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story.lead_photo.caption Meiah Hilton, 8, waits for her miniature fox terrier, Rose Gold, to try out the pet relief area Tuesday at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field in Little Rock. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

The $26 million upgrade on the concourse at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field included lots of bells and whistles for travelers -- as well as something a little more basic for their four-legged companions.

Along with the 800 cellphone-charging seats and other high-tech improvements, the airport's gate area now boasts a place for pets to answer the call of nature.

And what a relief it is.

Just ask Rose Gold.

The miniature fox terrier's owner Conrad Hilton knelt down Tuesday morning in a room off the concourse and gently freed his pet from a small carrier she had traveled in from California. The terrier gingerly ambled onto a green artificial turf, sniffed around for a few moments and then, um, relieved herself.

Hilton, who also had his 8-year-old daughter, Meiah, in tow, said Tuesday morning that they had "been traveling all night" to spend Thanksgiving with his mom in the Conway County community of Springfield.

Having a pet relief room at Clinton National, the first Hilton had encountered on his journey, was a relief for him and for Rose Gold.

"She needed it," he said. "She's happy."

The little-dogs-room inside the secure area of the airport opened just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, the busiest time of the year for the state's largest airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration now requires indoor pet relief areas to be installed at all airports.

The canine rest stop is formally called a service animal relief area because it is aimed at passengers who use animals, primarily dogs, that are specially trained to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities.

Many dogs are trained to help blind or visually-impaired individuals with navigation and other tasks. Dogs also are trained to alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Dogs can pull wheelchairs and assist someone having a seizure and can help in a variety of other ways.

Airport officials say the relief area is for those animals, but also for pets. Many airlines allow people to travel with pets in carriers if the carriers can fit under a passenger seat.

The FAA initiative is part of an effort under the Americans With Disabilities Act to help disabled people travel, particularly on vacation or tourism-related trips.

Clinton National already had an outside animal relief area, but its location posed some problems. A passenger who took his pet outside to use the relief area had to be re-screened through security, for example.

"So by having this in the sterile area, the secure area, that takes away the screening requirement," said Shane Carter, the spokesman for Clinton National. "So it's much more convenient."

No small amount of engineering went into the relief room.

The room has a drainage system. The artificial-turf floor slopes toward the center, where there is a drain. Below the surface is an egg-crate-like material that allows water to "flush by it," according to Tom Clarke, the airport's property, planning and development director.

"The perimeter has an inch-and-half PVC pipe all the way around with holes punched into it that spray towards the drain," he said. "So any liquid waste will go down into the egg crate, and the spray will flush that out."

Eventually, the airport will install a push button to activate the drainage system, Clarke added.

For solid waste, airport officials are relying on responsible animal owners to take care of business.

"There's a bag dispenser and trash bin in there so we're hopeful that people will assist their pets and remove any solid remains that are there," said Ron Mathieu, the executive director at Clinton National.

But just in case, the airport cleaning staff will check the relief area hourly just as it does the restrooms.

Mathieu told members of the Little Rock Airport Commission on Tuesday that staff members assigned to monitor the relief area might be in line for some extra pay.

"It's a fair and appropriate thing to do," he said. "As we go forward, there must be some acknowledgement because this does not appear in anyone's job description."

Airport officials are waiting on the arrival of a fake fire hydrant to install in the pet relief area. Fire hydrants, shrubs or rocks tend to encourage urination for male dogs, according to the FAA.

The lack of a fire hydrant in the relief room didn't appear to hold back Rose Gold.

"It's nice, very nice," Hilton said of the facilities. "And it worked too."

Photo by Staton Breidenthal
The new pet relief area at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field opened just in time for the Little Rock airport’s busy Thanksgiving travel season.

Metro on 11/22/2017

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  • TuckerMax
    November 22, 2017 at 7:12 a.m.

    It's in Sarah Sander's job description to clean up after her animal does it's business. It would be easy to add it in.