Here at The Bark, we’re always looking for stories that examine the really big ideas affecting the lives of dogs. Our mission started 15 years ago, when we created the magazine in order to cover the burgeoning dog-park movement.
Recently, we had the opportunity to take our mission indoors — to see how dogs add harmony, fellowship and an atmosphere of well being to a very active and creative workplace. This particular lead came to us, unexpectedly, late last year. The email subject line read “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Dogs,” and it came from Renata Luczak, vice president of corporate communications for Comedy Central. Dogs had joined the ranks of The Daily Show, and staffers and others thought it would make a good story for The Bark to cover, and, oh, yes, they are “huge fans of Bark and would be so thrilled to be in it.” At Bark central, we were thrilled and flattered, of course, but we also took the story to heart. We were curious if these dogs could have it that much better than other office dogs throughout the land.
To find out, in early spring, I spent the day at The Daily Show offices in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, where I met the dogs, sat down with the people, watched a photo shoot and generally saw for myself just how good the show’s dogs have it. Here’s my report.
This dog-friendly workplace started about 15 years ago with Georgia Pappas, then the show’s production manager, and her Tibetan Terrier, Cosmo. Fortunately for Pappas and Cosmo, Jon Stewart is crazy about dogs. Double fortunate, the show’s offices and studio are in a building managed by Adriane Truex, who shares Stewart’s canine appreciation. Permission was quickly granted, and it didn’t take long for more dogs to follow.
These days, the first thing new employees, show guests and visitors notice are the dogs. Free-ranging and ubiquitous, they have become an integral part of the office landscape: roaming, playing or lying about, with toys scattered everywhere. They attend staff meetings, share office chairs, charm the celeb guests — in short, The Daily Show is pretty much dog nirvana.
How else would you define a place where dogs get attention from almost everyone, visit their friends, climb on couches or snuggle up in one of the numerous spare beds that people put in their cubicles to entice doggie visitations? Lunch is a particularly busy time. Christy and Vilma in the accounting department observed that the dogs often start in Stewart’s office (which they can freely visit), hit all the “tidbit” spots, then make their way upstairs to accounting for one more morsel and a nap on their couch.
Meet the Dogs
While perhaps a dozen or so dogs rotate through the offices, there are a few regulars, among them, Parker, Kweli and Ally. The girls, Parker and Ally, have a close and special relationship with Golden boy Kweli. Everyone remarks that after “dark weeks” (the periods during which the show’s not taping), they look forward to seeing the three dogs rush into the building, get up on their hind legs and embrace one another. Even though the humans might be dragging, the dogs are so happy to see their pals. And the romantic moves Parker puts on Kweli have elicited ooohs and aaahs from those witnessing what one person described as scenes out of From Here to Eternity.
For co-executive producer Jen Flanz, whose family has always had dogs, this inviting atmosphere inspired her to adopt Parker, a Lab mix, from Manhattan Animal Care & Control. Parker seems to win the hearts of everyone she meets, both dog lovers and those who might not yet be. She’s had a lot of training with Jen, and quickly became a regular who, along with Kweli, introduces the newcomer pups to office-dog protocol. All the dogs soak up and bask in the attention they get, from most everyone who works there.
As Jen observes, the only downside is that “our dogs are used to being here, being around people all day, running around and getting attention from a hundred people. So when we have time off, she bounces off the walls. They get so much activity and stimulation here.”
Artistic coordinator, Justin Chabot got his Golden Retriever, Kweli, when he was still a student in Boston, and started Kweli’s off-leash training during their late-night forays for a place to park his van. As Justin recalls, “I would stop at an intersection, make him sit and stay, and walk back across the street and wait until the light changed. Then I’d say ‘OK, let’s cross.’ Now, he walks with me and never goes into the street — he never steps off the sidewalk without me being there. He’s off-leash even in Times Square.” Another handy trick that Justin easily taught the bright and relaxed Kweli is how to ride steady and calm on the back of his bicycle and motorcycle. He made Kweli a co-pilot seat from an old milk crate, which the dog sits in during their commute down the West Side Highway from Harlem; they turn a quite a few heads as they go by.
Supervising producer Tim Green-berg’s Ally, a rescue Pointer-mix, is a more recent addition. When Tim first adopted Ally, she had fear issues, so he did a lot of concentrated training with her. Initially, he only brought her in on slow days, then, gradually added more time to her “work” schedule. He’s convinced that the training built up her self-confidence, and is the best way to maintain it. When Ally first met Kweli, Tim says, “she tried to eat from his bowl, he snapped at her and since then, they’ve established their relationship — she looovvves him.” Like Parker, Ally flirts with Kweli constantly and shamelessly.
