27 February 2009

Creature Comforts in the Workplace

Dog-friendly policies that allow employees to bring well-behaved pets to work are popping up in many offices and, by all accounts, the downsides are minimal.

"We always say around here that dogs have never broken anything. People have, but dogs, never," says Jeanine Falcon of Replacements Ltd., the Greensboro, N.C., company that warehouses more than 13 million pieces of china, crystal and silver and ships out thousands of items every day.

"It's part of our culture here to have pets," says Falcon, adding that most days there are 20 to 30 leashed or crated or behind-baby-gates dogs in the building, and even the occasional cat or rabbit.

A recent survey by the American Pet Products Association Manufacturers found that 20% of companies now have pet-friendly policies (though experts believe most are smallish operations), and the Humane Society of the United States just released Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces by California dog trainer Liz Palika and HSUS' Jennifer Fearing, who ushered in HSUS' dog-welcoming policy two years ago.

Not all dogs are great candidates as workmates, including those that have shown aggression to people or other animals; dogs that are territorial, hyperactive or vocal, and dogs that are very shy or fearful. They must have decent manners, be house-trained and well-groomed, and they must not be "food thieves … have constant flatulence, snore loudly or be excessive droolers," says Palika. "The owner may not be bothered by any of this, but co-workers probably would be."

Owners must be honest in appraising their pets, but many can't or won't acknowledge the realities of personality characteristics or behaviors that would make the animals an annoyance or distraction at work.

Palika estimates that only about one out of 50 or 75 dogs is already a perfect candidate for work detail. "The vast majority … need good, basic obedience training and better social skills," she says. About half of those, with training, can become office-appropriate.

To read the complete story, head over to USAToday.com