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Bringing dogs to work

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

t_puppyBy Robin Doussard

At Portland staffing services firm Boly:Welch, partner Pat Welch's apricot standard poodle, Rudy, is as much a fixture around the office as the copy machine.

"It makes a huge difference," says Welch about her four-legged beloved hanging around the office. "Having dogs around makes it a friendlier place."

There are no official pet guidelines at Boly:Welch, and Welch isn't even sure that her lease allows animals on the premises. She says having dogs in her office evolved because of the pooch passion she and her 20 or so officemates share. So how do they keep the fur from flying when Fido visits?

"It's common sense, courtesy and professionalism," says Susan Feldman, an account executive with Boly:Welch. "People basically self-manage here. If your dog comes to work, it shouldn't make a difference to the functioning of the office."

At design software company Autodesk there have been dogs coming into work almost since the company was founded in 1982. Autodesk, with its 87 offices in 33 countries, has a more formal approach to allowing dogs in the workplace: There's a written pet policy and the office leases must allow pets, says Margaret McMillan, director of human resources.

McMillan, who is based in the Portland office, says the policy addresses issues such as unwanted barking, wandering around and messiness (by the dogs, not the employees). And there's a three-strikes policy that requires offending canines to be booted after three infractions.

"What's neat about having dogs around is that it helps us all not take things so seriously," says McMillan. "Employees are respectful of the guidelines and it allows us to have a little bit different work environment."

Various studies have touted a pet-friendly workplace as a cost-free benefit that improves morale and productivity, cuts down on absenteeism, contributes to a more creative work environment, and helps with recruitment and retention. According to a 2004 Society for Human Resource Management survey, 5% of U.S. employers allow pets, and it appears to be a trend on the way up, according to Judy Clark, CEO of Tualatin-based human resources consulting firm HR Answers.

Allowing pets in the workplace took off in the late '90s, Clark says, when there was high demand for workers and a low supply, particularly in the high-tech arena. "Companies wanted to find a way to compete, and since then allowing pets has really taken off," she says.

Even if you don't argue with the benefits, is having a pet-friendly workplace the right decision for your company?

To find out, Clark recommends that businesses think through the myriad issues surrounding having pets in the workplace first to avoid a dog fight later on.

"A lot of companies casually let pets in the workplace, and then it becomes personal and emotionally charged when you have to change because of trouble," says Clark. "Businesses need to think about what the consequences might be up front."

Clark says companies first and foremost should conduct a survey to determine if there is "overwhelming" support for pets in the workplace. "And talk to all the employees, not just the ones who want pets at work," Clark says. If there is wide support for the idea, she says companies should then establish written rules and guidelines that explain the expectations for both pets and their owners in the office.

Issues to address include:

  • Will there be an increased need for janitorial services? (Accidents do happen. What about fleas?)
  • Are there jobs that are not pet compatible (those that keep a worker out of the office for most of the day, or those around dangerous equipment)?
  • Is liability an issue? Who pays for any damages if they occur? What if someone (or something) gets bitten?
  • What does your building lease agreement or property management require?
  • Do you have employees with allergies, and if so, what are they (some people are allergic to dogs, not cats, and vice versa)?
  • How would occasional barking affect business? Dogs can bark at inappropriate times.
  • What species of animals are allowed?
  • Will you require training (for pets and staff)?
  • How will you socialize the workplace pets with each other, staffers?
  • Do you have enough space for man and beast to co-exist happily and still get the job done?

Once these issues have been addressed, Clark advises, allow pets in the office on a trial basis. Keeping a daily log of which pets are in the workplace, and where, will help you monitor the situation, she adds.

At Boly:Welch, Feldman says they keep their pooches in the back of the office. And they are very proactive about their dog-friendly workplace with prospective hires. "We tell people we have dogs when we hire people," she says.

"Having dogs in the office makes it a kinder, gentler environment," says Feldman, who brought her own dog to work on Valentine's Day. "It gives you a little bit of release to take a break and cuddle with a dog. It humanizes a workplace."

Of course, good behavior can't always be legislated. Sometimes it just comes down to being well-trained — dogs and humans.

"We've never had any problem," says Welch. "If a dog is not a good citizen, he doesn't get to come back. We've got responsible animals and responsible adults."


Here is a sample pet policy from the Delta Society,
a nonprofit that promotes human health through
service and therapy animals (www.deltasociety.org).

“Appropriate pets are allowed in the office. Appropriate is defined as a pet whose behavior is acceptable within an office setting. The pet must not adversely affect office operations and must be under control of the owner at all times. Animals may be left in the office briefly while the owner is absent, but must be confined to the owner’s office or under direct supervision of a willing employee. The owner must immediately clean up after the animal both inside and outside the office. Any damage by the pet will be charged in full to the owner.”

Interested in a trial run for allowing pets in the workplace? June 23 is the 8th annual Bring Your Dog to Work Day. The idea was launched in 1999, with about 300 companies participating and has since grown to more than 3,000 companies taking part, according to Pet Sitters International, which started the event.  See www.petsit.com for more information. 



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