Animal Companions are Finding Acceptance in the Workplace
By Lynn N. Duke
NYT Regional Newspapers
It’s the last place most people would expect to find an animal of any kind, never mind multiple dogs, a pot-bellied pig and, on occasion, a squirrel or two.
But Replacements Ltd. welcomes well-behaved animals throughout its 300,000 square-foot campus, including the showroom, which is well stocked with fine china and crystal.
“I don’t know when a pet has broken anything,” said Bob Page, CEO and founder of the Greensboro, N.C. center. Page is accompanied to work on most days by his 10-year-old miniature dachshunds, Toby and Trudy.
Replacements Ltd. is one of a growing number of companies that are allowing employees to bring their pets to work under a variety of guidelines. And while pets may not be suitable in all work environments, several recent surveys show that, for many Americans, having the option of bringing their companion to work is an important perk.
“Employees don’t have to rush away from work to take care of their pet,” said Dianne Bishop, owner of Wilson Electric in Lakeland, Fl. Bishop brings her 18-year-old toy poodle, Buffy, to work most days, and an employee brings her Yorkie, Molly. “When things get rough, they’re calming. Everybody loves them.”
According to a poll of working Americans 18 years and older, almost one in five companies allows pets in the workplace. More than half of the 1,000 respondents also said that allowing pets in the workplace makes for a more creative and relaxed work environment.
“The dot com revolution of the 90s converted so many people to working at home or in a cubicle all day, interpersonal contact started on a down slope and people started looking more and more to their animals for companionship,” said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, which commissioned the survey. “Since then, more and more people have been making employment decisions based on how it affects their pet, and employers realized it would open up a broader labor base by allowing pets in the workplace.”
A smaller poll, focusing only on dogs, backs up Vetere’s theory.
Simply Hired, a job search site, and Dogster, a sort of MySpace for dogs, commissioned a survey and the results showed that one third of respondents would take up to a 5 percent pay cut if they could bring their dogs to work, while two thirds said they would work longer hours if their pooch was by their side and nearly half would switch jobs if bringing their dog to work was an added perk.
Almost two thirds of U.S. households have at least one pet, according to the APPMA, including 44 million dogs and 38 million cats. Consumer spending on pets has increased more than 70 percent in the past 10 years to an estimated $38.4 billion in 2006.
Asking about bringing your Siamese to the office might seem like an odd question during a job interview. But job seekers are finding more tools with which to screen companies before applying.
Simply Hired’s search engine can look for jobs only at pet friendly companies. And it’s not just family-owned or small businesses that are pet friendly. Online giants Google and Amazon.com both advertise themselves as pet friendly.
Even if you work for a pet friendly company, the work environment may not be suitable for your pet. For example, Bishop leaves another dog at home because the dog wasn’t comfortable at the office.
And there may be other issues involved.
“You want your pet to be well-trained, but you also want to be considerate of other people,” said Charlotte Reed, a pet expert based in New York City and author of “Miss Fido’s Manners,” which will be published in 2007.
Allergies are the most common complaint of co-workers, and solutions will vary from business to business, Reed said. But in some cases people are simply uncomfortable around animals or outright scared of them, and since it’s a human space first and foremost, they should be accommodated.
Good training is imperative for dogs who go to work, which means dogs shouldn’t bark, jump or chew; cats shouldn’t claw or spray; birds should be quiet and other animals should be on good behavior.
If bringing your pet to work is an option, make sure you have a safe way to transport the animal – a crate or seat restraint – and that your work space is stocked with food, bowls, toys and maybe a pillow or bed. Also have supplies for cleaning up accidents, and an approved spot outside for your pet to relieve himself. And make sure your pet has a collar and identification tags on at all times that includes your work contact information.
Even if co-workers take a shine to your pet, remember that the animal is your responsibility so don’t expect others to take them out for a potty break, even if you’re the boss, Reed said.
“It takes a little common sense, but it can be a very enjoyable experience,” Vetere said.
In some cases, pets in the office even do a little work.
In the past, Dr. David Morrison III, a psychiatrist in Palatine, Il., has used his father’s incredibly docile Australian Shepherd, Haley, to treat children who have been traumatized by dogs. Morrison, who is in practice with his father, is now a psychiatric consultant to business leaders. And while the issue of pets in the workplace hasn’t come with senior executives, he said studies have shown that people who take time to relax are usually more productive.
“It re-energizes you, when you take a moment to make a cat purr or make a dog wag its tail,” he said. “People who take time to play live longer and are more ready for the real world.”