It’d be easy to love Chekhov even if his accomplishments stopped at digging holes in the lawn. But this nine-year-old Siberian husky from Bloomington is the Laddie-esque dog ideal, a trained and certified therapy pup who has cheered up or comforted thousands of humans around the metro.
Chekhov’s most public-facing work goes down at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The airport launched its Animal Ambassador program in 2015, and two years later the smiling husky became one of its top volunteers.
“You can’t just sign up, they qualify you,” says Chekhov’s owner, Bill Lozito. “Our first year at the airport, Chekhov interacted with over 6,300 passengers from 31 countries.”
Those passengers hug Chekhov and snap selfies, often confiding that they’ve just boarded their own dogs or are scrambling home to greet ’em. The floofy ambassador has become a favorite among airport workers, too.
“There’s something about the husky; people just love the breed,” says Lozito, who runs the Poltava Siberians obedience school with his wife. “Chekhov is very gentle and sweet, he hasn’t met a person he doesn’t like.”
(In the interest of full journalistic disclosure, you’ll notice from my author photo that I have my own biases toward the breed.)
The Animal Ambassador program is mimicked at almost 100 airports around the country, says Sara Ernst with the MSP Airport Foundation. Currently, around 50 dogs volunteer at the airport, including favorites like Lilly the Basset Hound, Kola the four-pound Teacup Poodle, Bishop the Great Dane, and, of course, Chekhov.
“Bill and Chekhov are one of those teams that people just recognize, they’ve been one of our more consistent teams,” Ernst says. “People get so excited to see them.”
Before COVID-19, Chekhov and Lozito made the rounds in the main terminal every Friday for two-hour shifts, though these days visits are down to once or twice per month on Wednesdays.
The duo keeps busy volunteering elsewhere—the State Fair, the Minneapolis VA hospital, and, recently, the South Education Center in Richfield that was rocked by a deadly shooting earlier this month. In the wake of the violence, Chekhov and Lozito made classroom-by-classroom visits to comfort students and staff.
“It was extremely rewarding,” Lozito says. “It seems like that incident had maybe more of an impact on the staff than the students–the students were so resilient.”
Chekhov’s comforting presence is even felt in the courthouse. Like the hero dogs recently featured in the Strib, the husky snuggles with victims of sex abuse in Dakota County before and after they testify, bringing much-needed stress relief during impossibly stressful moments. Minnesota’s courtroom dogs are only present in pretrial and investigative proceedings, but there’s a push to join “at least 15” other states who allow ’em in the actual witness stand.
“Chekhov,” Lozito says, “is always there for you.”