Puppies in Flight

Some airline employees are putting their knowledge of flying to good use, facilitating the training of some very special four-legged friends here in Charlotte. Since 2007, American Airlines has partnered with Assistance Dogs International to get service dogs to their trainers or the people who need them. Airline employees volunteer to take the dogs from city to city, on their own time, and own dime. Tuesday, new volunteers got some hands on experience with the dogs, before taking off.

The dogs begin at 8-weeks, but some of them are fully trained, and full-grown; which means volunteers may be handling a more than 100 pound animal through airport terminals. “Passengers will walk up and say, ‘God bless you for what you’re doing, and it’s like, I’m playing with a dog,’” explained Sharon Johnston. She’s been a part of the program for years, with her 120th trip planned on Tuesday night. “There are two things that will get me on an airplane on my days off. One, is a very large cruise ship, and the other one says woof,” said Johnston. She’s even avoided retirement, so that she can continue to volunteer. “I know these dogs are going to have a great life and they’re going to give one to somebody else.”

Despite some of the downsides of the job, including no green space in the terminals, “the bigger dogs are fine, it’s the puppies, they just, squat wherever they need to squat,” Johnston continues to pass the passion along. “I’m trying to pay it forward, and it’s all about giving back,” explained Kika Cruz-Kilmartin, a flight attendant of 26-years. She spent Tuesday training to volunteer and said she can’t wait to be a part of the program. “I just want to dive into it and be like the flight attendant who’s been doing it over 100 times.”

After this July training, the program will have more than 400 volunteers.