Good training is essential to making the office-dog dynamic work. Everyone knows that having their dogs in the office is a privilege, one they don’t want to lose. As Jen observes, “We all feel this responsibility to keep the dogs pretty well-behaved. If someone comes in and thinks this is a free-for-all, they would be mistaken.” Tim adds that “like the show itself, there really is a strict discipline underlying what looks like a free-form.” From my perspective, it seemed that the office camaraderie, conviviality and general bonhomie — laughter can be heard everywhere — inspires and affects both the people and the dogs.
Many staffers jokingly admit that they rate guests on how attentive they are to the dogs, who are hard to avoid en route to or leaving the studio. Kweli and Parker, in particular, can usually be found hanging out nearby. I talked with Hillary Kun, supervising producer and the show’s talent booker, about guests they considered “get-down-with-the-dogs” standouts. On that list are Jennifer Aniston, Tim Gunn, Ricky Gervais, Betty White and, most famously of all, President Obama (a senator at the time), who literally got down on the floor to hug Parker and pet the dogs. NBC news anchor Brian Williams and his wife, Jane, are also huge dog lovers and have a particular affection for Kweli; Williams always asks for him when he comes to visit.
The dogs may have their own opinions, which they sometimes seem to register. For example, Jim Margolis’ dog, Aunt Blanche, once peed (just this once) on the floor outside the green room when Sharon Stone was visiting, he thinks his dog was expressing her opinion about “Basic Instinct 2.” (Such accidents are rare, however.) So far, the only guest to bring a dog on the set has been Ted Koppel, who came with his granddog, a little black pup named Pepper.
When asked what the dogs add to the mix, Hillary, who confesses that she thinks of the dogs as her nieces and nephews, said that “the dogs loosen up the place. Personally, if I have a bad day, or am stressed, it’s nice having the company of the dogs, to have them come into my office. Dogs are therapeutic.” Everyone I spoke with agrees that having dogs as co-workers may have something to do with the show’s ongoing success. Not only are they great de-stressors, good for morale, comforting and relaxing, the dogs contribute their own dose of inimitable comic relief to a group that’s focused on creating and showcasing comedy. Like the time Parker snatched one — yes, only one —meatball from a tray in the kitchen area. She trotted back to show everyone her prize and dropped it at Jen’s feet to much praise. Then Kweli swooped in and finished it off.
Matt Palidoro, whose cousin owns a dog bakery and keeps him supplied with treats for his officemates, says, “The dogs are a huge perk on the job. If you see two dogs playing with each other, you can decompress easily.”
This group seems to function on some kind of organic, village-like level, with everyone looking out for and being somewhat involved in raising the “village’s” dogs. For example, it’s easy for the dog people to ask colleagues to handle an occasional dog-sitting stint. So many of the non-dog owners, including correspondent Wyatt Cenac, have stories about times they hosted one of the dogs while their people were out of town. Talk about a benefit!
All in all, as Tim Greenberg describes it, “This is a giant dog playground. The dogs run around, and there are at least eight to 10 treat stations throughout the office. Ally’s got her own schedule of things she does. She gets exercise running up and back. The only thing that would make it better is if there were grass and squirrels [inside].”
After a long day taking in the sights and sounds of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart dog-land, moving from cubicle to cubicle, I felt as though I were blending into the landscape, becoming like one of the free-range dogs. As the day ended, I was pleased to be invited into the office of The Man himself. (Stewart’s two French Bulldogs, Smudge and Barkley, were not there, being not quite ready for primetime.) Stewart seemed not to notice that dogs had infiltrated the office — he said he thought “they were interns who were lying around on the floor,” and he “assumed they just getting college credit” for their work. I quipped, “but you rub their tummies, I hope.” He retorted, “Well, I like to treat our interns with respect.” I also apologized for any dog-paw scratches he might notice on his studio desk, which we used for the photo session. Graciously, he claimed that he, too, was an avowed desk scratcher.
Who, after all, could blame the dogs for anything? In Stewart’s opinion, all the dogs there are “really the cream of the crop, all have been to military school, their behavior is impeccable, their manners are impeccable, their English is impeccable.” Plus, “Who doesn’t love the dogs?” There is nothing better than dogs, and they bring out the best in us too. Nothing better. Confirming my observation that everyone has a ball here, he added that, “obviously we’ll take you to the reptile room after this.”