San Francisco International Airport (SFO) today announced the addition of a new member to its team of certified stress-relief animals- a 28-pound rabbit named ‘Alex the Great.’ Alex is a Flemish Giant, the largest breed of domestic rabbits. He will be on duty at SFO, trying to help passengers feel better while navigating the large airport.

The airport said in a statement,

“Alex is a Flemish Giant rabbit, which is considered the largest breed of domestic rabbit, and is known for being docile and patient in being handled, attributes well-suited for work on the Wag Brigade. Alex will visit SFO several times each month.”

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Each animal in The Wag Brigade is accompanied by handler teams from the San Francisco SPCA. Photo: SFO

One famous rabbit

Alex may have just joined The Wag Brigade, but he is pretty well known in San Francisco. The animal’s first claim to fame was in 2021 when he was seen at San Francisco Giants baseball and Golden State Warriors basketball games in the city. It isn’t everyday one gets to see a giant rabbit at such sporting events, and for that reason, Alex quickly became a hot topic on social media platforms.

Alex’s new role will see him wander around the airport looking to help travelers forget about their worries for a brief moment. Indeed, he is certified under the San Francisco SPCA animal shelter’s Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program.

What is the Wag Brigade?

With huge crowds, frequent security checks, and never-ending lines, navigating large international airports can cause severe stress to some travelers. To help those affected, SFO management came up with a unique initiative back in 2013- The Wag Brigade. The airport hires several trained animals to engage with passengers and keep stress levels in check.

The program was founded by Jennifer Kazarian, a customer care official at SFO. Only animals trained and certified by the SPCA through the AAT program are hired for participation on The Wag Brigade. They are prepared for having a temperament suitable to airport environments and are always accompanied by specialized SPCA handler teams at the airport.

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The Wag Brigade team also includes a pig named LiLou. Photo: SFO

The Wag Brigade began in 2013 with only dogs on the team but has quickly grown to accommodate other animals. Before the pandemic began, a pig named LiLou joined the team. She made headlines for being the world’s first pig in airport therapy. The program was suspended during the pandemic but is now back with approximately 20 dogs, a pet pig, and a giant rabbit.

Intentions don’t matter

The inclusion of ‘famous’ and odd animals in The Wag Brigade prompts the suspicion that the program’s main aim is to catch the public eye. Nevertheless, even if one sees the whole thing as an elaborate PR exercise, there’s no denying the fact that airports are incredibly stressful for most people, and coming across well-behaved animals with little “Pet me” vests roaming around the terminals is bound to put a smile on most faces.

What do you make of Alex joining the team at SFO? Also, do you think more airports should launch programs like The Wag Brigade to help passengers tackle stress better? Please, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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