San Francisco Airport hires cat named Duke to calm travellers

Duke Ellington Morris has joined the airport’s ‘Wag Brigade’ to calm anxious travellers

Helen Coffey
Friday 16 June 2023 10:20 BST
Duke is a trained therapy cat
Duke is a trained therapy cat (Twitter/@flySFO)

A cat has been hired as the newest employee of a US airport to help calm nervous flyers.

Duke Ellington Morris, known as “Duke”, is the latest member of San Francisco International Airport’s “Wag Brigade”.

The appointment of the 14-year-old black and white cat was announced by the airport’s Twitter account, with the caption: “Purrlease welcome our newest Wag Brigade member, Duke Ellington Morris!”

Underneath, a professional snap of Duke wearing a tiny pilot’s hat and shirt collar was also shared.

The Wag Brigade programme was first launched by the California airport in 2013, with the aim of using animals to help sooth anxious travellers.

Initially the scheme was limited to dogs, but over time it has been expanded to include other specially trained animals including cats, rabbits, and even the “world’s first therapy pig”, LilLou.

Animals are selected for their temperament and behaviour, and must be certified by San Francisco’s SPCA and have completed its Animal Assisted Therapy (ATT) programme.

Before getting the call up to wear the special “Pet Me” vest at San Francisco airport, Duke was initially rescued by the SPCA from a feral cat colony in 2010 while he was still a kitten.

He was adopted by a five-year-old girl and her mother, who had him certified as a therapy animal.

On his Instagram account, run by his owners, Duke’s latest appointment was announced with a post reading: “Happy is not the word… elated!”

It’s not the first time animals have been introduced at airports to improve passengers’ moods.

In 2017, Cincinnati/Northern Ohio Airport introduced therapy miniature horses in a bid to calm down stressed travellers passing through its doors.

Twice a month, the check-in area gets a visit from two out of a 34-strong team of therapy horses provided by Seven Oaks Farm in Ohio.

The horses undergo special training to deal with the stresses and strains of the airport.

Airport worker Wendi Orlando told NPR at th time: “It’s just to ease anxiety levels, put smiles on faces. Clearly that’s working.”

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