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Wagging while they work

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[Times photo: Cherie Diez]
Do you have an appointment? Molly the toy fox terrier keeps her owner, Larry Dillahunty, company in his downtown St. Petersburg law office. When she gets sleepy, she can catch 40 winks in a dog bed under a desk.

By JEANNE MALMGREN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2000


Friday is National Take Your Dog to Work Day. Do you like that idea, Sparky? Do you, boy? Good boy!

Dogs of America, arise.

There's more to life than lounging around the house all day, gnawing on fleas and dreaming of Milk Bones.

Just imagine: What if, this morning, your owner, at the usual time he or she leaves for work, were to open the back door, look at you and utter those magical words:

"Want to go for a RIDE?"

And what if that ride ended up at a workplace where you could spend all day hanging out with your owner, sniffing new smells, meeting new people and getting lots of belly rubs?

Hey, it could happen, especially on Friday, which is National Take Your Dog to Work Day.

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[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Lucy the yellow Lab greets customers at Clayton Galleries in south Tampa. When the UPS truck comes, Lucy gets treats.
This is a bone-a fide holiday, the second annual. It's a day to celebrate the human-animal bond and to acknowledge the frustration of millions of working people who reluctantly leave their pets home alone every day.

The event is sponsored by Pet Sitters International, a North Carolina professional organization, and two animal-related online companies, Pets.com and DogFriendly.com.

"We have nearly 20 full-time dogs in our office, and they help . . . create a happier workplace on a daily basis," said Julie Wainwright of pets.com, which is based in San Francisco and no doubt smells of flea dip.

Obviously, National Take Your Dog to Work Day is a publicity ploy for companies that make money off the zillion-dollar pet industry. We're behind it, anyway. It damages the national psyche when people have to leave their pets behind. If you ask us, dogs should be welcomed in schools, day care centers, doctor's offices, convenience stores, wherever their masters toil.

Is this discrimination against the anti-canine crowd? Would it endanger public health? Bark twice for no. Restaurants, offices and other businesses could have "fur" and "non-fur" sections. Everybody's happy.

According to Wainwright, hundreds of companies participated in the first National Take Your Dog to Work Day in June 1999. A Friday was chosen again because many offices consider that a casual day anyway. (Maybe the thinking is that it's easier to get down and scrub accidents from the carpet if you're wearing jeans.)

Tara Kain, founder of DogFriendly.com, said that having dogs in the workplace can improve morale. Certainly it does for the dogs.

"Employees are more willing to work overtime because their pooch is sitting next to them," she said, citing no particular university research.

Dogs sit next to their owners at quite a few Tampa Bay area workplaces, mostly places where the pet owner also owns the business and no boss or human resources department is around to object.

One such working dog is Lucy the 75-pound yellow Labrador retriever, who dogs the front door at Clayton Galleries in south Tampa, amid huge impressionist paintings.

"She's a great gallery greeter. Ninety-eight percent of the people who come in love her," said manager Mark Feingold. (The other two percent must be cat people.)

One morning last week, Feingold and Lucy started the workday with their daily ritual: He let her lick the last drops of his cafe con leche from a paper cup. A few customers trickled in. Lucy sniffed each briefly, then retired to her favorite nap spot, a cool tile floor.

Even though most self-respecting dogs hate delivery people, the highlights of Lucy's day are the arrivals of the UPS truck (treats!) and, a bit later, the mail carrier (more treats!).

Generally Lucy ignores the artwork, said her owner, Cathy Clayton, who also owns the gallery. "But she barked one time, at a folk art piece that was made out of bones."

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[Times photo: Cherie Diez]
Campy the golden retriever holds down the fort five days a week at Northeast Cycles in St. Petersburg with her owner, Ken Fong.
Campy the golden retriever is a fixture at Northeast Cycles in St. Petersburg. She's there with owner Ken Fong five days a week, chasing tennis balls and offering her left paw for a shake, over and over.

