For the Thanksgiving holiday, an airport in Michigan is giving members of our military the royal treatment with a special welcome home event — and a bunch of adorable dogs are part of the festivities.
Today, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids will have its “Operation Handshake” event where volunteers, the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcyclists consisting of mostly veterans, and therapy dogs will be welcoming home those serving in the military.
“We know that not every member of our military can make it home during the holidays,” airport CEO Phil Johnson says in a statement. “For those returning to West Michigan, we want to make it special and let them know we are thankful for their service.”
The pups have been wagging their tails to the returning military members for more than three years, after Tara M. Hernandez, the marketing and communication director at the airport, launched Therapy Dog Program GFIA: Gentle Fur in Action to help ease the stress of traveling.
“Our therapy dogs are here for all passengers, but our military members especially seem to love the dogs,” Hernandez tells This Dog’s Life. “It’s amazing to see faces light up when a dog comes around with its ‘Pet Me, I’m friendly’ jacket on. The dogs love the attention.”
And some people need these dogs more than others. One special story Hernandez tells This Dog’s Life pertains to GFIA’s first therapy dog, Gunner. The dog had just finished up his shift and was walking with his owner, Amy, to the parking lot. Suddenly, he began walking faster and faster.
“That’s unlike our therapy dogs because they are very highly trained, patient and obedient,” says Hernandez.
Soon his owner found out why he was moving so fast – he saw a woman he felt needed him.
“Gunner reached the woman, tapped her hand with his nose and the woman turned around,” says Hernandez. “As Amy quickly went to apologize the woman turned and her face was red, she was sobbing with tears running down her face.”
Amy could only say she was sorry and say that Gunner has never done such a thing. But for the woman, the dog’s affection is exactly what she needed.
“The woman pet, and then embraced Gunner with a full hug with those tears still streaming down her cheeks,” says Hernandez. “She looked up at Amy and said, ‘I just put my son a plane to Afghanistan and now I have to go back to work. I really needed this right now.”’
Stories like this one, Hernandez says, happens all the time. “That’s the reason we do what we do and why we have this program.”
Volunteers plan on being at the airport from 9am to 7pm to welcome home our troops.