When business literally goes to the dogs

WORK PETS: Some hail as 'dose of humanity,' but canines court problems

By Published on .

Most Popular

Wieden & kennedy Creative Director Mike Folino had a lot of experience with pets in the workplace. As a letter carrier working his way through college, Mr. Folino once was surrounded by a pack of five threatening dogs until the driver of a passing car jumped a curb to scare them away.

So it was with some irony that Mr. Folino took a post at what has to be one of the most dog-friendly agencies in the U.S., TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif. His desk was near the office of dog-lover extraordinaire Lee Clow, a spot where "every dog would stop, and Lee would want to see it."

With every bark bringing something of a flashback, Mr. Folino realized, "I have a very different perspective of dogs than most people."

Indeed, employers-as many as one in five according to surveys-are welcoming Sparkles, Ajax, Bear, Goofy and Big Papa into the office.

Deutsch, which shares Manhattan space with Google, is welcoming pets, though getting them to big metro offices may be difficult. David Frei, director-communications for the Westminster Kennel Club, said pets are banned in subways, and cabbies pass by prospective canine riders. His tip: "If a cabbie doesn't see the dog right away, you can open the door and throw the dog in."

Some data suggest pets' presence creates a more productive environment, decreases absence, maybe even encourages working longer hours because the employees don't have to rush home to walk pets.

'soothing force'

"They're a soothing force," providing "loving interaction" among employees, Mr. Clow said.

Harold Sogard, vice chairman-partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, said the half- dozen or so dogs at the agency on any given day add "a dose of humanity to the place."

But it's more complicated than that to many who view pets as a drain on productivity or worse. Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Sausalito, Calif., has long allowed dogs in the workplace but has been told when it lost one or two pitches that dogs were at least in part at fault. "They have come up as a deal killer in some situations," said Edward Cotton, account planning director.

While pets have never come up as an issue, Catherine Bension, CEO at consultancy Select Resources International, noted: "If [the agencies are] smart about it, they will keep them out of the way."

Not just the pets, but their droppings, as Matt Ross, president, McCann Worldgroup, San Francisco, learned the hard way when a client actually stepped in some.

Many offices allowing pets have stringent guidelines. TBWA/Chiat/ Day's Petiquette policy includes a map of where dogs can't be walked, and Goodby Silverstein-where founder Rich Silverstein doesn't "particularly like dogs running through the office"-requires employees bringing pets into the workplace to put down a $150 deposit for clean-ups.

At Clif Bar, office manager Mary Kate Cunniff, who keeps her dog Toby in her cubicle, said she simply keeps a bottle of a Nature's Miracle cleaner at her desk.

Most office rules require Fido to be leashed close to a desk. But at the downtown Denver headquarters of Chipotle Mexican Grill, some dogs have learned to use the elevators in search of employees they know have treats, said Jim Adams, marketing director.

Even pets with bad behavior can earn a second chance. At TBWA/Chiat/Day, expulsion is the penalty for biting and too much barking. However, Mr. Clow has been known to take the pets' side, undoing dog banishments now and again, saying it's the result of poor training. "I don't think people raise kids very well either," he added. Case in point: One office puppy, Big Papa, a French bulldog owned by Creative Director Eric Grunbaum, was banished after biting a worker.

But the dog "had friends in high places," specifically Mr. Clow, said Mr. Grunbaum. After time with a trainer, Big Papa had his record expunged.

workplace dynamics

The presence of a dog also underscores everyday workplace dynamics. A dog that barks or even cowers and looks fearful is "going to affect your relationship with your colleagues," said Stephanie LaFarge, senior director of the counseling department at the ASPCA.

As for Mr. Folino, he said he doesn't really hate dogs and in fact is considering getting one for his children this holiday. Mr. Clow, by the way, did not recall Mr. Folino's problems with dogs, calling him "just another odd creative guy." Then Mr. Clow asked, "Is that why he left?"

Send us your pets-in-the-office picture. Are you a blog-a-holic ? Do you work in the same office as your spouse? Have an office issue worth exploring? Describe it in an e-mail to Mike Ryan at mryan@crain.com.
In this article: