Workplace Culture

Pet Projects

By Todd Henneman

Mar. 13, 2012

Visitors to the Jim Henson Co. may not be surprised to see Rowlf the Dog from The Muppet Show or Apollo the puppy from its new puppet TV show Pajanimals. But they might be surprised to see real-life dogs Billy, Jasper and Barley romping on the Hollywood lot.

“At any given time, there are probably 12 dogs on the lot somewhere,” says Nicole Goldman, senior vice president of marketing and publicity for the Jim Henson Co. Trouvé, Goldman’s terrier mix, sits in her office on days when she doesn’t have off-site meetings. “Everybody knows everybody else’s dog and their story. It feels like a community where we’re all involved with having the animals on the property.”

The Jim Henson Co. is one of a growing number of employers that let employees bring pets to work. Almost 1 in 5 U.S. companies allow pets in the workplace, according to the American Pet Products Association. The most common pet permitted: man’s best friend.

Allowing pets in the workplace reduces stress and increases loyalty, says Jerry Osteryoung, professor emeritus of entrepreneurship at Florida State University.

“I would argue that the costs are negligible, and it adds so much,” Osteryoung says.

Research backs him up. A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that pets in the workplace reduce stress, absenteeism and turnover and improve morale.

Clif Bar & Co. allows dogs at its headquarters in the San Francisco suburb of Emeryville, California, as part of its effort to help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance.

“Combined with our other unique benefits, it helps create a fun and supportive working environment for our people,” human resources manager Jennifer Freitas says.

Lauren Kanouse agrees. A lot of her colleagues bring their children to Clif Bar’s on-site child care and eat lunch with them in the company cafe. She brings her 9-year-old golden retriever, Buzz, who stays leashed to her desk and snoozes on his bed.

“As they have lunch in the cafe with their kids, I get to take Buzz for a short walk and have our fun time,” Kanouse says.

Pet-friendly policies tend to be found in smaller organizations or in high-tech firms, Florida State University’s Osteryoung says. About 5 percent of software company Autodesk Inc.’s 7,000 employees have brought dogs to work, spokeswoman Alexandra Constantine says. Google Inc. spokesman Jordan Newman credits dogs with making the Internet giant “a happier and more fun place.”

Lauren Yurko, a developer at online shipping marketplace uShip Inc., keeps a red plastic bowl by her desk for the days her Shar-Pei-Labrador mix, Wrigley, spends at the office .

“He was totally raised by all of my co-workers,” Yurko says, “He’s totally at home in the office. He’ll roam and pretty much check in with everybody. He’ll come back to my desk every once in a while just to make sure that I’m there.”

Other employers offer benefits that make any pet owner sit at attention.

Home Depot Inc. offers veterinary pet insurance. It was one of 2,500 companies with such a benefit in 2011, up 4 percent from a year earlier, according to California-based Veterinary Pet Insurance Co.

At the State University of New York in Delhi, pets of staff and faculty members receive free medical care and grooming as part of the hands-on learning of veterinary students, says Bonnie Martin, vice president for operations.

One satisfied client: Martin’s one-year-old mutt, Bilbo. He wags his tail in approval of his bath, nail trimming and ear cleaning.

Todd Henneman is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

Todd Henneman is a writer based in Los Angeles.

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