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Cute and cuddly stress-reliever for Mumbai Airport passengers

Travelling, though is a joyous experience it is also a tiring one. So what can one do to relax and entertain themselves in an airport?

Mumbai’s T2 terminal has an effective and a cuddly solution to weary travellers and bored children scurrying towards the boarding gates before their flights take off.

They are Angel and Cocoa, the two stress-buster dogs, that hang around the departure area with their handlers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 5.30 pm to even up to 1 am with breaks for the dogs at every one or two-hour intervals. Attracting enormous attention from passengers, the sight of Angel, a Golden Retriever, and Cocoa, a Shih Tzu (of Chinese breed) makes everyone, even the anxious travelers, stop in their tracks and break into a smile. All of a sudden, the fatigue of packing and journeying to the airport, the stress of catching a flight as well as keeping children entertained in enormous airports quickly fades away.

Even groups of airline cabin crew marching past hastily smile with a “so cute” on glimpsing the furry twosome.

This innovative initiative of Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) to have the trained therapy dogs in the airport is nothing new, as petting such dogs has been found to be comforting and help in relieving stress.

Trained by Srishti Sharma and Animesh Katiyar, who founded the Fur Balls Story in Gurgaon, Delhi, where they caught on to the idea of pet therapy when studying at a law college in the capital, this organization “aims to leverage the stress-reducing effect of human-dog interaction, a concept successfully implemented in schools for special needs children, colleges, industries, airports and even hospitals,” says Sharma, who handles Cocoa. The affectionate Golden Retriever even holds a therapy certificate from Hong Kong and is often mistaken as a “sniffer or security dog.

“Fifty percent of our work is done when we choose the right dog after checking their lineage,” says Sharma as she encouraged young kids passing by to play or pet the small and cuddlesome Cocoa, who, she says, actually is “a big bully.” Explaining how they train the dogs, she said, “We start from normal obedience to advanced obedience and then socializing. As handlers, we develop a deep bonding with the dogs.”

Adds Katiyar, “The handlers are a bridge between humans and the dogs. Once they listen to us perfectly, we train them to follow our signals and instructions and learn to meet people without panicking.”

Stopping short in her tracks, 11-year-old Daya Ravi says she “was pleasantly surprised to see the dogs. At first I thought they were police dogs.” After stroking Cocoa and playing for a few minutes, she hopped off with her father at the domestic terminal saying, “I did enjoy that very much.”

A one and a half year old toddler being carried on her father’s backpack was mesmerized by the animals and insisted her father put her down so she could play with the dogs. Her father, an American, said, “My daughter loves dogs and enjoys playing with them.”

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One lady passenger, attending her son’s wedding in India and whose dog was not allowed to travel from the USA, was overcome with emotion and Skyped her daughter taking care of their pet back home to tell her about the dogs at the airport. “She was weeping away and at the same time happy as India had accepted this new concept of allowing dogs at the airport,” said Sharma.

Passengers at the domestic side are always in a hurry, says Katiyar, but those at the international terminal have to arrive early and so have more time to relax with the dogs that interact with 50-80 people daily. “We also have another dog, Muffin, a Labrador, at the international departure gate.”

Another well-known organisation, Animal Angels Foundation, Pune, initially worked at Mumbai airport and its founder Minal Kavishwar said, “The idea came from Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) and we conceptualised a programme with the CSIA in November 2015, something that was never seen before.

“Our three experienced dogs created quite an impact on travellers. A lot of Indians changed their perception about dogs whilst foreigners changed their perception about India,” says Kavishwar who has over 25 therapy dogs across India and customise programmes according to the demand.

With the animal-assisted therapy gaining ground, Sharma and Katiyar say, “We intend to take this initiative to more companies, schools, old age homes and hospitals.” Going one step further, Fur Ball Story has a cafe in Gurgaon — a multi cuisine restaurant which also has a menu of dog food. It is also one-stop shop for pet owners and dog lovers.


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