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Pets on the job: Stress down, spirits up

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Posted: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 7:55 am | Updated: 10:09 am, Tue Oct 2, 2012.

At businesses along hectic outer Congress Street in Portland, it’s not unusual for a client meeting to pause while an ambulance speeds by, siren wailing, horn blaring.

At Burgess Advertising and Marketing, they wait an additional beat or two longer. Smiles break out. Adding to the cacophony is the urgent barking of Charlie, the 10-year-old yellow lab-shepherd mix who serves as the agency greeter. He’s been patrolling the first floor for nine years now. Darn ambulances still get to him, though. Every time.

People in the room take the momentary chaos in stride. It’s all part of what they consider the benefit of having pets in the workplace.

“Having dogs around elevates the mood in the office,” says Lori Davis, 50. She’s vice president of finance and Charlie’s owner. “How can you not smile when you see a dog?”

Burgess is just one area business where baby boomers are among those taking advantage of the health benefits related to pets in the workplace. Last spring, the International Journal of Workplace Health Management published a Virginia Commonwealth University study that found people who brought dogs to work reported lower stress levels throughout the day than workers without pets or those who didn’t take pets to work.

Additionally, a 2011 Harris Interactive poll reported that 91 percent of some 2,000 people polled consider pets to be part of the family. Sixty-three percent of the boomers surveyed own pets, and 35 percent of them consider having pets in public spaces, such as in a professional office, a “very good/somewhat good” idea.

The poll didn’t report what people thought about pets in smaller work places you’ll find in southern Maine, such as advertising agencies, design firms and bike shops. But a cursory glance around Portland suggests locals are likely to agree.

They surely do at Burgess. On the second floor, Dodge, a 4-year-old yellow lab, toward a visitor with a smile he hopes is warm enough to earn a treat. And on the third floor, most days you’ll bump into black and blonde labs, Tara and Taber.

The doors here are open to more than dogs. Through the years, workers have brought in a rabbit, guinea pig, a free-range cockatiel and a cat. The cat wore out his welcome, though. Falling through a bathroom ceiling tile onto a company officer was less than soothing for everyone involved.

Pet owners say bringing pets to work allows them to achieve a better work/life balance. It eliminates the pressure to get home by a specific time to care for the pet, which in turn can improve the quality of their work, increase production and help build greater camaraderie among coworkers.

Luke, a 6-year-old boxer, is the resident stress-buster at the downtown Portland office of Stenhouse Publishers, a firm specializing in education-related books and videos. Luke’s owner, Rebecca Eaton, a marketing manager, calls him “probably the most enthusiastic staff member we have.”

Many of Stenhouse’s staff of 14 drop by to visit in Eaton’s second-floor office for a pat or a refreshing game of laser tag in the hall.

“You can’t stay in a bad mood if you have a boxer,” says Eaton, 50. “Because they’re going to do something to bring you out of it.”

Luke shares the limelight with Matilda, an older Yorkshire terrier, who is the “queen bee of the office dogs.” Matilda enjoys being fussed over before presiding at meetings.

“I do think it reduces stress to have a dog or pet in the office,” Eaton says.  “It’s a really nice benefit, and I truly think of it as a benefit. He has a much better day when he comes with me, and I have a much better evening.”

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