Working Like A Dog

By on June 21, 2007 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Tomorrow we celebrate one of the more obscure observances in the workplace—“Take Your Dog to Work Day.” It doesn’t rival Martin Luther King Day, or President’s Day, but it’s a subject worthy of some reflection, especially from me as CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

Woman and dog at HSUS office
© The HSUS
Jennifer Fearing and her dog Yoda take
a momentary break from work.

Here at The HSUS, every day is a take your dog to work day. And you might think that it has always been this way—we are, after all, the nation’s largest animal protection organization. But while our field offices have had canine colleagues under desks for many years, dogs are relatively new to our DC-area offices. Our densely packed “cube farms”—at first blush—didn’t seem like an ideal environment, and frankly, there was a view that with so many animal lovers working at the place, they might be a bit more attentive to their canines than to the reports and other pressing duties they were hired to execute. 

This time last year, a new HSUS employee requested a meeting with me. Jennifer Fearing, The HSUS’ chief economist, came from a dog-friendly workplace and, as is her wont, made a detailed case for moving in that direction. She gave me a report that looked like a book manuscript. Given our strong commitment to the human-animal bond, she implored, how could we at least not try to foster that bond—held dearly by our employees—in our own offices?

Jennifer’s report provided compelling evidence that a change in policy benefits both employers and employees. According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, one in five U.S. companies allows dogs at work. That same survey revealed that a significant percentage of Americans believe having pets in the workplace increases creativity, decreases absenteeism and fosters better relationships among colleagues.

These potential workplace improvements seem obvious to those who treasure relationships with pets. A recent journal article notes some of the trends:

In a world of growing global uncertainty and violence, and a trend towards increased prevalence of single occupant homes, household pets will potentially play an increasingly important role in many people’s lives, providing company and respite from the outside world. Moreover… pets live in the moment, and interacting with pets reminds owners of the joys and idiosyncrasies of living in the present, as well as prompting their owners to think beyond themselves.

At The HSUS, we spent six months conducting internal surveys to identify concerns employees had about instituting a dog-friendly policy. Will the dogs become a distraction? Will the dogs contribute to a less sanitary environment? What if someone is allergic? How would we avoid aggression between dogs?

A “dogs in the office” committee was formed and after much diligent work, by year’s end, a policy was ready for implementation. You can spot the cubicles with canine colleagues from the tell-tale baby gates and the posted “My name is: ________” signs. Handouts entitled “Working around canine colleagues” and “Being a considerate canine colleague” are must-reads and have helped prepare employees and dogs for successful interactions.

I was especially pleased to learn recently that in the short time since our policy has been in place, several of my colleagues have made the lifetime commitment to rescue dogs in need—owing their ability to do so to our dog-friendly workplace.

Woman and beagle dog at HSUS office
© The HSUS
Catherine Hess and her rescued dog Daisy.

Catherine Hess in our Online Communications section rescued her first-ever dog Daisy, an 8-year-old beagle, from a life of misery. Daisy languished most of her life not as a companion, but as puppy mill “breeding stock” in a small, dirty rabbit cage. Now Daisy spends her days sleeping (letting out the occasional snore) under Catherine’s desk. Catherine says the new policy gave her confidence that she could give a dog like Daisy the attention and love she deserves.

Rebecca Judd, an attorney with our Animal Protection Litigation section, recently adopted 4-year-old greyhound Shooter, short for “Straight Shooter,” his racing name. Prior to finding his way to Rebecca and her husband Steve, Shooter received little human contact—either cooped up in a too-small crate or being raced—as one of thousands of dogs bred to participate in the greyhound racing industry. Coming to work each day is hastening Shooter’s much-needed socialization. Rebecca says that “Shooter seems to have blossomed as a result of coming to work and having more regular interaction with people.”

Six months in, while there’s a little more dog hair in our offices, there’s a warmer and better feeling that infuses the work environment. Personally, I just like having the dogs around. They don’t talk back to me as much as the staff members do, either. We plan to share our research and our experience through a new Humane Society Press book about creating dog-friendly workplaces, due out in late 2007.

Animal Rescue and Care, Companion Animals

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