Working in the company of canines

More employers open doors to pets of all kinds, saying benefitsoutweigh concerns.

Mornings used to be a breeze for Sherry Roland.

After dressing and wolfing down a bowl of cereal, she'd grab her briefcase, bag lunch, car keys, and dash out the door.

Lately, however, it hasn't been quite as easy to leave the house for work.

Ms. Roland has to remember to not only pack her own lunch, but also one for Gizmo, her Yorkshire terrier, whom she has been taking to the office for six months now. Not to mention Gizmo's water dish, biscuits, a leash, a plastic shovel, and a few favorite toys.

But the extra hassle is worth it, she says. "He'd be moping around the house if I didn't bring him along," she says. "He's much happier, and everyone loves to see him. In fact, my colleagues talk more to Gizmo than to me!"

Part of the reason Gizmo's tail keeps wagging these days is that he has plenty of company at Replacements Ltd., a major supplier of old and new china, crystal, and silver based in Greensboro, N.C., where Roland works in the purchasing department.

For three years, the company of 550 employees has had an open-door policy toward dogs, and at least 30 canines from great Danes to dachshunds share cubicles with their owners every day.

Because of its dog-friendly history, Replacements Ltd., was a paw-in for sponsor of America's first annual "Take Your Dogs to Work Day," held June 25.

President Bob Page thought the holiday, dreamed up by Pet Sitters International, a nonprofit group in King, N.C., was a clever concept and one that might enlighten more companies about the benefits of welcoming dogs at work.

Among the benefits, Mr. Page says, are better attendance, greater productivity, and a friendlier, more relaxed office environment.

"Someone can have a bad day, and then get licked in the face," he explains. "Suddenly, things don't seem so bad."

Page started bringing his two dachshunds, Toby Lee and Trudy Mae, to work three years ago, after he could no longer bear to leave them home alone.

"I work so much that it just wasn't fair," he says.

His only rules are that each owner take responsibility for his or her own dog, and that bad dogs stay home. "My dogs are probably the worst behaved of the pack," he says. "They love to bark, and they can get pretty territorial."

So far not a single piece of china has been broken - by a dog, that is. "I've broken plenty of pieces," says Julie Schindler. But her miniature pinscher, Weenie, has been anything but a bull in a china shop. "Weenie is on her best behavior here," says Ms. Schindler. "She listens better at the office than at home. The vet says this is because she thinks she's coming to help me out."

When Weenie isn't "keeping an eye on Mommy," as Schindler says, she is frolicking in the halls with Justin, a sheltie with champion lineage, or Duchess, a mixed terrier new to the office.

Not all dogs at the company roam freely. Those new to the office, and most puppies, stay leashed. Some are confined with baby gates.

Schindler, who works in telephone sales, says Weenie keeps her smiling when callers get grumpy. "She sometimes sits on my lap, and I'll feed her treats while I'm talking. This makes it harder for folks to get a rise out of me."

Those employees who don't bring dogs to work often bring biscuits. "The dogs now know which people will slip them treats. They make the rounds every day," says Schindler.

But what about those who aren't so enthusiastic about the company's policy? They are few and far between, says Schindler. But the leash rule often helps those employees feel less threatened. Folks who prefer cats bring them, she says. One man even brings his lizard and puts him on his computer, she says.

Less canine-friendly companies cite concerns. Employees, they say, might take extra-long breaks for dog walking. Others say it discriminates against public-transportation users. Some are concerned about fights, bites, or allergies.

"Accidents can happen, I suppose," says Page. "But that's why we have liability insurance."

Replacements Ltd., has yet to offer in-house day care. But, says Schindler, who is childless, other benefits such as the 401(k) plan are quite generous.

Kay Kilgore of Pet Sitters International is hesitant to call dog-friendly policies a trend. But she does say the response to "Take Your Dog to Work Day" was "phenomenal," with 200 companies participating across the country.

Patti Moran, president and founder of Pet Sitters International explains that the goal of the holiday was to encourage employers to adopt pet-friendly policies. "It was an opportunity to celebrate dogs," she says. "To many of us, dogs have become children with four legs.

"Companies spend millions trying to figure out ways to lessen stress and increase productivity," she adds. "We've introduced a secret weapon that can do all this with a lick on the face."

The case for dogs in the workplace:

*Improves staff morale.

*Increases comaraderie among employees.

*Enhances job performance.

*Serves as a crime deterrent.

Pet-owner habits:

*24 percent take their dogs to work.

*76 percent say they feel guilty when leaving their pets home alone.

*50 percent lay out toys for their pets when they are gone.

*32 percent turn on the television or radio for pets home alone during the day.

*38 percent telephone their pets to let them hear their voices.

*54 percent would prefer their pet's company to that of a human if trapped on a deserted island.

Source: Pet Sitters International, King, N.C.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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