Pandemic pet boom breeds desire for dog-friendly offices

Millions of new dog owners want workplaces that include their furry friends. But not everyone is a fan.

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(The Washington Post illustration; iStock)

No one loves the ping-pong table at Rhombus Systems’ Sacramento office as much as Wallace.

One ear is always listening for the “tap tap” sound of the ball bouncing back and forth. The sound prompts him to race to where the table is located, burst through the door and enthusiastically run along the side of the ping-pong table as the game is played at the office of the security systems company.

If Wallace could, he’d do this all day, say workers who have witnessed his obsession with ping-pong.

Wallace isn’t a worker at Rhombus, but a 2-year-old border collie who frequently goes to the office a few days a week alongside his dog mom, Natalie Secco, since the office became pet-friendly during the pandemic.

“Once he figured out that people bounce the ball back and forth, he had to be in the [ping-pong] room,” said Secco, Rhombus Systems’ director of sales, adding that Wallace hangs out by her desk and is always hoping someone will toss his ball across the room.

As offices start reopening and thousands of workers are being called back for the first time in two years, some companies are allowing employees to bring their pets. About 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Many workers say they find pet-friendly environments an important perk for their new furry family members. A recent survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital, owned by Mars Inc., showed that 57 percent of the 1,500 pet owners polled said they would be happiest returning to a pet-friendly workplace. Half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they are planning to allow pets at the office. Tech companies including Google, Amazon and Uber plan to continue to allow dogs at their offices, even with their flexible office policies.

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But the move is causing a mixed reaction among workers: some are happier and more productive with their furry animals by their side, while others are annoyed or have quit their jobs due to allergies or a phobia.

“I do think for a lot of people, it makes the workplace more enjoyable,” said Garrett Larsson, dog dad of two and CEO of Rhombus Systems. “[But] not everyone is a dog person and that could be an issue.”

In a surveillance video captured by Rhombus Systems, Duke the dog is seen stealing and eating several bagels from the office kitchen on April 19, 2022. (Video: Rhombus Systems, Photo: Rhombus Systems/Rhombus Systems)

Larsson said that at Rhombus, which employs about 90 people, dog owners are expected to be responsible. At any given time, about two to five dogs are in the office, leading to some colorful moments like the occasional dog chase, spirited greeting or the 110-pound Great Dane who excitedly followed a cupcake-carrying worker into the kitchen.

Secco said owners generally keep their dogs on leashes for better control but still let them roam freely. Secco and Larsson acknowledge the dog-friendly office is still new and evolving.

“We’re super sensitive to it,” Secco said. “If someone needs a concession, we will make it.”

But not everyone believes pets should be allowed in the office. And for some, they not only create unpleasant consequences but harmful ones.

That’s the case for Aniecia Stanback, an intimacy coach in Las Vegas, who quit her job last year over the workplace cat. Stanback said she’s an animal lover who has an emotional support Scottish terrier, Sparky, at home. But she’s allergic to cats and some dogs. So when a former employer let a cat roam freely in the workplace, Stanback said she suffered allergies and ear and sinus infections that sometimes put her out of work for days.

“My eyes would puff up, my nose would run, pus would come out of my ear,” she said. “My employer didn’t want to work with me because they were like, ‘The cat has been here longer than you.’ ”

What has been your experience with pets at the workplace?

Ashley Jean said an office dog made her former workplace, the accounting department of a pet-friendly hotel in Florida, feel dirty at times. The senior canine was blind and deaf and needed a lot of attention. So the office was equipped with puppy pee pads at the entrance, though once he peed on the carpet next to the desk of Jean’s co-worker. He sometimes passed gas in the office and he was regularly in the way because he had trouble getting around.

After four months, Jean ended up quitting for numerous reasons, one of which was the dog, she said.

“It was more a nuisance,” she said. “It’s worse [than bringing kids to work]. It’s an animal.”

Santiago Leon, a Florida Web developer, said he once had a private office neighbor who brought his dog to work. He characterizes the experience with one word: distracting.

Sometimes the dog barked or sniffed him while he was trying to eat his lunch in the shared kitchen, he said. But perhaps the most uncomfortable behavior was when the dog snooped under the bathroom stalls.

“It felt pretty awkward,” he said, adding that the dog just stared at him. “I’m thinking, ‘Is he going to bark at me? Is he going to come closer?’ ”

To deal with some of the issues that employees might have at the South Burlington, Vt., headquarters of longtime dog-friendly Ben & Jerry’s, a group of volunteer employees formed an official canine culture committee. Visitors from different departments regularly take breaks to mix with the dogs, and guests are treated to dog tours at the office.

“The dog-friendly workplace is a big perk for me,” said Lindsay Bumps, head of the canine culture committee, who had a dog door installed between her and her neighbor’s cubicle. “It not only makes me happy and creates a stronger relationship with [my dogs], but I don’t have to worry about getting stuck at work.”

Lyft’s office in San Francisco similarly had a longtime dog-friendly office, sometimes hosting up to 50 at a time, said Christopher Veaudry, Lyft’s workplace operations lead and dog dad of a French bulldog. Veaudry said dogs have to be with their owners at all times. They also must be potty-trained and up-to-date on vaccinations to receive an official ID tag from the company. Lyft also has dedicated no-dog rooms for people who have allergies or don’t want to be around the furry companions.

Veaudry said he loves seeing how many people Frank makes smile on a daily basis. Frank even wears a tactical vest with a QR code patch that will lead people to his Instagram account, where he has about 600 followers.

“I joke sometimes that people like the dog more than me,” he laughed, as Frank snorted alongside him.

Sarah Sedillo, social media coordinator at San Diego-based productivity software company ClickUp, said bringing her pandemic poodle mix pooch Teddy to the office encourages her to leave her desk and mix with her colleagues more. Teddy loves to take walks through the office to greet co-workers and furry friend Nick, a white terrier mix who follows people into the kitchen hoping for scraps.

“People stop by once an hour to come say hi … it tends to be a good mental break,” Sedillo said.

Carolyn Davis, ClickUp office manager and dog mom of Nick, said Nick, Teddy and their furry friends have become “office celebrities.”

“I wouldn’t take a job I couldn’t bring my dog to,” she said. “It gives me peace of mind to know his days aren’t stuck at home being by himself.”

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Secco said the most important thing at the workplace is making sure everyone is comfortable in their environment. That could mean that owners bring their furry friends in only on certain days or have certain boundaries.

“Sometimes I turn around and someone is laying with my dog,” she said. “It’s a really joyful thing for our office.”

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