Each spring, employers across the area participate in the nationwide program known as Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. But one local organization puts a furry spin on this annual tradition and it happens daily.
The “Pets in the Workplace” program has become a hallmark of The Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest animal protection organization.
The program, which is free of cost to employees, allows employees at HSUS’s Gaithersburg headquarters and its Washington, D.C., office to bring in dogs as well as other small mammals such as ferrets, rabbits and mice to the office each day.
“Pets are a wonderful addition to an office environment, said Inga Fricke, who chairs the Pets in the Workplace program for the HSUS. “It’s not just good for the animals, obviously, but we’ve found additional benefits for our employees as well, such as increased productivity. People don’t have to run home to take the dogs out, for example.”
Numerous studies have been conducted recently that support this notion, including one done by Virginia Commonwealth University in March of this year. The study revealed that having a fuzzy companion by your side during the work day can actually reduce stress.
Fricke said the company’s internal research mirrors those findings.
“It’s been incredibly positive,” Fricke said, “We did a brief internal survey a few months ago just to see how things were going. And we surveyed both participants and non-participants and found overwhelming support.”
Heather Sullivan, director of public relations, added that she believes it is the best benefit the HSUS offers.
“Bringing my dog to the office allows me to work longer hours without worrying that she is home alone,” said Sullivan, adding that she knows several people who adopted animals once the policy went into place because they felt they were better equipped to care for an animal. “Kit absolutely loves coming into the office. She actually gets a little sad on Saturday mornings when she realizes we are staying home.”
Carie Lewis, director of emerging media for the HSUS agrees, said it’s also an added bonus when a pet can share in workplace milestones and achievements. Lewis, who oversees the organization’s social media efforts, said that her dog, Bella, was there to celebrate last November when the HSUS reached 1 million Facebook fans.
“Being able to take my dog to work with me is one of the best perks I’ve ever had in a workplace. When I’m stressed out, I’m immediately comforted by Bella’s wagging tail and smiling face,” Lewis said. “Even my co-workers will come over to my cube and say ‘I’m having a bad day. Can I pet your dog?’ It provides stress relief and fosters camaraderie and I think those are things that any workplace can benefit from.”
Fricke said there are around 100 dogs currently enrolled in the program as well as several mice and other smaller pets. In order to register a pet, they have to be current on all of the necessary vaccinations. Dogs have to be licensed in the appropriate community where they live and they have to be able to adapt well to the office environment, Fricke said, and “have the right temperament for the office with no history of aggressive behavior or things like that.”
No cats, though. Between allergies and the office space itself with its cubicle-dominated layout, it is not the most conducive environment for felines. Plus, Fricke said, they don’t adapt to the daily commute as easily.
According to Fricke, the program was the brainchild of Jennifer Fearing, who used to serve as the organization’s chief economist. Fearing, who is currently California Senior State Director for the HSUS, literally wrote the book on pets in the workplace. Fearing and co-author Liz Palika published “Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces” in 2008 when Fearing was still based in D.C.