A Day in the Life of Navigator Buddies
~by Julie Brewer
Some of us head to Sky Harbor International Airport to catch our flight, pick others up or return our rental car. Then there are those of us that work at the airport in baggage claims, security, service desk, food court or the shops.
But what about those volunteers at the airport. The volunteers walking around helping others are called Airport Navigators, those are the human volunteers. The four-legged volunteers are Buddies. These dogs have a handler guiding them and together they are called Navigator Buddies Teams.
How to become a Navigator Buddy
To become Navigator Buddies, you first must apply to be a Navigator volunteer at the airport and be at least 18 years old and be a full time AZ Resident.
Then for your canine buddy, they must be 1 year or older and a registered Therapy Dog with Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Pet Partners or another pre-approved pet therapy organization.
You need to be able to commit to one shift per week and each shift is about 2 hours long.
There is also an FBI screening background check that you need to pass and qualify for an airport security badge.
Navigator Buddies at work
Once all that paperwork, processing and informative airport training sessions are done you are ready to get started. Now you and your canine companion are officially a Navigator Buddies team. You will be visiting passengers in both Terminal 3 and 4 from baggage claim, all the way through security check points. Everyone will be able to spot you as a therapy team because you will be wearing a bright purple vest and your dog will be clearly identified with “Pet Me” on their matching vest. It will be your job to roam through the passenger pick up area, the baggage claim, the security check point lines and the gates awaiting flights as they come and go.
So many people are nervous when they fly. The airport can be an unsettling experience to them. Seeing Navigator Buddies roam the airport can be a comforting and welcome distraction to the upcoming flight. As a team, you are there to give all the guests that visit the airport a positive and welcoming experience. You will stop and chat with individuals and families that want to pet your canine buddy.
Navigator Buddies Cheyanne with her therapy dog Sophie have been volunteering at Sky Harbor for a year now. They really enjoy their visits mingling with all the passengers and airport guests each week.
Navigator Buddies attract a lot of attention. It’s not just the kids that want to come hurrying over to see the dogs either, it’s also the adults. Most of them just want to pet them and see that fantastic smile that the dogs will flash to them when they make eye contact. Some of the passengers drop down to the ground to get some needed cuddle time in before having to rush to their gate and make their flight.
The pilots and flight attendants also give the Navigator Buddies the thumbs up too. They think it makes for calmer passengers before boarding flights to get visited by therapy dogs out in the gate areas.
What do the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) Workers at the airport think?
They like the fact that the therapy dogs can relieve them from their daily stress too!
Navigator Buddies Tracy with her therapy dog Evelyn have been volunteering at Sky Harbor for 15 months. Both look forward to their weekly shift of meeting and greeting the visitors to the Terminals.
Next time you are at Sky Harbor International Airport, look around for the volunteers with the purple vests on! They will be holding a leash and at the end of that leash will be a furry buddy just waiting to see you. Couldn’t we all use a little Pet Therapy while we’re at the airport?
Can I be a Navigator Buddy Team?
If you have the desire to be an airport volunteer and you have a wonderful canine companion that you think would make for a nice therapy dog, you could be future Navigator Buddies!
AZ Dog Sports has 3 different classes to help you get on your way to becoming a registered Pet Therapy Team.
- Therapy Dog Level 1 – This class for those just getting started learning about what Pet Therapy is and how to begin to train your dog for therapy work.
- Therapy Dog Level 2 – This class is more advanced and focuses on specific kinds of therapy work such as; medical facilities; schools; libraries; and airports.
- Pet Etiquette/Therapy Dog in Public – This class is hands-on, in the field and meets at a different location each week. You will be practicing your public pet manners and meet-n-greets with individuals.
Julie Brewer is a Tester with Alliance of Therapy Dogs and will be able to test you once you are ready to move forward with your Therapy Dog Certification test and on to becoming a Registered Pet Therapy Team. Teams are not required to take any particular classes, they just need to be able to pass the Therapy Dog test in order to get certified.