Why more offices are going to the dogs
Pets can reduce stress, managers say. Yet most firms want Fido to stay at home.
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For the most part, large pet-friendly companies such as Google, Amazon, and Ben & Jerry's aren't the norm. The SHRM survey found that small companies were more likely to offer the benefit (11 percent), than medium companies (6 percent), or large companies (4 percent). Implementing procedures may simply be too daunting for big businesses. And there's always concern that one of the animals will lash out at an employee, visitor, or client.Skip to next paragraph
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It's possible that an employer could be held liable for an attack, just as a landlord can be held responsible if he knew a dog was dangerous and didn't do anything about it, says Mary Randolph, JD, author of Nolo Press's "Every Dog's Legal Guide." But Ms. Randolph says she's unaware of any trial about an attack in the workplace.
Still, that doesn't quell the fears of Kelly Hoffman, an employee at a dog-ridden Web retail firm in Reading, Pa. Ms. Hoffman is so scared of dogs that she wrote "one person's perk is another person's nightmare" on her blog at whataslacker.com. Talking by phone, Hoffman says the three or four dogs in the small office also make her "feel lousy" because of her allergies. Beyond that, they're a nuisance and reduce productivity because colleagues constantly take the dogs outside for potty breaks. "You're on the phone trying to take a phone order, and all of a sudden there's a loud bark in your ear and you can't hear the customer trying to place the order," she says.
Hoffman fears her job will be on the line if she complains to her boss. Muddying matters: Her office has no formal guidelines other than to keep the animal under control and ensure that it's house-trained.
Policies vary from company to company. Many are thorough and clearly delineated. (Sermo, for instance, has an etiquette memo and stipulates that contract workers can't bring their dogs to work because they'll disrupt the harmony of the established pack.) Others are vague, ad hoc, or not consistently enforced if it happens to be inconvenient to the top dog of an organization, observes Jennifer Fearing, chief economist at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
That was the impetus behind Ms. Fearing's July book, "Creating Dog Friendly Workplaces," which she co-wrote with renowned dog trainer Liz Palika. Fearing used the HSUS's 200-employee offices in Washington as a testing ground for a model process. After a year-and-a-half, they've had no issues with the 35 dogs. Among the many HSUS procedures: an application process, a probation period, and requirements that each cubicle be fitted with a baby gate as well as a green, yellow, or red sign to indicate the degree of a dog's socialization among strangers.
"Dogs went from being in the yard to in our beds. It's too much cognitive dissonance to leave these creatures all alone all day," says Fearing, who saw a need for her book after the HSUS noticed an uptick in inquiries from Human Resource departments. "Companies ought to do this right, and that's what we want to empower them to do."