The Therapeutic Value of a Not-Quite-Flying Pig

Pigs can’t fly. That’s why the saying “when pigs fly” exists — some things will never happen. The image above isn’t an exception, either, but it’s close. That’s a picture of LiLou, a pig. She’s wearing an airplane captain’s hat because she’s at work, and the hat is part of her uniform. In the picture above, she’s at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), her principal place of business.

Her job? To make anxious flyers feel a bit better about boarding that plane.

Let’s face it: a lot of people really, really hate flying. But given how long it takes to travel long distances otherwise, even the most nervous among us often don’t have another choice. If you’re an airline or an airport, though, that’s not a great customer to have waiting to board a flight. On December 3, 2013, SFO unveiled a new program to help those flyers — something they call Wag Brigade.

Wag Brigade, as its official webpage explains, was designed “to bring trained dogs to the terminals to make passenger travel more enjoyable.” The dogs — trained therapy pups — and their handlers “park themselves at the airport a couple at a time to help destress nervous travelers and delight animal lovers with some pre-flight snuggles,” according to QZ. The program proved popular; as of this writing, more than four years after the inception of the Wag Brigade, there are 19 dogs in the program, ranging from a four-year-old Fox Red Labrador named Chedda Cheese to Wrigley, a 150-pounder who is a mix between a Newfoundland and Poodle. (You can see a photo of Chedda Cheese, Wrigley, and all of their co-workers at the Wag Bridge website.) And the Brigade itself isn’t all that unusual. As Conde Nast Traveler notes, there are as many as 31 airports with a similar program.

But LiLou, obviously, isn’t a dog. She’s a pig. And she’s the first — and heretofore only — airport therapy pig.

It’s simple, really. Not everyone is a dog person, though. And for some, that’s not just a point of personal preference, as allergies can play a role. As such, SFO wanted to diversify its Wag Brigade offering. But there aren’t a lot of non-dog options out there when it comes to therapy animals. (Longtime Now I Know readers may recall this article about therapeutic mini-horses.) When they found about LiLou, they signed up quickly.

LiLou is hypoallergenic, making her a friendly option for those who can’t stand being near dogs. She’s apparently good at hugging (or at being hugged, I guess, as pigs can’t do much hugging themselves). And she knows a bunch of tricks, too, “including greeting people with her snout or a wave, twirling and standing up on her back hooves, and playing a toy piano — with a proper, post-performance bow,” according to USA Today. And when not at SFO, she takes her services on the road throughout her community, most often to hospitals and senior centers.

Not going to San Francisco anytime soon? Not a problem. LiLou’s also taken to social media — her Instagram account as about 15,000 followers and she posts daily, give or take. (By comparison, her co-worker Wrigley has only about 2,500 Instagram followers.)


Bonus fact: The Denver airport’s therapeutic dog program has simultaneously accurate and misleading name. Officially, it’s called the “Canine Airport Therapy Squad,” which is exactly what it is. But the squad is better known for its acronym, CATS. CATS is multi-species and does have a feline component, but it’s a minimal one; the squad is comprised of more than 100 dogs but only one cat.

From the Archives: Bacon of the Sea: Pigs don’t fly, but they can swim.