"She's grown up here," Fong said. "She's real good at threading her way in between the bikes."

You might think a small dog would get underfoot -- or, even worse, stepped on -- in a busy workplace. But Puddles the 6-pound Yorkshire terrier does just fine at his job at Marley Furniture in north Tampa.

"He has his own little path through the store. He can scoot between chair legs and underneath beds to get out of the way," said Rick Thornton, who owns Puddles, and the store, with his wife, Libby.

The Thorntons started bringing Puddles to work several years ago, when the dog was sick and they didn't want to leave him home alone. Eventually people started asking for Puddles if he wasn't at the store.

Now he's on the job every day, either trotting to the front door to greet customers or snoozing in a sunny display window. He's trained not to jump on the furniture, and no, he doesn't lift his leg on it, either.

"It gives the store a friendlier atmosphere," Thornton said. "I think people feel more at home."

At the downtown St. Petersburg law office of Larry Dillahunty, Molly the toy fox terrier usually can be found in one of three places: napping on a tiny dog bed under a desk; gnawing a rawhide chew in the middle of the floor; or studying case law in the conference room. (Kidding on that last one.)

Molly spends the rest of her time perched on the back of a leather couch in the reception area, peering out the window to watch people walk by on the sidewalk.

"It's such a great stress reliever to have her here," said office manager Kathy Dillahunty. "When we're getting really wired, I can say, "I'm going to take a minute and sit on the floor with Molly and throw her ball, or just give her a hug.' "

Another legal-minded dog is Donovan, a 165-pound St. Bernard who belongs to Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi.

Every so often, Donovan accompanies Bondi to her office in the Hillsborough County courthouse annex in downtown Tampa. His job is to help relax nervous crime victims who are awaiting a verdict in a jury trial.

"He's happy to see everybody," Bondi said. "He wanders around and sits in chairs like a person. My executive director loves him."

Of course, dogs like Donovan are the exception rather than the rule. Most employers shudder at the suggestion of allowing dogs in the workplace, including, it must be disclosed, the St. Petersburg Times.

That doesn't mean the newspaper can't have a mascot. Readers who live in south Pinellas County are familiar with Jessie, the canine sidekick to "Dr. Delay" columnist Jean Heller. Their photo appears each Sunday in Neighborhood Times, alongside a column about road construction projects.

Whenever Heller drives around town scouting news for the column, Jessie, an 11-year-old West Highland white terrier, rides in the passenger seat.

"She whines when we hit a pothole," Heller said.

Hard work, sure, but it beats hanging around the house barking when the doorbell rings.

Who allows dogs?

More than 200 dog-friendly companies across the United States are listed at http://www.dogfriendly.com. Each allows employees to bring pets to work regularly. The businesses fall into the following categories:

Industry Percentage
High-tech 27
Pet-related 13
Health care 13
Retail 10
Manufacturing 6 or less
Construction 6 or less
Home repair 6 or less
Government agencies 6 or less
Film 6 or less
Media 6 or less
Miscellaneous 6 or less
Source: Business Wire

Doggie etiquette

Planning to bring your pooch to work Friday for National Take Your Dog to Work Day? Pet-related companies recommend the following guidelines:

  • No dog fights or bad behavior. If we're not allowed to attack our co-workers, neither can the canines.
  • Dogs should be leashed or kept in a closed office or cubicle. Use a baby gate if you need to corral your dog.
  • No dogs in meetings.
  • Restrooms, cafeterias and snack rooms should be "dog-free zones.''
  • Ask colleagues who work near you if they're allergic. If so, you and your pet need to work somewhere else.
  • Dogs must be quiet during conference calls. If they have an opinion, they should submit a memo to the supervisor.
  • Bring along a water bowl and lots of chewies and other toys to keep your dog occupied. Their own bed also might make them feel at home.
  • Take your dog outside every couple of hours for a bathroom break. If there's an accident indoors, you know who gets to clean it up.

Sources: Pets.com; DogFriendly.com.

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