Taraa Sengupta was having a particularly rough day. It was raining relentlessly, traffic was a nightmare, and she had a plane to catch. When she finally made it to the T2 terminal of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, she learned that her flight to Kolkata was delayed by an hour. Taraa dragged her suitcase across the airport grouchily, lugging her coat and her handbag, annoyed that she had so much to carry, and wishing the day would end soon. Then she turned the corner at T2’s domestic terminal and found Pepe and Myshka, tongues out and tails wagging happily.
Within five minutes, Taraa went from annoyed to enchanted. “I’ve had a really rotten day, but this is the nicest flight delay I’ve ever had,” she said, scratching five-year-old Pepe, a golden retriever, behind the ears.
Pepe and Myshka are part of a team of comfort dogs, canines that have been trained to calm stressed-out passengers at the T2 terminal in Mumbai. Coached by the Animal Angels Foundation (AAF), the doggies and their smiling handlers have been brightening up the airport’s international terminal since September 2015. The response was so overwhelmingly positive, that they decided to bring the gentle pooches to T2’s domestic terminal too.
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, they can be found hanging around the shopping area (after the security check and before the boarding gates). Most often, the dogs get their bellies scratched by cooing travellers, like Taraa. There is no fee involved. Passengers simply approach the doggies, and talk, pat, even hug them, for as long as they like.
In the hour I spent there, I saw women in saris plop down on the floor, petting the dogs and trying to get them to sit still enough to take a photo. Pilots stopped by to say hello before a flight. Toddlers approached the dogs cautiously at first, warming up once they saw their parents playing with them. Even grim-faced business travellers glanced up from their Blackberrys and cracked a smile when they noticed the pooches. Through it all, Pepe and Myshka remained calm as ever.
I wasn’t immune to their charms. Within minutes of meeting them, I was on all fours, scratching their backs, stroking their silky golden heads and gazing into their gooey-chocolate eyes. Aakash Lonkar, director of AAF, and his colleagues, Gayatri and Harshada told me that some frequent fliers change their flight tickets to ensure they can squeeze in some time with the canine cuddle team at the airport. “They almost make me wish my flight was delayed a little longer,” Taraa said.
The comfort dogs can be found at the T2 terminal of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Andheri East, Mumbai, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. From 5.30-8.30pm, they are in the domestic terminal, and from 9-11.30pm, they are in the international terminal. Learn more about the Animal Angels Foundation here.
Kamakshi Ayyar is a former member of NGT India's digital team. She is partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.