Increased leisure travel keeping therapy dogs busy at Orange County's John Wayne Airport

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Travel is picking up a John Wayne Airport in Orange County and it's keeping AirPAWs therapy dogs like Patriot busy.

When compared to this time before the pandemic, travel numbers were even higher, according to Interim Airport Director Rick Francis.

"Over the first quarter so far this year, we're seeing numbers rebound quite strongly, especially in March," said Francis, who added that "just last week, when we compare our numbers now with 2019, we're actually about two percent above our 2019 numbers."

The increased demand is mostly because of a jump in leisure travel. If your vacation starts here, you can kick it off relaxing with a furry friend.

Patriot is part of the AirPAWs Therapy Dog Program at the airport, which is celebrating its two-year anniversary.

Kevin Marlin, the Executive Director of the managing nonprofit Orange County Animal Allies, says he's seen a change in who his 16, four-legged volunteers are helping.

"There was so much stress. There was so much anxiety and we were noticing people that were instead of traveling for business or pleasure, were sadly having to travel home to visit loved ones who were either ill or had maybe passed from the pandemic," Marlin said.

If you want to catch Patriot or one of his buddies at the airport, you're more likely to run into them during busy departure hours - that's Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to noon.

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