After an 18-month hiatus, the BARC team is back at Sacramento International Airport
(SMF). These special pups’ friendly faces and “Pet Me” vests are relieving the stress of travel for many passengers. The program was halted due to the pandemic, but as of July 7, the dogs are making a comeback.
BARC – short for the Boarding Area Relaxation Corps – greets guests once they pass through security, with big smiles and wagging tails. Studies show spending time with dogs can reduce blood pressure and anxiety while boosting feelings of relaxation and well-being. Traveling can be stressful for some people – from a fear of flying to worrying about delays or cancellations – BARC dogs provide a furry dose of relief.
Rose Margolis and Sophie, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, have been with the program since the beginning. She was looking for a fun activity to do with her dogs and wanted something interactive that gave them both a way to meet people. She knows Sophie helps those who are nervous about flying.
“A little girl was completely terrified and wouldn’t stop crying until she laid down with Sophie,” Margolis said. “She was so much more relaxed, and we love being able to see that.”
Jennifer Baer-Riedhart and Logan, a Great Pyrenees with soulful eyes, is a big hit with even the littlest passengers – even though he’s much bigger than they are.
“When he lays down the little ones like to lay on him,” Jennifer said. “He is so happy to be here with all the people. I’m so glad we’re back.”
Colbert, a 14-year-old black Lab, was one of the first dogs in the program and is nearing retirement. He is happy to pose for photos and get in a few snuggles with adults and kids before they head off to their gate. His handler, Jenniene Cheng says the BARC team helps create a sense of security.
“People stop to pet the dogs and then start up conversations and share stories about their dogs,” she said. “It’s a great way to put people at ease.”
BARC dogs have been lifting spirits and calming nerves at SMF since 2015. There are now 27 BARC teams making travel a little less “ruff” in both Terminal A and B.
“The BARC teams make the airport experience less stressful and more fun,” said Cindy Nichol, Director of Airports for Sacramento County. “Travel can be a hectic experience and with these friendly faces around, passengers can’t help but stop, take a breath and relax before continuing their journey.”
They’ll be at SMF on Mondays, Wednesdays, and first and third Fridays. Each dog and its handler are part of the Lend A Heart Animals Assisted Therapy
organization, a Sacramento-area non-profit, founded in 1987, provides animal-assisted therapy throughout the region. The organization also has additional teams that visit hospitals, nursing homes and libraries.
“There’s nothing better than seeing all these smiling faces,” said Cheng.