-weeks-old. The Border Collie is now pushing 13 years old with his graying whiskers. Once a competitor in agility events, Mookie is soaking-up retirement by keeping travelers calm.
The duo visits the airport for a few hours once or twice a month. Strolling along – giving help when and where they can.
“Sometimes you can see that some people are not interested in playing with the dog, some folks, as you saw, are involved on their phone or just not pet people, which is fine. Sometimes you see a sort of smile come to their face especially when we’re out in the concourse,” Zahler said.
About a dozen dogs and handlers are part of the Jax Paws program, which launched over the summer -- a concept seen at airports across the country.
The training is extensive not only for her furry friend but Zahler as well. Their outfit – special too.
“Identification for the dogs, you see Mookie’s got a vest and I’ve got a vest. They’re always visible,” Zahler said.
She added the pair still gets to enjoy the holiday, but to her, Christmas is a time to give back.
“I have traveled on business significantly over my career and I know what that’s like, and it’s really nice to have an animal to love on and pet and that sort of stuff,” Zahler said.
Making the holiday a bit less hectic.