PAWS Magazine

Issue 40, Winter 1999

Working Dogs

PAWS sets the standard for dog-friendly work environments

Most dogs dread the time when their human companions have to leave for work. It usually means eight to ten hours of sleeping, moping around the yard, and barking at the occasional car. But Cooper doesn’t dread when his human companion Vicki Nelson has to go to work. You see, Vicki works at PAWS, and Cooper gets to go to work with her.

Among the many PAWS working dogs are Jasper, Cody, Willie, Sierra, Moses, Magoo, Norris, Malone, Cheever, and Bear.

And Cooper isn’t alone. On any given day at PAWS, Cooper might get to visit with Moses, Sydney, Magoo, Keoki, Willie, Sierra, Cheever, Roscoe, Norris, Malone, Jasper, Cody, and other dogs that PAWS staffers bring to work. In fact, PAWS has almost certainly become the most dog-friendly work environment in the Seattle area.

Managing ten-plus employee dogs in the PAWS facilities has taught the PAWS staff many lessons. Most importantly, they have learned that there is no single solution for all dogs. For some of the larger dogs, like Cooper, Magoo, and Moses, spending the day together in the "doggie day-care" (a room off the shelter lobby) is great fun. But the "doggie day-care" is too rambunctious of an environment for little dogs like Director of Development Robbin Peterson’s Norris and Malone. Other dogs, such as Willie and Sierra, prefer to stay close to their human companion, PAWS Companion Animal Advocate Kay Joubert.

The dogs have clearly benefited from their time at PAWS. "Having Cooper here has definitely made his training and socialization much easier," says Nelson.

Which makes sense. Modern dogs are genetically coded to be companions to human. Many modern workaholic dog owners are only able to spend a few hours maximum each day with their animal companions. This short time frame is a major factor in many behavioral problems towards people and other dogs, as well as separation anxiety. By bringing their dogs to work, PAWS staffers like Nelson are able to avoid many of these problems.

In addition to helping the dogs, PAWS staffers have benefited from their dogs’ company as well.

"Having dogs around really lowers the office stress level," explains Shelter Director Colleen Smith, who is Moses’ human companion.

Roscoe, Shelter Supervisor Tracy Worthington’s big bundle of fun, was unsure at first about coming to PAWS and doing time in doggie day-care. "He got really depressed at first," says Worthington. "But he began improving his social skills with other dogs quickly, and now he loves it. He has learned better manners, especially when we go out and greet other dogs."

The doggie day-care has proven to not only be popular among staff dogs, but among PAWS customers as well. Two cut-out windows allow visitors to peak in on the dogs during their play-time. A collection of color photos (compiled by Offsite Coordinator Denise Kuhn) of all PAWS staff dogs identifies each of the dogs for visitors, and serves to inform visitors of PAWS’ dog-friendly work environment.

"The public really loves it," says Smith.

Of course going to work isn’t appropriate for every dog. PAWS News editor Richard Huffman readily admits that he is unabashedly "dog-crazy." But Huffman’s dog Bear prefers to spend his days at home with Huffman’s dad. Huffman still gets his daily doggie-fix by regular visits to the doggie day-care and by having Norris and Malone spend their days playing in Uncle Richard’s office.

Both Smith and Nelson also have older dogs who would not do well among that fast crowd of younger dogs at PAWS.

Worthington emphasizes that dogs who come to work should exhibit appropriate behavior for their environment. "They have to like all people," says Worthington. "They can’t discriminate."

According to Worthington, the best situation is for the dog to be a comforting, relaxing presence, not a stress-inducing presence by constantly showing aggression to visitors.

Nelson agrees. "It’s a wonderful idea [to bring your dog to work], but the dog should definitely be obedience-trained."

"They also HAVE to be housebroken," says Smith.

Bringing a dog to work also entails a few additional responsibilities. "Dogs should not be confined to one area all day," says Worthington. "Dogs need walks and other breaks, and not just to go to potty.

"And people whose dogs use an area should be responsible for keeping it clean."

Which hasn’t been too much of a problem at PAWS. Recent visitors to the "doggie day-care" have noticed red carpet particles littering the floor—the product of a chewing frenzy by one of the dogs on his or her sleeping mat. Of course the guilty dog has refused to come clean, so the owners of all of the dogs in the "doggie day-care" room gladly shared the clean-up duties.

As successful as the "doggie day-care" has been, it won’t last forever. The room is slated for removal during the upcoming shelter renovation and expansion. When that day comes, the "day-care" regulars will either be incorporated into other work areas, or will spend their days at home.

In this sense PAWS mimics the struggle that all responsible pet owners deal with: how to provide the best environment for their animal companions in the face of change.

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