The 2015 Pet Guide: Managers of Merriment
Pets in the office can raise spirits, cut stress and make you feel good about your job. So consider taking your dog—or sloth—to work.
An energetic chihuahua-Yorkie mix named Zelda runs across a conference table from one welcoming hand to another, eventually finding her way to the pile of dog toys in the middle and enticing her owner into a game of fetch. This is a typical meeting at IDEAS Orlando. A smile would be a natural response to the company’s tiny chief happiness officer.
And why shouldn’t a dog hold that title? After all, the Centers for Disease Control recommends pets for decreasing blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
More to the point, a 2012 study shows pets in the workplace—likely the most stressful venue of the average person’s day—reduce stress levels, enhance job satisfaction and give employees happy thoughts about their employer. That sounds very much like the job description of a chief happiness officer.
Says Zelda’s owner, IDEAS’ lead developer Thomas Gorence, “I’m a programmer, so it’s really easy to get lost in a train of thought and not stand for four hours. Zelda whines and reminds me to get up and walk. Plus it’s literally impossible to get angry when she’s in the room.”
He keeps a dog bed, toys, and food and water bowls in his office, though Zelda often finds her way to the office of Shirley Decker, executive vice president of business development. There the Chorkie finds a dog welcome mat at the door and her favorite treats on hand.
It’s hard for office staff to pin down when dogs became a fixture at IDEAS, but the house rules among dog-friendly businesses are based on common sense. As Mary Anne Metaxus, vice president of media production puts it, it’s “based on the ability of the dog to get along with other dogs and people, your workload, your ability to be productive and your ability to dedicate time to the dog’s care.”
IDEAS, a downtown Orlando media and experience design firm, is but one local business with a pet-friendly culture. Upon entering the downtown digital creative agency Purple Rock Scissors on any given Friday, you’re greeted by the firm’s “secreterrier,” a tiny brown blur named Bruce, who is anxious to play with a pit bull mix named Juneau. Nearby, two pugs watch the action through a sliding glass door. Two French bulldogs observe passers-by from another glassed-in enclosure.
“It’s hard to feel stressed when you’ve got a dog snuggled up next to you,” says Bruce’s owner, associate marketing strategist Alex King, who keeps a jingly collar on her tiny dog to keep track of him when the pet is feeling more playful than snuggly.
Coworker Julianna Wood, a digital strategist, agrees. “Having a friendly face who’s always in a good mood brings up the office mood. It helps to bring that gap between work and home a little closer.”
Brand manager Erin Butler walks out to the balcony. “Usually the company next door keeps a sloth on the balcony,” she says casually. On this day, the sloth—a baby named Khaleesi—has been moved inside the neighboring business, a tech firm named Crunchy Logistics, where guests are greeted by a hound mix named Rupert owned by project coordinator Lisa Muran.
Khaleesi, the new pet of CEO Neil Dufva, hangs unmoving, in sloth style, onto a branch inside a large cage under Rupert’s supervision. Sloths are a lifelong favorite of Dufva’s, who worked 2½ years to find and import the right one. “My ideal pet is one that’s really, really lazy. If I’m there petting it, it’s happy. If I’m not, it’s happy. A sloth fits my lifestyle,” Dufva says. “I think animals lighten the mood a little bit. They make things more interesting and friendlier.”
Many businesses adopt pet-friendly policies after participating in the annual Take Your Dog To Work Day event. Danielle Brochyus, a paralegal at the Winter Park law firm Cohen Battisti and Grossman, now brings her large mixed-breed dog Morgan and dachshund Coco to work regularly.
“After the first day, our managing partner, Harvey Cohen, saw the effect of dogs in the workplace on the employees and clients and allowed dogs in the office on the last Friday of every month. Soon it changed to every other Friday, then every Friday. And now my dogs come in about one day a week.
“When people are having a rough day, they will come down to my office and ask, ‘Is Morgan here? I need my puppy love!’ Dogs are like a deep breath in a stressful situation. It’s a reset button. It allows your mind to calm down and regroup.”
The family-owned business Central Air Service LLC in Winter Park never set out to be a dog-friendly workplace but has enjoyed the stress-reducing benefits, especially when temperatures and workload spike. “It helps keep the peace to take five minutes to pet the dog. It’s like an adult timeout,” shares director of operations Stephanie Wrong.
But the benefits of a dog-friendly workplace may extend beyond the office confines. Shirley Decker of IDEAS sums it up: “It’s just good for the soul. You take it with you when you leave.”
Make It a Date
Interested in testing the waters to determine if your workplace could be pet-friendly? Consider participating in one of two annual events:
Take Your Dog to Work Day
The 18th annual event established by Pet Sitters International will be held June 24, 2016. petsit.com
Take Your Cat to Work Day
This new event established by cat-equality-minded PetPlan Pet Insurance is scheduled for June 23, 2016. gopetplan.com