MINNEAPOLIS — Just after sunrise on a recent Sunday, travelers hustling through MSP airport got an eyeful of cute near Gate C25: a curly-haired puppy, looking almost like a teddy bear come to life.
A little girl stopped to wave. A guy in a sport coat paused to ask about its breed. A lady dragging a roller bag screeched to a halt. "Omigod, so cute!" she exclaimed as she squatted down to snap a photo.
The apricot-colored, 10-week-old mini-goldendoodle seemed immune to the attention as it tugged on a chew toy held by Hope Lyberg, a "flight nanny" delivering the dog to its new owner.
The pandemic has spurred a rush to adopt puppies, but it's also made prospective pet owners reluctant to travel to fetch one. That's meant heightened demand for pup transporters.
"It blew up during COVID," Lyberg said of the business she runs with her sister Brooke. "People love the convenience."
In the past, the term "flight nanny" referred to an in-flight babysitter for young children, but in recent years it's been used to describe an animal lover who escorts a puppy traveling — via airline cabin — to its new home. Nannies are hired by the puppy's buyer, who finds one on their own or on the breeder's recommendation.
Since officially launching Up North Puppy Nannies in 2020, the Fargo-based sisters have flown 50-some puppies to cities all over the country, including Boston, Phoenix, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
"It's very rewarding work to be able to deliver puppies to their very excited families," Brooke said.
For all the job's appeal, it's still a niche gig; there are only few puppy nannies in the area.
Brooke and Hope, 22 and 20 respectively, grew up in Minnesota's northwest corner, just a few miles from the Canadian and North Dakota borders, along with two younger sisters, several horses and dogs.