Dog Days of Work?

I got terrible news last week that a good friend’s dog is dying of lung cancer. I was in an off-site meeting for work, and had to smile my way through it, and continue the conversation as if nothing had happened. I didn’t feel like I could say: “Sorry, but could you excuse me a moment? A good friend just texted that her dog has lung cancer, and I want to get in touch with her right away to offer support.”

Dogs, and other pets, are known to be valued members of many of our families, but it still isn’t usually acceptable in the workplace to mention them as a reason to interrupt a meeting or to run late.

Years ago, I remember hearing about what seemed a promising new trend of workplaces welcoming dogs, but that trend seems to have fizzled. Research presented on YouGov from YouGov Omnibus reveals that more than a quarter (28 percent) of Americans encourage dogs in the workplace, while an equal amount of people (28 percent) answered that they were “ambivalent” about the idea. And more than a third of Americans (38 percent) discourage office dogs.

I’ve been lobbying for dogs in the workplace for years. I don’t have one myself, as a proud cat owner, but I’ve always loved being around them (as long as I didn’t have to walk them or pick up after them), so it’s always puzzled me that more people don’t feel the way I do. How can you not want to see a dog peeping out from every other person’s desk?

I brought up the idea of having dogs in our office with the head of my department, and he said he envisioned fur and pet dander in the air stirring up allergies. True, some people have allergies, but from what I’ve heard, it seems more common to have allergies to cats than to dogs, and most people with dog allergies are OK as long as they don’t touch the dogs themselves. Offices could have a non-dogs section, similar to how restaurants in the old days used to have non-smoking sections.

Having animals in the office is important for many reasons. The first is worker productivity and happiness. Those of us with pets consider them our best friend, or, at the very least, one of our best friends. Having a great friend near you makes you feel happier, and knowing that great friend is happy, and that you can keep your eye on them throughout the day, frees up your mind, so you’re not wondering how fast you can get home to walk and feed your friend.

Equally important is the stress-reducing tendency of interaction with animals. When petty disagreements in the workplace or a tight deadline cause you to experience heart palpitations, having a dog wagging its tail against your leg is the perfect elixir.

Our canine friends are also great clowns, offering comic relief. How seriously can you take your ruined project when a dog down the cubicle aisle is rolling around on his back and chasing his own tail? Dogs remind us that we, too, often are chasing our tails, and not to take ourselves too seriously either.

Dogs in the office also keep a workplace healthy—aside from the aforementioned allergies—because workers with dogs under the desk have to walk those dogs during the day, building exercise into their daily routine.

They’re also good at encouraging healthy interactions between people. In New York City, where I live, people famously like to keep to themselves. The one exception to this rule is when the two people are dog owners walking their dogs down the same block. When the dogs stop to sniff each other and bump noses, the people, too, usually interact, often chatting amiably. Multiple dogs in the workplace means multiple reasons to exchange pleasantries and chit-chat with co-workers.

Pet ownership comes with responsibility and a sense of loyalty. You have a living creature you need to care for. Some people only learn this lesson when they have human children, but many others learn it years earlier, thanks to a furry child. Employees who can commit to a living creature they didn’t create themselves—that has no genetic link to themselves—are employees with enough caring and sensitivity to make that kind of commitment. You want employees who are caring, remember their responsibilities, and stick with your company for the long term. In other words, you want to employ great pet owners.

Does your company allow pets in the workplace? If not, why not? What are the potential advantages and disadvantages of welcoming pets into the office?

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