Right in the midst of the busy departure hall of the Helsinki airport sits a golden Labrador. Two security guards approach, and the pooch starts to bark. The guards retreat. After a short conversation with the owner, they bend slightly, extending a hand to the dog from a distance. The dog sniffs, assured they aren’t a threat sits down without another bark. The humans continue to chat.
I was pleasantly surprised seeing how well the humans handled the anxious dog. They gave him the time and an opportunity to get comfortable with them, ensuring their safety as well.
In India, I usually encounter people who start yelling when a dog approaches them, alarming the animal, or want to take selfies with them, without thinking about the dog’s comfort. I was also surprised seeing several passenger dogs at the Helsinki airport. In India, I have never seen any at the main departure hall of any airport.
Turns out that Finland, the happiest country in the world according to the World Happiness Report 2022 and the four years before it, loves its pets and treats them with care and dignity. Would that also be one of the reasons behind the highest happiness index in the world?
Of what I saw, it surely seemed like it.
Unlike in India, in Finland, dogs are allowed in all modes of public transport including trams, metros, trains, boats, cruises and flights. The Helsinki airport has two pet relieving areas. They can also accompany their owners inside airport stores and cafes. In fact, Finland’s national carrier Finnair allows small pets in the cabin, in a crate. The bigger ones have to travel in the luggage area of a flight, which is safe for pets. How cool is that? In India, pet parents are often compelled to buy a car to ferry their dogs or cats around, even within the city.
Even in a mega city like Mumbai, it’s hard to find even one pet park. There is a pet-park and cemetery coming up in Delhi, but it's yet to become a wide-spread concept.In Helsinki, however, there are 80 fenced dog parks, where four-pawed babies can run freely. Some even have separate areas for big and small dogs.
One of the most popular parks in the city, the Central Park, which is spread over 10 square kilometres, where people go for trekking, cycling, horse riding and for foraging berries, mushrooms and herbs in the summers and autumn, also allows dogs of all sizes.
What impressed me the most is an entire island in Helsinki dedicated to dogs and their owners. At Koirasaari (dog island), furry babies can have all the freedom they want. No dog haters here. At Finland’s biggest attraction, The Santa’s Village in Rovaneimi, pets are welcomed as well.
Restaurant, cafes and saunas
Most restaurants and cafes in Helsinki allow pets. They are often seen in the restaurant’s outdoor area, sitting by the owner’s chair. A few cafes also let the pets inside, especially in the winters. Even city-run cultural centres and cafes allow pets. At Helsinki city’s Pikku Finlandia, a cultural and convention centre, I met a majestic looking Huskie, sitting quietly by its owner, and not begging for food, like I have seen many pet dogs at restaurants in India do. His humans seemed to be not worried about his dog at all. He was sipping berry wine and enjoying the view of the adjoining lake, also open to pets.
In Finland, where sun doesn’t rise for 72 days in a year and the temperature drop to -44 degree Celsius, saunas are considered sacred. One of the most popular public saunas is Löyly Helsinki, complete with an outdoor area, a restaurant and a bar. While pets are not allowed inside the sauna rooms, they are allowed in the outdoor sitting area and also inside the restaurant, even at the bar. Sometimes, they are also given a small treat by the staff members and a bowl of water in appropriate doggie bowls.
People and dogs
It was a delight to see the dogs accompanying office goers as they rushed to their offices early in the morning, dressed in suits, ties and formal dresses. From shops, to corporate offices and even restaurants, well-behaved dogs are welcome to stay with their humans, while they work. There was no need to feel unnecessary separation anxiety from your pooch.
The Finnish have always relied on dogs, and still use them to hunt, herd and race, especially in Lapland, the northern most regions in the country. Hence, most of them know what to do with and around dogs or how to raise them right. “Most of us train our dogs at home as we know how to do it,” says Salla Tauriainen, a pet parent of a female Great Dane. It’s a skill that is passed over generations.
It’s also why I didn’t see any dog walkers taking the dogs for their daily stroll. It’s a common sight in Mumbai that I don’t subscribe to as walking a dog is the one time you bond with him the most and a strong but disciplined bond is important to raise a secure, well-behaved dog.
No street dogs
People in Finland claim that the country has no street dogs, or animal control – all dogs in the country have a loving home. Recently, many Finns have also adopted abandoned dogs from the war-torn Ukraine. This, however, has led to a public debate. Dog racing is a popular sport in Finland. It has, both, its supporters and opposers because the competition leads to unethical practices of dog breeding and training. Besides, some kennel owners believe that people who adopt dogs ought to prefer retired race dogs rather than those from outside the country.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, a Kathak student and a first-time pet parent.
Disclaimer: The writer visited Finland as a guest of Finland Tourism; flights were sponsored by Finnair.