It’s off to work we go…with our animal companions!

After her last dog died, Susanne really wanted another one, but kept putting it off because of her busy lifestyle. “I got a new job and sometimes have to work long hours. I didn’t think it was fair to get a dog and then just leave him alone all day.”

When Susanne discovered her boss was also an animal lover, she asked him if she’d be allowed to bring a dog to work with her. He said yes, and the rest is history. “I adopted a young Samoyed named Bear from the local shelter and he comes to the office with me every day, so I don’t have to worry about him being by himself at home,” she says. “Having him here has changed the office atmosphere. Whenever anyone gets stressed out, they visit with Bear for a few minutes and go away feeling more relaxed. Other people have coffee breaks. We have Bear breaks!”

As animals become an increasingly integral part of our lives, more and more people are following Susanne’s example and taking their companions to work with them. A survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association revealed that nearly 75% of animal-friendly businesses believe animals in the workplace lessen stress, enhance productivity, and improve interpersonal skills. More than 25% also said it cuts down on employee absenteeism.

With these benefits, is it any wonder so many people are opting to bring their beloved companions to their offices, stores and clinics?

Meet Maggie Mae

Located in the heart of downtown Manhattan, NYC Footcare is a busy podiatrist’s practice run by Dr. Oliver Zong and his partner Dr. Dina Tsentserensky. But patients don’t just come to have their feet tended to. They also come to visit the third member of staff, Maggie Mae, a four-year-old pug who has become almost as important to the clinic’s success as the doctors themselves. “We got her when she was about eight months old,” says Dr. Zong. At first, the couple left Maggie at home when they came to work, but began to notice she wasn’t doing very well. “My partner started feeling guilty so we decided, ‘hey, we own the business, so let’s just bring her to work.’”

At first, Maggie was kept in the back of the office. “We didn’t know how patients would react to her. But as they began to find out she was here, they really gravitated towards her. Now, nearly all of them want to see Maggie. They actually refer other patients to come here because we’ve got a dog.” Dr. Zong adds that the popular pug has become an integral part of the practice. “We had scrubs made up for her and everything,” he laughs. “I have patients phone just to see how she’s doing. When we had the blackout in 2003, I had all kinds of patients calling to make sure Maggie was okay, and I’m like, “oh yeah, by the way, I’m okay too!’”

Maggie takes her job of patient relations very seriously. “Sometimes when my partner and I are busy seeing patients, she’ll sneak out of our office area and check out all the rooms to make sure everything’s all right. She’s good with people, especially kids, and when she’s not here everybody asks if she’s all right. Everyone calls her the little office manager!”

Eudora’s story

At Copperfield’s Used & Rare Books in Sebastopol, California, the employee with the most seniority isn’t a human, but a cat. A venerable 20 years old, Eudora has been living at the store and interacting with customers for most of her life. “She came to us when she was five,” says store manager Brandy Leigh Mow. “This was before my time, but the story is that she was owned by a family three miles out of town. They got a puppy, and she didn’t like that, so she ditched her family and walked into town.” Apparently preferring books to dogs, Eudora chose the store to be her new home. “She just kind of moved in,” says Brandy. “We had a sofa for customers, and she took up residence there.” The staff held a contest to choose a name for her, and she was consequently dubbed Eudora, after novelist Eudora Welty. “About a year later, her original family came in and recognized her, but they let us keep her because she had made it very clear she didn’t want to live with the dog!”

It seemed Eudora was content with her new life, since she’s been a permanent fixture at the store for 15 years. “She lives here all the time, since it would a bit traumatic for her to keep shuttling her back and forth,” explains Brandy. “We’ve got her litterbox and food in the back room and she has her own places to sleep all over the store.” One her favorite spots is the check-out counter, where she reclines on a heating pad while customers stroke and visit with her. “She’s getting a bit arthritic and fragile, so we don’t let people pick her up, but she’s quite gregarious and likes to be where people are. She’s got a huge fan club. We have people who don’t actually ever buy books – they just come into the store to see Eudora!”

Canine telecommuter

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, more and more people are working from home these days, a win-win situation for anyone who has animal companions. David Merlino, owner of The Ad Guys, an advertising headhunting business in Atlanta, spends his working days at a home office along with two staff members: one human and one canine. “Davidson is a five-year-old boxer and very sweet,” says David. “He’s actually my girlfriend’s dog, but she can’t take him to work so he stays with me instead.”

David’s business involves a lot of e-mailing and phone work, so there’s not a whole lot of face-to-face contact with other people. For some people, in fact, the lack of social stimulation that often goes hand-in-hand with a telecommuting lifestyle can be hard to take. But just as animals help people deal with stress in a hectic office environment, so they provide camaraderie and companionship to those who work on their own from home. “Davidson hangs out with us all day,” says David. “We play with him and take him outside, and he has a bunch of toys in the office.”

He adds that Davidson is very well behaved, and hardly ever barks. “In our business we’re on the phone all day, so you can’t really have a dog that’s barking all the time. It just wouldn’t be practical. But Davidson’s not a barker, so it’s wonderful. Having him with us really brightens up the day.”