Those walking in to the Mumbai International Airport during weekends will be in for a cute surprise – a fur ball of happiness awaiting passengers. Gurgaon-based firm Fur Ball Story provides pet therapy sessions to stressed travelers, helping them unwind.
Arushi Dixit, one of the co-founders of the company, says, “At Mumbai Airport, we provide stress-relieving activities for the passengers.”
For a society that is still struggling to come to terms with the idea of openly speaking about mental illnesses, Pet Therapy is a virgin concept, one that is hard to accept and understand. How can a dog make any difference?
Rohini Fernandes and Radhika Nair have been quite successful in answering that question. The duo, who started Animal Angels Foundation 13 years ago, states that it was not easy to change people’s perception about pet therapy
“We are clinical psychologists and started working with one school and one mental health centre. That was a time when people haven’t even heard of the concept of pet therapy and they were extremely sceptical about it. Right now, we have about 20 trained therapy dogs in Mumbai and we work with 10 schools and two mental health centres,” says Radhika.
Explaining their sessions work, she says, “This is basically like any other therapy. We have a pre-therapy evaluation where we sit with the client and their current therapist and chalk out some goals towards which we would work. We also have a post-therapy evaluation. There is no strict time frame or age group for the therapy. For an individual, we look at probably 3-4 months. Age is not a criteria for this therapy. Our youngest client is 1.5 years and the oldest is 97. We have worked with a whole range of issues covering both mental and physical aspects.”
Fur Ball Story is another group that has helped people warm up to the idea of Pet Therapy. Arushi says, “Fur Ball Story is the brainchild of Animesh Katiyar. When he was studying in Symbiosis, Noida, the campus took an initiative to bring on board two dogs as stress-busters. And thus, came the idea. The company started functioning in December 2016.”
She adds, “We provide pet therapy services for autistic kids, kids with special needs and people with mental illnesses. We also provide stress-relieving activities for corporates. It is more like an animal-human interaction or an animal-assisted intervention.”
The company has a total of nine dogs. “We have golden retrievers, labrador, shih tzu and two indie breeds. Out of these, two are trained as therapy dogs, one is a companion dog and the rest six are in-training therapy dogs.”
Talking about how much people have opened up to the idea of pet therapy, Arushi says, “As of now, people do not have any preference when it come to the breeds. During corporate sessions, to help those who are scared of dogs, we keep our therapy dogs in our lap and just sit there so that people get a chance to get acquainted with these dogs. We tell them to come and meet the dogs whenever they are ready and to try petting it as a first step. They are scared of them because of the thought that no matter what they do, the dog will bite them. This is because here, in India, from a very small age, kids are taught to pelt stones at a dog if it is around. We are trying to oust this attitude from Indian mentality.”