Dressed in pilot’s cap, toe nails painted in bright red, little LiLou, a cute little pig is all set to greet you with a hoof at the gates of San Francisco airport and guide you till your take off.
Pigs might not fly, but LiLou the therapy pig wants to make air travel less stressful.
The five-year-old Juliana pig and her owner, Tatyana Danilova, are part of San Francisco International Airport’s “Wag Brigade” – a program that brings therapy animals to the airport to cheer passengers up and help ease travel anxieties.
LiLou breezes through the metal detector at airport security and trots to the departure gates. She raises a hoof in greeting, poses for selfies and entertains departing passengers with a tune on her toy piano.
“People are very happy to get distracted from the travel, from their routines, whether they’re flying on their journey for vacation or work,” said Danilova. “Everybody is usually very happy and it makes them pause for a second and smile and be like, ‘oh, it’s great.’”
When she’s not delighting passengers at the airport, LiLou lives with Danilova in her downtown San Francisco apartment, where she enjoys a diet of organic vegetables and protein pellets, sleeps in her own bed and goes for daily walks around the neighborhood.
Danilova says LiLou loves interacting with people, but, as a prey animal, doesn’t like having anyone approach her from behind.
At the airport, eight-year-old Katie Schroeder, from San Ramon, California, squealed in delight as LiLou bashed out a tune on her piano, using her hooves and snout.
“I’ve never seen a pig in the airport. She can do tricks like a dog,” she said.
Guest services manager Jennifer Kazarian says LiLou is the world’s first airport therapy pig in a “Wag Brigade” program, which includes dogs of all breeds and sizes, that she has built a sense of community in the airport.