Ben & Jerry’s
It all started with Rita. The lovable mutt belonged to former employee and graphic designer Sarah Lee Terrat, who often worked late. The office’s large windows allowed anyone to look in and see that she was alone, so she started bringing Rita for safety. Employees became used to Rita being there at night and soon, other dogs popped in here and there. Public relations spokesman Sean Greenwood says that today, there are 110 human employees and approximately 15 to 20 dogs at the company’s corporate headquarters in South Burlington, Vt.
Visitors and job applicants quickly learn that dogs are part of the Ben & Jerry’s team. “If they sit in the lobby for a few minutes, they’re more than likely to see a dog going outside. I’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re a dog-friendly place,’” says Greenwood. “It’s part of the tour. ‘This is the design department—Momo is there; Jack is in R&D, Allison’s in retail, Scout is brand new…’ They’re just like your co-workers.”
Momo is a 10-year-old Pomeranian-Terrier mix who comes to work with designer Lisa Wernhoff every day. “I live an hour away, and I don’t have a job where I can rush home to let her out,” says Wernhoff. “But because of the pet policy, I can bring her here.”
In 2000, Wernhoff and a volunteer group—folks with and without dogs—created the official pet policy in a proactive, team effort. “It spelled out the need to respect people who are scared of dogs or are allergic,” says Wernhoff. “No dogs in any conference room, lunch room, or bathrooms; no dogs hanging outside your little cubicle, in the aisles, or public spaces. It spelled out where dogs could go potty. We didn’t want people complaining, and tried to head off any problems.”
Obviously, dogs benefit from the attention, treats and petting they receive throughout the day. But the employees also enjoy the physical and mental breaks that come with having their dogs at work.
“For me, the biggest benefit has been taking a physical break from my computer,” says Wernhoff. “I’ve had lots of issues with ‘frozen shoulders’ and doctors constantly told me to take more breaks. Having my dog here, I have to go out at mid-morning, noon and mid-afternoon, minimum, which forces me to take those breaks.”
Another employee, who had been bitten as a child, never liked dogs, but after spending time around the well-behaved Ben & Jerry’s pack, she got over her fear. Eventually, she acquired two Golden Retrievers, who now accompany her to work; she takes them out for a half-hour in the middle of the day for a walk or to chase sticks.
Tara Lineberry jokes that she would likely have a dog by now if it weren’t for the pack that surrounds her at work every day at Healthwise of Boise, Idaho. The communications project manager/writer gets her daily doggie fix from her co-workers’ pups.
“It’s a stress reliever,” says Lineberry. “There have been tons of studies showing that having dogs around calms your nerves and is good for overall health. If I’m working really hard on a project and I need a break, I’ll walk to my neighbor’s office and scrub her dogs a little bit and give them some treats.”
The nonprofit health information provider began as a three-person company in 1975. Today, there are more than 200 employees. Dogs have played a part in its culture from the first day, thanks to Healthwise’s dog-loving CEO, Don Kemper, who currently shares his office with a Bulldog mix named Tuba.
As the company grew, it became clear that a formal dog policy was needed. The company’s culture is based on “teamwork, respect and do the right thing.” The first sentence espouses that philosophy: “At Healthwise, people come first. It is the policy of Healthwise to provide a safe, nonthreatening and healthy work environment for all employees.” It goes on to say that, with the exception of service dogs, “having dogs in the workplace is a conditional privilege, not a right.”