Usually, when airport dogs set their eyes on travellers’ bags, passengers freeze in fear. But since last week, two Labradors at Mumbai airport’s international departure terminal have been helping stressed international fliers feel better.
Unlike sniffer dogs that air travellers are familiar with, these Labradors are trained therapy dogs. Such dogs have been used to comfort special children and traumatised adults at US airports since 2013 following research that showed widespread fear of flying among people owing to the 9/11 attacks. But Mumbai airport is perhaps the first in the country to employ the animals to soothe frayed nerves among passengers.
The dogs, trained by the Animal Angels Therapy Centre in Pune, sense a person’s mood by sniffing them, said airport officials. “The feedback to our pilot project which started 10 days ago was overwhelming. People did not expect such an initiative,” said a Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) spokesperson.
A Chicago-bound flier was the first person to meet Goldie and Pepe, the therapy dogs. He was extremely low when he turned up at the airport as he had missed his flight owing to a miscommunication with the airline, which led to a daylong wait at the terminal. Worse, he had come to India after 25 years to bury his mother. “What an amazing and needed facet of airports. After a long painful day at the Mumbai airport Goldie and Pepe brought ‘humanity’ into an otherwise dehumanising experience,” the traveller, who did not wish to be identified, wrote in the feedback form.
Animal trainers say scientific evidence indicated a reduction in heat rate and blood pressure among travellers when they meet therapy dogs. “Primarily, therapy dogs help in taking the anxiety of a long flight off people’s mind,” said Rohini Fernandes, founder Animal Angels Foundation, a centre that provides therapy dogs.
“There is therapy dog, named Simba, who flies frequently with a boy suffering from autism. The boy’s mother recently told me that often Simba helps in de-stressing their co-travellers.”
Goldie and Pepe might not be overworked immediately because not all travellers are dog lovers, added Fernandes. “If a large number of travellers’ take a liking to the service then the airport operator should have more therapy dogs.”