A 14-year-old rescue cat named Duke Ellington Morris is the San Francisco International Airport’s latest member of the Wag Brigade. What is the Wag Brigade, you ask? It’s a group of animals recruited to perform as therapy critters for harried passengers traveling through the Bay area.
On December 3, 2013, SFO launched the program with the aim of bringing trained canines to the various terminals to make travel less stressful. The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) brought dogs certified through their Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) Program to roam the terminals.
The Wag Brigade
A mere three years later, Lilou, a Juliana-breed piggy joined the team. “Carefully selected for their temperament and airport suitability,” the animals wear vests that read “Pet Me!” to identify them.
Also part of the team, there’s Alex, a Flemish Giant rabbit; Bombay, an English Chocolate Lab; therapy dog, Brixton, who’s already attended Circus School and works with kids; as well as 14 other adorable puppers that take the job very seriously.
And now there’s Duke. According to SFO’s Meet the Wag Brigade:
“Duke Ellington Morris was discovered starving in a San Francisco feral cat colony. After a short stint at SF Animal Care and Control, Duke spotted a young human that he decided was his ticket to a better life. Was he ever correct!
“Duke immediately took to his new family, and it quickly became clear to his new guardians that this was a special cat. Since then, Duke has been certified as an animal therapist, helping humans of all ages deal with stress, illness, hardship, and putting smiles on their faces when they need it most.”
For the last decade or so, more and more airports have been employing therapy animals to bring travelers’ stress levels down a notch or two or even three. These programs have been very successful to date, and adding other animals into the mix is an excellent idea. Not everyone responds to the same external influences.
In a recent interview with SFGate.com, Duke’s owner, Jen Morris, discussed Duke’s backstory. Morris stated she adopted Duke, a feral cat living in San Francisco, in 2010 when he was about a year old. Given his chill demeanor, Morris had him certified to be a therapy cat, and he soon began working with patients at different area hospitals.
“He used to go to UCSF for visits at the ICU. And they would wheel him in on a cart and people who wanted to pet him got approval from their doctors,” Morris explained to SFGate. “They would give them a nice scratch underneath the chin.”
So, if you see this handsome feline during your travels, say hello to Duke and give him a nice scratch under the chin to say thanks for all of the hard work.