We all know that airports can be quite stressful, but there’s a special cat at San Francisco International Airport making the experience more positive.
The therapy animal team known as the “Wag Brigade” proudly introduced their first therapy cat, Duke Ellington Morris.
Just imagine navigating a busy airport and coming across Duke, the therapy cat, in his elegant WagBrigade uniform with a “pet me” vest and pilot’s wings. I believe that it would instantly bring a smile to your face and help relieve tension within seconds!
The Wag Brigade at SFO, known for bringing moments of bliss to travelers, has welcomed Duke Ellington Morris, a 14-year-old cat, as a proud new member.
Their program aims to provide comfort to passengers before their flights, and all the animals wear vests with “pet me” signs while interacting with people in the terminals.
SFO has been gradually expanding its team to include non-canine animals. In 2022, they welcomed a rabbit and a pig as well.
Duke joined the Wag Brigade about four years ago, but the program was temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now being resumed.
Duke’s story began when Jen Morris, an employee at UC San Francisco, and her 5-year-old daughter went to an animal control center to adopt a new cat.
It was there that they encountered Duke, a black-and-white feline who reached out his paws through the cage.
Duke seemed to have chosen Jen’s daughter as his new pawrent, and they decided to bring him home.
“I heard my daughter shriek with joy, ‘I love the black and white kitty!’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Jen said and continued, “We met Duke, and he was focused on my daughter. And I figured, well if a cat wants a 5-year-old for his next guardian, he couldn’t be that bad.”
Despite Jen’s expectation that Duke would be nervous in his new environment, he surprised them by remaining calm, cool, and quickly made himself at home in their apartment.
Little did Jen know that her cat would go on to bring comfort to thousands of people over the years.
Duke was certified as an animal therapist long before joining SFO. He underwent testing to become a part of the Animal Assisted Therapy program at the San Francisco SPCA and has been working as an animal therapist for the past decade.
He’s been comforting patients in various hospitals and programs at San Francisco State and UCSF, and he and Jen visit the UCSF Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital every Saturday.
“He used to go to UCSF for visits to the ICU. And they would wheel him in on a cart and people who wanted to pet him got approval from their doctors. They would give him a nice scratch underneath the chin.”
And here’s our little purrfectly trained professional making the rounds.
Duke was found starving in a feral cat colony by the San Francisco Animal Care and Control before being rescued. When Jen and her family adopted him, his name was Tai Chi Tuxedo, but his tuxedo coat and purple collar inspired her to rename him.
And I think that his jazz legend-inspired name suits him purrfectly!
Duke Ellington, how glamorous!
Duke’s journey from a starving, abandoned cat to a beloved therapy cat is truly heartwarming!
Little did Jen know that he would have his own fan club over the years. He’s gained quite a fan club!
Jen also mentions that both her and Duke’s schedules are flexible within the program. They are notified by their contact at the airport when their services are required, and they decide whether they can accommodate the requests.
Initially, there were concerns about Duke’s interactions with the doggy on the team, but so far, he has been working alongside Alex the Rabbit at the airport without any issues.
Jen isn’t particularly worried about Duke’s interaction with the team dogs since they all focus on providing care, just like Duke does. Additionally, Duke remains attached to a stroller while engaging with passengers.
Whether at UCSF or SFO, Duke has a simple mission for the people in the Bay Area – to provide a much-needed break from the troubles of the world.
“They have said this is really a nice break from what’s going on in my world,” Jen concludes, reflecting on the passengers’ feedback.
If you’d like to see more of Duke in action, check out this video of him visiting the UCSF Medical Center:
I hope you enjoyed Duke’s story, and if you happen to fly from SFO International Airport, I hope you’ll have the opportunity to meet him in person.