Stitches the cat is soothing the nerves of frazzled fliers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
She made her debut last week and became the first feline to join the airport’s 96 therapy dogs that serve as Animal Ambassadors to reduce stress and enhance the overall airport experience.
The airport posted a video on Twitter of the calico-tabby mix riding around in a cart with a sign that reads “Pet Me,” and enthusiastic responses rolled in, including from one person who said, “This is PAWWSOME!”
The 11-year-old feline, who makes the rounds on Fridays in the north rotunda in Terminal 1 and at the entrance to Concourse C, has helped relax anxious passengers who have stopped to cuddle and give the 13-pound cat neck rubs before getting on their flights.
While the airport is a new gig for Stitches, she has been a therapy cat for the past three years through Pet Partners, a nonprofit that registers therapy dogs and other animals. Stitches and her owner Nikki Christopher are members of the local chapter of North Star Therapy Animals and have visited residents of nursing homes.
But there are rules when it comes to interacting with visitors.
“She needs to be on a leash and in the stroller,” Christopher said. “It’s one of Pet Partners’ guidelines.”
Stitches also has regular visitors at home. Christopher gives private harp and piano lessons in her St. Paul home, and she says “Stitches greets every student at the door.”
When not calming travelers at the airport or greeting music students at home, Stitches enjoys watching “Law & Order, SVU,” according to Christopher. “She loves Ice-T’s voice,” Christopher added.
In October 2015, the Airport Foundation brought registered therapy dogs to the airport. Since then, the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport’s Animal Ambassadors has become the third-largest program of its kind in the country and a treasured part of the airport community, spokesman John Anderson said.
Other airports around the country using therapy animals to help passengers overcome their fears before flying include Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix, Miami and Denver.