By Janet Tappin Coelho
A football stadium has become the first arena in the world to open its doors to dogs, allowing fans to bring their canine companions in with them to watch matches on the terraces.
The fido-friendly initiative at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte, south east Brazil, has introduced the ‘Arcaobancada’, a customised executive box in the stands for 60 supporters and their four-legged friends.
It’s a pioneering move designed to add value to fans’ overall experience at a game and the brainchild of Mineirao director, Samuel Lloyd.
He explained: “This is an exclusive area for fans to encourage them to come more frequently to the stadium accompanied by their faithful mascots.
“Our aim is to understand our customers more and more so we deliver and surpass their expectations in positive ways.
“Opening this space is the first step in a project born out of a bid to unite two passions of the heart, the love for a team and the love for a pet.”
The special dog zone is also part of a worldwide drive to open pet-friendly places in public establishments.
The ‘Arcaobancada’ or grandstand for dogs, is a joint venture between the Mineirao stadium and organisers of the Brazil Cup, a knockout football competition, which is equivalent to the FA Cup.
Both bodies agreed to trial the initiative during matches held in the arena.
The project was inaugurated with 17 guest dogs and their owners on April 19 when local team Cruzeiro FC played Sao Paulo FC.
It proved such a success with dogs watching the match intently as if they knew what was going on. While some observers reckoned a few hounds were hoping to run onto the pitch to chase the ball.
Many thrilled fans returned with their pooches on May 3 to cheer Cruzeiro against Chapecoense FC.
The hospitality area for hounds is kitted out with toys and balls scattered around the room on carpet that imitates synthetic grass, and caters for doggy needs with snacks, water bowls and padded kennels for tired pets.
But the dedicated facility doesn’t allow in just any football-supporting dog.
Access is by invitation only and strictly for pooches that are well-behaved and won’t freak-out at the roar of a 62,000-strong capacity crowd.
To sit on the bleachers with their furry friends, supporters must post pictures of their dog on social networks with the hashtag #CaoTbTorce – shorthand for a ‘my dog is a footie fan’.
“We choose some respondents and send them a questionnaire to find out what their dog’s behaviour is like,” revealed Mineirao press officer, Rivelle Nunes.
“If the owner confirms, through a series of answers, that their pet has a quiet and unflustered demeanour and good social skills around other animals, we invite them to bring their best friend to watch the game with them.
“We have cleaning professionals to clear up after the animals and to maintain hygiene standards throughout. And we have vets and trainers on hand who monitor how the animals behave in their new environment.”
Marcela Carraro, owner of a Schnauzer, said the experience was incredible.
“I was surprised by the structure and behaviour of the dogs,” she said.
“It’s really cool to have a moment like this because, for a lot of people, a pet is a member of the family and to bring them along is a lot of fun.”
Neila Caputa, who took her Maltese to the first experience said: “The space is perfect and it’s been well thought out with all the toys and the way the play things have been placed around the room.”
Jessica Vilaca who had her Beagle with her said: “It was emotional watching the match with my dog.
“It’s so good that we don’t need to leave them in the house alone because now we can bring our pets with us to watch the game.”
And it was not just the supporters who took advantage of the new initiative.
Cruzeiro central midfielder, Lucas Silva, left his Golden Retriever, Logan, in the doggy zone while he was on the pitch.
At the end of the game, as the athlete returned to collect his best mate, he said: “Logan feels at home here and is very comfortable. While I was away he played a lot, and got on with all the other dogs.”
Entrance is free for all dogs and will remain so while the project is tested and evaluated said Mineirao managers.
“The idea is that this initiative will happen at almost every game during the year,” explained Nunes.
“But for that to occur we need to talk to the clubs playing in the stadium.
“Our main concern is that fans do not use fireworks during the matches so as not to scare the animals,” he added.
Mineirao arena is officially known as the Governor Magalhaes Pinto Stadium and was one of the twelve international football venues used during the 2014 World Cup.