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Corporate Cats

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By Elizabeth Parker, Studio One Networks

 

Ever since Spike took up residence in a St. Louis bookstore, he has become a draw for customers and has been lovingly cared for by the employees. As a cat that seems to thrive in a work place, Spike is hardly alone. "Over the past several years, we've noted an increase in the number of firms allowing people to bring their pets to work with them," says Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), a Connecticut-based nonprofit.

The trend seems to make everyone happy. Vetere indicates workers are less worried about their cats or dogs at home, and so they tend to work longer hours and take fewer days off. Bosses are pleased because their pool of workers is larger and more reliable. And, although no animals were willing to speak on the record for this article, guesses are they are enjoying the increased attention a lot more than being left home alone all day.

"Most employers we surveyed indicated that there was more worker satisfaction when a pet was present," says Vetere, referring to the national survey on this subject recently conducted by APPMA. Not only is it a huge relief to not need to rush home at lunch or be out the door at 5 to feed a cherished cat, but it's also proven that animals can have a calming effect on their humans.

A Good Business Idea
What would it be like to have a cat curled up on your desk or lap while you work? A large number of individuals surveyed (41%) said they believe that having pets at work leads to a more creative environment. Similar to the benefits of "Casual Friday," when employees can wear jeans or shorts to on the job, allowing cats or dogs seems to help employees feel more relaxed and more imaginative in their approach to their work.

A cat in some workplaces may actually increase business. "Customers come to our store looking for the cat," says Barry Leibman, co-owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, speaking of Spike, the store feline. Spike was a rambunctious and vocal young stray that was warmly welcomed by staff and customers, and named after the bookstore held a community naming contest. Now, at age 2, Spike is quite at home in the bookstore, often sprawling on the Special Orders counter and never wanting to go outside. "We have about 4,000 square feet here, so he gets to roam around," says Leibman, who has noticed that parents convince their kids to come to the bookstore by using Spike as the lure. "If Spike is hiding or asleep, kids will throw tantrums," says Leibman. "I've learned that the cat is much more popular than we are."

Caring for Spike is shared among bookstore employees, who take monthly turns doing kitchen cleanup and litter box changing. All workers participate in the purchase of cat food. They all help to feed Spike, too. Of course, a single cat in the workplace can almost take on the role of company mascot. It's quite a different situation for an office to allow pets.

The Los Angeles office of the advertising agency Chiat/Day allows its 1,000 employees to bring their pet dogs to work. On an average day, there are 30 dogs in the office. Employees regularly work long hours, even all-nighters, says Carol Madonna, director of office services. She believes it is only fair to allow staff to bring in their dogs, but the rules are strict. "They have to sign a contract saying their dog is in good health and has no ticks or fleas," says Madonna. No barking or biting is allowed. The dog must have its leash on and remain attached to a person or a piece of furniture at all times. Poop bags are provided, and employees are given a map of the area outside where dogs are allowed to pee. Having the dogs in the office creates such a fun atmosphere that the rules are rarely broken.

Tips for Bringing Pets to Work
For any business owner or employee who wishes to bring a cat or dog into the workplace, consider these suggestions:

1. Make sure that such a policy would be acceptable to your landlord, store manager or owner and employees.

2. Find out how many of your coworkers or employees are allergic to cats before you consider proceeding.

3. Make sure you are clear about which pets are, and are not, acceptable in your workplace and under what conditions. Have this put this in writing as part of Human Resources information that each employee receives.

4. If you own or manage a business, consider asking employees who want to bring pets to work to sign a contract agreeing to be responsible for the pet's health, behavior and care.

5. If there is a single pet in the workplace, create explicit instructions for employees about shared caretaking of the animal, including weekends and holidays.

Studies show that cats and dogs can have a positive effect on human health by helping to reduce stress and even lowering blood pressure. Companies like Chiat/Day and Left Bank Bookstore have discovered that allowing pets at work is a simple way to keep workers healthy and happy. "Therapists always say it's good to have an animal around," says Barry Leibman of Left Bank Books. "It's been really good for us." One of his previous store cats, named Jamaica, after the writer Jamaica Kincaid, was introduced to his namesake when she came to give a book reading. "They met and got along famously," says Leibman.

Copyright (c) 2008 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

 

About The Author: Elizabeth Parker has written for The Boston Globe, Shape, Glamour, Viv and many other publications. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, dog, rabbits and a cat named Roger.
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