Dogs at work: Increasingly, employers allow Fido
LOS ANGELES - Like any new addition to an office, Dolly had an adjustment period. The hardest part: learning not to bark at the mailman.
Dolly is one of millions of dogs that accompany their owners to dog-friendly businesses every day. Even more will join Friday for Take Your Dog to Work Day.
"I consider it a benefit like health care. It's a huge attraction," said Dolly's owner Erin McCormack, who works at Authentic Entertainment in Los Angeles as a producer on the Discovery Channel's "Auction Kings."
McCormack and her Maltese mix walk together before work and at lunch to get some exercise, and McCormack saves money on the dog walker or daycare she would otherwise need.
"It's such a great way to create a productive atmosphere. It makes the environment more conducive to creativity," she said, at a company that produces shows like the Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," TLC's "Toddlers & Tiaras" and Bravo's "Flipping Out."
At the same time, McCormack added, "They are a calming force. When things get stressful, you can lean down and pet your dog or take a walk and pet a nearby dog. You get a more efficient workplace, one that's not consumed with stress."
About 1.4 million owners take some 2.3 million dogs to work every day, according to an American Pet Products Association survey last year.
When the group last surveyed businesses, in 2006, one in five was dog-friendly. That number is probably holding steady if you include one-person offices, work-at-home pet owners and retail shops, said Len Kain, co-founder and editor of DogFriendly.com, which lists dog-friendly companies in every state.
"Engineering and software companies are often the type of company that is pet-friendly," Kain said. "These companies have trouble finding people with the skills they need and do not want to lose these employees."
Extrovertic, a health care communications agency with 40 employees and offices in New York City and Cambridge, Mass., tested the waters last year with Take Your Dog to Work Day. On June 22 this year, it is sponsored by North Carolina-based Pet Sitters International to promote adoption.
The experiment was so successful that the company went dog-friendly and Sally, a 5-year-old rescue beagle owned by supervising account manager Jared Shechtman, became Take Your Dog to Work Day's poster dog.
"We are a small agency. We want to be different. We want the quality of our employees' lives to be better than they would get at a bigger agency. Having dogs in the office is another way of saying, 'We are different and we care about you,'" said company CEO Dorothy Wetzel.
Fifteen to 20 of the 120 employees or freelancers working at Authentic Entertainment bring their dogs to work, said co-founder and executive producer Lauren Lexton.
Lexton and Tom Rogan decided to let people bring dogs to work when they founded the company 11 years ago, because "it always felt right. Dogs give a softer element to everyday work and there is something about having them around that makes people happy."
When you have great people, you want to keep them forever, she explained, so if they have a dog that's used to coming to work, the person is less likely to accept a better job offer if it comes along.
Having animals around also encourages camaraderie, McCormack said. "Dogs automatically break down barriers. They are automatic conversation starters and ice breakers."
Companies may be located in buildings that ban dogs; it can be illegal for a food store, restaurant, hair salon (in some states) or medical office; and insurance may be a barrier, he said.
For others, allowing pets may be a way to help make do with fewer employees working longer hours. "By allowing dogs at work, an employee doesn't have to leave to take care of the pet," Kain said.
At Authentic Entertainment, Dolly's biggest hurdle was deliverymen. "She has always had a fear of carts and boxes and people in uniform," McCormack said.
She introduced Dolly to Authentic's maintenance man, and because Dolly still barked and growled at outside deliverymen, McCormack asked for a heads-up call from the front desk when they arrived.
Now she puts Dolly in her lap until the deliveries are finished. Problem solved.
Dolly's favorite part of coming to work is the attention, McCormack said. At home, she plays second-fiddle to a 3-year-old. At work, Dolly is Miss November in a calendar featuring employee dogs as characters on their shows.
"She is the toast of the town," McCormack said. "Everybody knows her and she is the star."