Work of Dogs
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Ever wonder what it would be like to have your dog with you at work, nestled under your desk? If you needed a break from paperwork or phone calls, you could go outside for a relaxing walk or a game of fetch. Minor irritants would melt away when you looked into those adoring doggie eyes or heard that solid tail thump.
A surprising number and variety of businesses now recognize the added value of allowing dogs in the workplace, and not just on the annual “Take Your Dog to Work” day. Increasingly, what started out as occasional canine visits have grown into standard practice in offices around the country. Likewise, official pet policies are now part of many employee handbooks; the rules not only address proper pooch-related etiquette and behavior, they also provide non-dog people with assurance that their needs are taken into consideration.
But a document weighed down in legalese doesn’t explain the amazing transformation that can happen to a company and its people when dogs are welcomed. People who perhaps would never have met or spoken to one another are drawn to the dog in the cubicle or out in the parking lot. A shy person feels free to greet the dog and kneel down beside her for a friendly lick. A fearful person bravely reaches out a hand for the dog to smell, and delights in her cold nose.
And of course, those with dogs never tire of hearing compliments about their pups or seeing colleagues enjoy their company. Even more gratifying is the chance to field questions from curious non-dog people and to help them begin to understand why dogs matter. All of these encounters provide co-workers with opportunities to engage in face-to-face conversation, something that is increasingly rare in this technology-driven world.
We took a look at some of the companies that welcome dogs, and—once we recovered from our surprise at the number—decided to dig a bit deeper into a representative selection. Here are four stand-out examples of corporate American dog culture.
“Every day, she gets petted and praised by others,” says Herdener. “She has half a dozen or so very good friends who see her once a day. It’s really a community of dog lovers. There are probably three dozen people I know only because of my dog. Dulce is more social than I am, so she’s a nice ice-breaker.”
Approximately 24 to 36 dogs come to work at Amazon’s corporate headquarters, a 12-story former VA hospital in Seattle, Wash. Herdener says it’s not surprising that dogs would be allowed in this old Art Deco building, which dates from the 1920s. However, when they move to a brand-new downtown facility in a couple of years, he says it’s a foregone conclusion that the dogs will still be welcome.
In order to bring a dog, the employee must first register him/her and agree to certain rules and regulations. For example, all dogs are required to be up-to-date on vaccinations, housebroken and on-leash except when they’re in an office with the door closed or behind a baby gate.
Considering the number of dogs, there are surprisingly few skirmishes or co-worker complaints. “It comes down to common sense and common courtesy,” says Herdener. “Even people who don’t love dogs appreciate the policy because it makes it a more casual environment. When you go through the hiring process, it becomes clear what our corporate culture is. People make a choice—either they subscribe to it or they don’t.”
Besides helping forge new relationships, allowing dogs in the workplace also gives employees peace of mind. “We work long hours,” says Herdener. “If the dog was at home, you would run home quicker. The fact that you can bring her adds to productivity. As hard as you work, you do have time to pet or play with a dog. I love my job and I love this company, and I have to say that one of the reasons why is the fact that I get to have my dog by my desk.”
Ben & Jerry’s
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.
“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.”
There are situations in which a dog might not be welcome, for example, if a co-worker had allergies. An employee must request permission before bringing his/her dog into the office. If the dog interferes with another employee’s ability to work, the dog must stay at home. There is a “three-strikes” rule for dogs who demonstrate aggressive behavior, such as growling, barking or lunging. If three formal complaints are lodged against the dog, he is no longer welcome in the workplace. Of course, biting is never tolerated.
If a problem arises, the Healthwise Hounds—a group made up of both dog- and non-dog people—encourages the person to talk directly to the dog owner. If the person isn’t comfortable with that, an anonymous email may be submitted and the Healthwise Hounds will follow up.
There are a few people on the Healthwise staff who are afraid of dogs, so dog owners know to keep their pooches away. Many dog owners will thoughtfully post a sign on their office door. “A girl on my team has a little sign—Hi, my name is Miko. I’m here today and I’m a friendly dog,” says Lineberry.
The Healthwise offices are located in Boise’s beautiful foothills, and employees and their dogs take full advantage of the many walking trails that surround their workplace. The company encourages everyone to respect the trail system by cleaning up after their dogs, and has thoughtfully installed disposal-bag containers in the parking lot to make it easy for them to do so.
It’s hard to imagine curious noses and wagging tails among fragile items like the crystal, china and other collectibles for which Replacements is known, but Vice-President of Human Resources Jeanine Falcon says that it’s allowed speaks to Page’s generous philosophy. (His 11-year-old Miniature Dachshunds, Toby Lee and Trudy Mae, are very popular around the office.)
Falcon has three dogs, but only two of them are comfortable in a busy office environment. Her dogs—10-year-old Bear, a Border Collie mix, and Zola, a 14-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog—attract plenty of visitors, which she feels helps her do her job better.
“People stop by just to see the dogs all the time,” says Falcon. “I don’t know if they’d come by just to see me, though I’d like to think so! It demystifies the HR department and the executive offices, makes them comfortable and homey.”
Replacements’ formal pet policy requires each dog to be current on vaccinations, on a six-foot leash at all times, and polite to people and other dogs. “We emphasize that your pet’s behavior is your responsibility,” says Falcon. “If they chew a computer cord or growl at somebody, you may get some feedback on that. If that happens, we have a conversation with the employee: Do some training, try again in three months. We don’t fire many dogs.”
Falcon recalls that the company’s dog-friendly policy was particularly comforting when her oldest Bernese Mountain Dog, Bella, passed away. “It’s nice to know that your colleagues understand. At other places, you could call and say, ‘I’m not coming in today because my dog died,’ and they’d probably say, ‘Yeah, right.’ Here, they know the dog. They’re not pets, they’re family members, and I think that understanding really helps.”
Truth be told, we expected to hear tales of the challenges that came with having canines as part of the workforce. After all, people can be emotional about their dogs, and that can easily lead to misunderstandings. Surely there were people who would complain about shedding, barking or allergic reactions. But in all cases, it seems that these companies’ dog cultures are a natural extension of a healthy working environment, one in which employees are treated with respect and encouraged to proactively voice concerns before they turn into potential problems.
However, none of these companies, or the hundreds of others who welcome canines to the workplace, would have dogs if it weren’t for concerted grassroots efforts by empowered employees (who are occasionally aided and abetted by a dog-loving CEO). According to Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, “The dot-com revolution of the ’90s converted so many people to working at home or in a cubicle all day that interpersonal contact started on a down slope, and people started looking more and more to their animals for companionship.” By allowing dogs to come to work, companies help their employees connect on a more human level, and a sense of community that goes well beyond retreat-induced teambuilding is born.
Thumbnail photograph by Scott Eklund/Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Photograph Courtesy of Replacements, Ltd.