CHARLOTTE, N.C. (
) -- Dogs can fly, just like people can fly. They, however, must be accompanied by humans, whose skill set, while limited, does include the ability to navigate through airports.
This is why
has a unique program to provide volunteers to accompany "assistance dogs" to destinations where they are paired with blind, diabetic or handicapped people who need their help.
Ruby, a Belgian tervuren
Dogs are remarkably trainable. They can take credit cards from their partners and present them to clerks in sales transactions. They can sense when a diabetic has high blood sugar and requires insulin, as well as when veterans with PTSD are becoming stressed out. They can also open refrigerators, turn on lights and push elevator buttons.
Ruby (pictured above) is currently training to acquire such skills, after which she will be paired with a disabled person.
"These dogs are amazing," said Jamie Lindemann, manager of community relations. "We as volunteers teach them how to act on an airplane or in an airport (where) they get stressed because the sights and sounds may not be familiar."
US Airways works with about 40 agencies that train assistance dogs. In a unique, 12-year-old program, the carrier provides free transportation for the dogs and offers employees as volunteers to accompany them. About 300 volunteers participate: in 2010, the program accommodated about 200 dogs.
Last week, the carrier offered a training session for new volunteers in Charlotte, involving dogs trained by Roanoke, Va.-based St. Francis Service Dogs. Dogs like Ruby took their first airplane ride in order to meet and greet the volunteers.
The dogs travel in vests that display the St. Francis name as well as a written request not to pet them. But given that the dogs are adorable, "most Americans can't read that," said Nancy Cunningham, a St. Francis field trainer.
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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