A Hydrant Away From Home: Service Dogs Get a ‘Toilet’ at Detroit Airport

The two grassy indoor relief areas eliminate the need to take Fido outside.

Staff Writer Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.


Life just got a little easier for travelers flying through Detroit who are accompanied by service dogs. The Detroit Metropolitan Airport has added a Service Animal Relief Area, an indoor potty where canine companions can handle their business.

Dubbed “Central Bark,” the area opened for doggy business on Tuesday during a “ribbon-biting” ceremony. Delta Airlines worked with Paws With a Cause, a Michigan-based nonprofit that trains service dogs for people with disabilities, to create the pooch potties.

As you can see in the above video, the relief area has two raised boxes that are conveniently placed adjacent to human restrooms—you can go, and so can your dog. One box comes with real grass, and, in case a dog is more into it, the other has fake turf. Just like the outdoors, the boxes have a pee target everyone’s furry friend is familiar with: a red fire hydrant. And the whole area’s fully enclosed so that pet-free passengers don’t have to get an eyeful of dog going to the bathroom.

Travelers with dogs have long had to resort to using pet diapers or hoping the animal doesn’t have an accident on the floor. Airport employees surely aren’t psyched to clean up dog excrement, and there’s always the gross and dangerous possibility that someone won’t see the mess and will step in or slip on it. The alternative? Owners have to hustle a dog through a busy terminal to get it outside to relieve itself. Then comes the long wait in the TSA line to get back inside in time to catch a connecting flight. When you have a disability, that process is doubly cumbersome. Adding the relief area is humane to both the dogs and the special needs passengers.

Detroit resident Marguerite Maddox, who has a black Labrador retriever named Jello to help her with her hearing disability, told the Detroit Free Press that the indoor potties will save her at least 30 minutes per trip. “To have her inside is a blessing for us,” said Maddox.

Once the dogs are finished using the relief areas, pet owners still have to pick up any feces. The airport provides disposal bags as well as a hand-washing station. If Fido just urinates on the grass, the dog’s handler presses a button to “flush,” and a mini sprinkler lightly rinses the grass.

Although the facilities are primarily for service dogs, the airport has no plans to turn away people traveling with pets that are coming along for companionship.

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