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The Lincoln Airport began a new program Friday, a fur-covered push to ease anxiety for travelers.

Lincoln joined more than 300 airports across the country in offering therapy dogs to both passengers and staff. 

"It has been proven that therapy dogs can lessen a person's stress and their blood pressure," said Karen Lehmann, a member of the Healing Heart Therapy Dogs board. "It can brighten their day or make them less afraid." 

Healing Heart Therapy Dogs and the Lincoln Airport Authority teamed up in November and began the new program after monitoring the success of similar initiatives around the country.

According to a study by Harvard Health Publications, pet therapy has serious power to boost morale and lower tension. 

Lehmann was at the airport Friday with one of the group's therapy dogs, Saber, a 9-year-old Belgian Tervuren who was freshly groomed for his big debut. 

A little after 4 p.m., Saber made his way into the terminal and was immediately met by travelers with smiles from ear-to-ear. 

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"It brightens my day to see him help people," Lehmann said. 

The program is in the trial phase, where different therapy dogs will provide services at the airport on a semi-regular basis. The most important times for dogs to be present is likely to be during times of major flight disruptions. 

Friday, the Lincoln Airport, which averages nine to 12 departures per day, had seven delayed or canceled — a good time for Saber's first appearance. 

"Today was a perfect day for this," said airport executive director David Haring. "We've got delays going on and weather, which tends to stress people out."

Haring added that his hope is for the program to mirror the city's welcoming environment in its airport. 

"This is a great way to embody that welcoming spirit," he said. "We're excited to see where it could go."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or zpenrice@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @zacharypenrice1

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City desk intern

Spring semester city desk intern at the Journal Star.

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