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Caring for rescue puppies at the office brings broader benefits, CEO says

SUNation Solar CEO Scott Maskin and his employees

SUNation Solar CEO Scott Maskin and his employees take a break on from work on April 10 to feed a litter of puppies. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

You wouldn’t normally expect to see a CEO and his staff bottle-feeding puppies in the office, but that’s exactly what Scott Maskin and the staff of Ronkonkoma-based SUNation Solar Systems has had to do for the past few weeks for a litter of nine.

Maskin is a dog lover and about three years ago started rescuing pregnant dogs from kill shelters to give birth at his home and then caring for them with the help of his wife until they could find homes.

He does this in collaboration with Southampton-based Last Chance Animal Rescue, which sends him the pregnant rescue dogs from South Carolina, where the group has a 50-acre animal sanctuary.

He’s shared his rescue mission with his employees, who have embraced it wholeheartedly, and since 2015 he’s delivered at least 10 litters, each with an average of about six pups.

This latest litter was rather large, and the mother, Ellie, wasn’t producing enough milk, so the puppies needed supplemental tube and bottle-feeding three times a day.

“Everybody pitches in, and they’re happy to,” said Maskin, 54, who started the solar installation and design firm with his partner and cousin, Mike Bailis, in 2003. “It’s part of our culture.”

So much so that the careers section of the firm’s website touts as a perk “the opportunity to work with a rescue puppy sleeping soundly in your lap or on your desk.”

Maskin started the rescue endeavor because he loves dogs, but he says there have been ancillary benefits: better employee retention and engagement, plus goodwill among clientele.

That’s not surprising, say experts, noting such efforts fall under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which brings with it a host of benefits.

“CSR is good for business,” said Jill Brown, associate professor of management at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and co-author of “Business & Society: Ethics, Sustainability and Stakeholder Management” (Cengage; $249.95). “It has reputational effects that end up playing out as an economic benefit.”

For one, millennials are interested in working for companies that follow through on their CSR initiatives, she said. It also has positive effects on overall goodwill, branding, customer loyalty and reputation.

SUNation is “a great example of a company that approaches CSR holistically, aligning the interests of the senior management ... with the interests of their stakeholders” including employees, customers and the broader community, said Brown, noting that to be effective, these can’t be one-off initiatives, but rather part of the company culture.

It helps when you get employee buy-in, which appears to be the case here.

“You can’t have a bad day when there’s puppies around,” said Amanda Seppe, lead sales coordinator at SUNation, as she helped bottle-feed the most recent set of pups.

Some employees, such as Nicole Sousa, vice president of finance, have even gone as far as adopting a dog.

“Scott asked me to foster him for the day at my home, and I never gave him back,” she said.

Maskin has taken in rescue dogs that aren’t pregnant, like Sousa’s, but over the last three years he has focused on pregnant dogs because they’re often forgotten.

He learned this firsthand after visiting Last Chance’s sanctuary. On the way to the airport, he noticed a dachshund at a service station that had just delivered pups. She looked like she needed help, so he informed Last Chance’s founder, Whitney Knowlton, who ultimately followed the dog back to a garbage bag, where the puppies were. Maskin ended up adopting the mother.

“He’s a very unique individual,” said Jude Langmaid, vice president of Last Chance, a volunteer-based nonprofit created in 2008. “He’s engaged himself, his entire family and so many members of his team.”

Langmaid said Maskin is the group’s only volunteer taking pregnant rescue dogs, noting “it’s really a unique program.”

From start to finish, it’s a three- to four-month commitment, said Maskin, who delivers roughly four litters a year. The puppies start coming to the office at four weeks (he takes them home every night), and there’s an eight-week period before they can be adopted. This latest litter will be up for adoption after Saturday.

Maskin uses his social media presence to get the word out about puppies available for adoption, and sometimes clients step up to the plate. There’s an adoption fee of $400 per dog -- to cover ancillary and health costs -- that goes to Last Chance, which screens and qualifies all potential adopters.

Beyond its dog rescue efforts, the company also operates an outreach program, SUNation Cares, that takes reclaimed solar systems and redeploys them for veterans and people with disabilities. Currently, they’re helping pay off the system of Dashan Briggs and donating a system to the family of Christopher Raguso -- the two airmen were killed in a March helicopter crash in Iraq.

“SUNation Cares was established as a mechanism by which we can give back to the community in a way we know we can provide many years of return to the recipients,” said co-founder and chief sales officer Mike Bailis.

SUNation’s been fortunate enough to be in a position to give back, said Maskin. Revenues were up 40 percent in the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2017, in part through increased sales staff and some key acquisitions, he said. “I’m a big believer in karma, and we’re always trying to do something to make a difference.”

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