Mid-day’s Suprita Mitter hugged, cuddled and de-stressed her way through 90 minutes of sheer joy, thanks to Animal Angels animal-aided therapy that has introduced three pet canines to the city’s main international airport to meet and greet passengers
After long walk away from the main entry point at gate 2 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, we crossed the immigration queues and spotted four-year old Pepe and 10-year old Goldie, two gorgeous golden retrievers lazing around near the duty free shops. We chose to stand at a distance and watch the goings-on.
Also read: Canine therapy at Mumbai's T2
Passengers who had finished most of their airport formalities, walked around with their heads buried in their cell phones. All of a sudden, their eyes spotted these cuddly canines, and their expressions changed completely. Most sported broad smiles.
Some were curious but shy while others exclaimed “Oh! how adorable!” In the hour and a half that we spent with the Animal Angels team at the T2 terminal, we heard these words being repeated. Unable to resist their charm, we walked towards the two beauties who were dressed in blue jackets that read ‘Pet Me’.
As soon as she saw people, Pepe, the younger one, would walk up to passengers, sniff them and give them the ‘How could you not pet me?’ look. We spotted all kinds of passengers during our 90-minute tour.
People who had pets they missed terribly, others who were initially scared to touch the dogs but overcame their fear, and children who hugged and crawled up beside the dogs – each made for the perfect fuzzy frame. Goldie and Pepe were calm, composed and indulgent throughout this chaos.
We met Mr. Andreas, who owns a dog school in Switzerland and has trained over 500 dogs. On his way back home after a holiday in Goa, he admitted his delight to spot therapy dogs at an airport. A Mumbai based couple was appreciative of this initiative, and wanted to donate to the cause.
We also met a young boy whose mother was at the airport a few weeks ago, and had told him to meet these dogs when he came by. Gayatri Ayyer and Jai Bapat, volunteers at Animal Angels, accompanied Akash Lonkar, director Animal Angels Foundation, to handle the dogs. “We overhear a lot of people who think these dogs belong to the bomb squad,” laughs Ayyer.
"Some people also ask us how come they don’t sit when we ask them to and don’t shake hands,” she adds. “We take short breaks as well as loo breaks to ensure they are comfortable," Lonkar explains, adding that by the time they return home, both dogs are pretty tired.
The third dog in the group, Sunshine was not at the airport the day we visited as the dogs work in turns so that they are rested enough. We found a lot of people clicking photographs with the canines. As for us, we hugged and cuddled these helping angels, and when we stopped, they asked for more.
We were anxious too. Not about travel but about writing this first-hand experience. The anxiety disappeared, like magic. The next time you are at the T2 terminal, between 6 pm to 12 am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, check in an hour before the scheduled time, and watch all your travel anxiety disappear in minutes.
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