LiLou the Therapy Pig Helps Travelers at the San Francisco Airport

Therapy pets at the airport? When pigs fly! (No, really!)
By: Aly Semigran
LiLou the therapy pig

Whether you’re a frequently up in the air or the occasional jet-setter, there’s no question that flying can be a stressful experience. But you know what makes lost bags and long lines a little less terrible? Hanging out with a cute pig in a tutu.

Meet said pig, LiLou. This 2-year-old spotted pig recently joined the Wag Brigade, a program at the San Francisco International Airport in which therapy pets are made available for weary travelers. The increasingly popular Wag Brigade currently has 30 teams across the United States.

LiLou—who is now the first pig to be certified in the San Francisco SPCA’s Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program—got started thanks to her pet parent, Tatyana Danilova.

“We meet people from all over the world daily on our walks. A lot of people from different backgrounds have expressed such sincere joy seeing a dressed up piggy walking on the street and showing off some tricks,” Danilova tells PawCulture.

After a fateful encounter with a therapy dog owner at work who told her about the SPCA’s Animal Assisted Therapy program, Danilova knew her LiLou would be a perfect fit.

LiLou—like any other animal who wants to join the Wag Brigade—first had to become a volunteer (in her case, she visited hospitals and assisted living homes, among other places), as well as undergoing orientation, trainings, security clearances, health certifications, and a shadow visit.

If the animal does well in all of the evaluations (including airport suitability and temperament), they get to join the team.

While LiLou is a little different than her classmates (she is the only pig, while the other therapy pets at SFO are dogs), Krista Maloney of the San Francisco SPCA explains, “We didn’t require her to do a full ‘down’ or ‘stay,’ as we would with a dog. For the most part, however, LiLou went through a certification very similar to that for canines.”

Now that she has graduated to the Wag Brigade, LiLou is at SFO about twice a month, typically on weekends.

Christopher Birch, the director of guest experiences at the airport, tells PawCulture that LiLou and the rest of the Wag Brigade, are made available to guests who need or want the services of a therapy pet.

“Teams walk slowly throughout the terminals in an unobtrusive way, and often don’t get very far during a two-hour shift. They are that popular,” Birch says. “During flight delays, we make a special effort to linger around delayed flights in order to bring some cheer to affected customers.”

Having become a Wag Brigade member just this November, LiLou has already become a wildly popular attraction at SFO.

“LiLou’s been hamming it up with variety of tricks, including greeting people with her little pink snout and a wave with her painted hooves, twirling, standing up, and playing a toy piano—and even ending her performances with a bow,” Birch says.

“Interaction with her makes a travel experience a bit more unique and positive,” Danilova adds. “It is not everywhere you can see and interact with a special piggy. I can see people walk by so serious, deep in their stress or thoughts until they see her. Their demeanor changes and some even laugh or scream from happiness.”

Danilova, who stays by LiLou’s side during her one-hour volunteer visits, is there to “ensure she is not stressed out and her tail is still happily wagging.”

Birch says that the reception to LiLou from guests at SFO “has been extraordinary and beyond what we expected.”

Of course, LiLou’s popularity is of no surprise to her adoring and devoted owner.

“LiLou is my baby and I love her so much. I love her unique personality. LiLou is so smart and experiencing it first-hand is amazing,” Danilova tells us. “I call LiLou my ‘Smile Ambassador’ and it is wonderful that we have an opportunity to share it, internationally, at SFO.”

Images via @lilou_sfpig Instagram