First came child care, then came elder care. Now, companies are doggedly exploring one of the last frontiers of the work-family balance: pet care.
Dogs snooze happily beneath desks at some companies, their owners freed from worries about what’s being chewed at home. A Virginia firm picks up the kennel tab for workers sent out of town unexpectedly. A California company pays up to $100 in annual veterinary bills.
“There was a time when pet care was a taboo thing for companies,” said Tyler Phillips, president of the Partnership Group, a Bluebell, Pa. work-life consulting firm.
“But as managers have understood the issue better, they’ve come to realize that pets can be as complicated to care for as children or elders,” said Phillips, whose company once helped locate an iguana support group for a lonely iguana owner.
No doubt, Americans love their pets. They coddle them, they dress them, they dote on them. And since two-thirds of dog and cat owners don’t have children, a pet can easily become the baby of the house.
“I have a dog that is my daughter,” Maggie Proctor, a spokeswoman for Domino’s Pizza Inc., cheerfully admits. “She was the No. 1 female beagle in the country in 1994. Aren’t I a proud parent?”
At Domino’s headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., buffalo and sheep graze on the company’s 300-acre property, and employees’ dogs are welcome to visit occasionally if an owner feels the need.
“You wouldn’t think twice to walk down the hall and see someone with their dog,” said Proctor. “People stop by, give it a pat and move along. It’s generally business as usual.”
Autodesk, a software company in San Rafael, Calif., goes further. Owners are welcome to bring their dogs every working day, and up to 100 of the 800 employees take up the offer.
Dogs sleep under desks, romp in the yard, and sample from a biscuit jar hospitably placed at the front desk. The only ground rules: three poops and the dog is out, no barking and no attending meetings.
“It’s a stress reliever for those who bring in their dogs,” said spokeswoman Kathy Tom Engle. “And neighbors who work nearby can also pet and play with the dogs.”
Cindy Brogan, assistant to the vice president of corporate marketing, wouldn’t have gotten her 15-month-old Weimaraner if she’d had to leave the dog home alone.
“Now she can be with me all the time,” said Brogan, who said Chelsea sleeps, flirts with visitors and other office dogs, and generally has a great time at work.
While laughable to some, the notion of allowing pets at work and other pet-oriented benefits reflects a logical next step in corporations’ growing commitment to helping employees balance work and home.
Working parents are no longer the only beneficiaries. All sorts of employees now work from home or set their own hours. And companies are finding that such flexibility makes a company more attractive and its workers more productive.
“It’s all part of the recognition by employers that people have lives away from work,” said Anita Garaway-Furtaw, director of family services at Patagonia in Ventura, Calif.
Although dogs aren’t allowed inside Patagonia buildings, a few hang out in owners’ cars, which are equipped with water bowls and have rolled-down windows. During the day, they’re let out for walks and play. Tonka, who stays in contracts manager Roger McDivitt’s car, is a favorite of the day care set.
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