Diane's Diary #13: What’s an LAX PUP?
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
Note: This is Excerpt #13 in Diane’s Diary. If you would like to read previous excerpts, you can find Diane’s Diary 1-12 here.
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Even though we had filmed and mostly edited the CSUF mini-doc, as I mentioned in DD #10, I didn’t have all of the approvals I needed to feel comfortable releasing it, so I decided to wait. I also decided that I wanted to have at least three mini-docs ready to go before the first one was released. I didn’t want to release one and then for whatever reason there be a gap of 6 months before the next one was ready to go.
Plus, I had ideas of other stories I wanted to film. One such story is a therapy dog program at LAX (Los Angeles International) airport. I contacted them in May 2019) and immediately heard back from Heidi who runs the PUP (Pets Unstressing Passengers) program. She was really excited that I had reached out to her and was an enthusiastic “yes".
Heidi and I totally connected on the phone. She has a rescue background and previously worked at LA Animal Services. Heidi told me that the PUP program started with 20 volunteer teams and now they have 112 teams. (Teams are comprised of a human paired with their therapy animal.) She has also trained 63 other airports to do a program like the PUP program.
Heidi told me she would contact some of her teams to see who would be interested in participating in the film. She got back to me and told me that she had four teams and explained that we would all be in one terminal, even though during normal PUP days, each PUP handler visits a different terminal so there can be a PUP team in each.
My initial thinking was that each PUP team would go to a different gate. So, in addition to Chateau, my “regular” cameraman, I hired an extra camera person and a Production Assistant (PA) expecting that we would have a camera follow one team for a bit and then switch it up.
It ended up being even more fun than that.
Instead of fanning out to separate gates, we all congregated together in one area of the terminal so that passengers walking by saw four dogs with vests that say “Pet Me.” While this isn’t how it “normally” works, it was great for the passengers that came through the terminal to have four dogs to choose from to pet.
Most dogs with vests say “Service Dog Please Don’t Pet,” so dogs with “Pet Me” vests are a welcome change for the general public. It was such a great shoot. The CSUF shoot was a challenge because I was the only person getting filming release signatures. I was so grateful that I had hired Eleonora as a PA to help me gather signatures. You can imagine the number of people that come through LAX, one of the largest airports in the world in an hour and a half. We did the best we could and made sure we wrote down something that would identify each passenger (i.e what they were wearing, hair style, with a family etc.) that signed the release. We did this to assist us in identifying the person and matching them with their release when editing.
Eleonora and I met a week before the shoot so I could make sure we were on the same page. Carrie, my second cinematographer was a delight and did a great job filming. Carrie and I met for the first time that morning at LAX, but it all worked out well. Everyone was so enthusiastic. And almost everyone we filmed was willing to be included in the mini-doc. The volunteers handlers were personable, sweet and great on camera. Heidi rocks and was fantastic when we interviewed her. And of course, the dogs, just by being dogs, were magical.
Right before we left Heidi’s office on our way to let the therapy teams do their thing, I wondered aloud about how people will react. Heidi assured me that the magic would start happening, and it did. Even though the LAX shoot was the third shoot, it ended up being the first one that we released. If you haven’t already watched it, it’s only 3 minutes long and you can see for yourself how much Animal Magic happened.
Come back next time to find out about the story we learned about that will be in the feature film, and how that all came about.
**NEW Mini-doc now live!**
If you haven’t yet had a chance to watch our latest 3-minute mini-documentary, here’s a link: