Canine calming soothes flight-frayed nerves at Hilton Head Airport

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJune 16, 2013 

Shiloh the therapy dog is petted and admired by, from left, Carolyn Hardle of Minnesota and Teena Farrell of Hilton Head Island at Hilton Head Island Airport on Thursday. Jeni Bilek, right, of Therapy Dogs International, brings Shiloh to the airport to greet travelers.

JAY KARR — - Staff photo Buy Photo

  • For information about volunteering with Therapy Dogs International, go to www.tdi-dog.org.

When Becky Moss arrived at Hilton Head Island Airport on Thursday morning, she expected to greet her stepmother, who was arriving by plane.

But she also got a greeting of her own at the airport -- of the calming, canine variety.

Saying hello to Shiloh, a blond poodle-schnauzer mix, was an unplanned delight, she said.

"They need him at the Cincinnati airport," said Moss, who is visiting from northern Kentucky.

Shiloh, 2, is part of a pack of pups that began greeting airport guests this month. His owner, Jeni Bilek, is a member of the Therapy Dogs International Hilton Head/Bluffton Chapter.

The chapter of about 15 members visits local assisted-living and health care facilities and participates in a tutoring program with elementary school students. They began soothing air travelers this month, Bilek said.

Because so many people become stressed when traveling, the airport seemed like a perfect place to be with her dog and greet visitors, Bilek said.

The dogs must pass temperament and other tests before being admitted to the therapy group. Shiloh was certified in October as a therapy dog, Bilek said.

Airport chief operations manager Larry Yeager said he's happy the canine group is at the airport. He witnessed the unexpected joy the dogs spread while his wife was a patient at NHC HealthCare-Bluffton.

"They would come to my wife's room, and it's just very uplifting for the patients at the facility," Yeager said. "It's had a great effect at the airport, as well."

Having the dogs around seems to put everyone -- visitors and airport workers, alike -- in better moods, he said.

Yeager schedules the volunteers for the airport's busiest hours. He said he'll also call them when weather is bad or flights are delayed, when human nerves can become frayed.

The dogs and their humans walk around the entrance near the airline booths and baggage claim. Often, Bilek said, she doesn't have to approach visitors. They come to her -- or, rather, to Shiloh.

"Oh, I just love it," said Teena Farrell, a Hilton Head resident who was picking up her niece. Shiloh sat calmly, wearing a red scarf, while Farrell petted him.

Farrell said she can become "agitated when I have to sit and wait," but having an animal nearby soothes her.

"I'm very much an animal person," she said.

When Bilek picked up a brochure for the dog-therapy program last year, she "just knew (Shiloh) would be perfect for the part."

Airport guests agreed.

"It definitely has a calming effect," Moss said.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

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http://www.islandpacket.com/2012/04/25/2048810/tail-waggin-tutors-helps-...

key terms: dogs, Therapy Dogs International, teena ferrell, jeni bilek, shiloh, hilton head island airport, hilton head

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