Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The best pet workplaces offer bereavement and pawternity leave

Olive, a 3-year-old standard poodle being trained to work as a therapy dog at MultiCare Deaconess hospital, is petted by Donna Speron, while Ranger, a golden retriever, waits for more visitors in October 2021.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Joel Stein Bloomberg

Therapy puppies awaited petting in the lobby. A gospel choir sang from a second-story railing.

Rocket Larry, a 50-pound African sulcata tortoise who is best friends with Puka, a mixed-breed dog with a cleft palate and a social media following, walked the red carpet, one more significantly slowly than the other.

Thus began Best Pet Workplaces, a 12-hour conference in Los Angeles on Thursday that gathered the nation’s top thought leaders in the emerging field of employee pet benefits.

Executives from Google, Imax, Nationwide, REI, Starbucks, Sweetgreen, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, United Airlines, Walmart, Whole Foods and Zoom sat on panels in front of more than 100 attendees.

They discussed the opportunity companies had to offer pawternity leave (time off when you get a dog, also known as Gotcha Days, which should be celebrated annually like a birthday), pet bereavement days, dog boarding in the office, discounted pet insurance, and the ultimate perk: granting the right to bring your pet to work.

The word “inclusivity” was used a lot, though not in the way DEI trainers usually do. These people were talking about including other species in the workplace.

Clinton Misamore, co-founder and chief executive officer of WUF (With U Forever), which hosted the conference, called it a TED conference for dogs.

“The fact that this hasn’t already been done blows me away,” he said. WUF, which launched a year and a half ago, hopes to be the center for the country’s dog community.

It threw the dog-themed art fair WUFxArt at the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace building in Playa Vista, Calif., and the dog-friendly music festival WUFxMusic in Malibu.

This summer it plans to launch dog meetups led by WUF ambassadors in Los Angeles.

Thursday’s conference was to help build a list of pet-friendly companies called Best Pet Workplaces – a seal of approval for pet-loving companies.

Onstage, executives competed to show off how pet-friendly their workplaces are.

Andres Traslavania, head of executive search at Whole Foods, bragged that his offices not only allow pets but instituted Furry Fridays, in which employees share photos of their animals.

Sure, there were some challenges in letting pets run around the office, but Traslavania said they were all surmountable.

“You have to distract your legal team by giving them some cookies,” he said.

It was unclear whether he came to this solution because he worked at Whole Foods or spent too much time incentivizing dogs.

But Michiel Bakker, vice president of global workplace development for Google, said that while Google allows pets in the office (he couldn’t confirm the rumor that a python was once lost in the New York City office), it’s smart for companies to set very clear rules.

“People will ask, ‘Can we define what a dog is? What about a wolf?’ ” he warned.

Still, Bakker said, companies need to make employees more comfortable at work.

“People are not well. People are very lonely,” he said.

If bringing their best friend with them to the office helps subdue their anxiety, Bakker is all for it.

“We’re a dog-friendly organization. But we’re a cat-friendly social media platform,” he said.

The audience was surprisingly rapt the entire time. Not one of them had to be commanded to sit.

During the pandemic, employees got used to being home with their pets and showing them off in Zoom meetings, often a bit too much.

Getting employees back in the office might require getting their pets there, too.

Especially since more than 11 million households got a new pet during the pandemic, including 1 in 6 members of Gen Z.

In a 2021 survey conducted by Nationwide, the largest provider of pet insurance, 72% of workers at pet-friendly companies said they wouldn’t switch jobs for the same salary; only 44% of people at non-pet-friendly companies said the same.

Nationwide’s fastest-growing sector is pet insurance, which has been climbing 20% a year – twice the growth rate of the overall pet industry.

Most of it is sold at a discount through people’s employers. But since only 3% of pets have insurance, a lot more growth is possible in the next decade, says Heidi Sirota, chief pet officer for Nationwide.

Sirota, who wore a shirt she made with a repeating pattern of her Yorkie-Pomeranian mix, Cashew, said that her entire pet division has gone virtual, so they could be with their pets.

Millennials and Gen Z, she says, aren’t going to negotiate on pet benefits.

“Dogs are their starter children and maybe their forever children,” she said. Her own kids think of their pets as the only children they need. “People my age are not going to have grandchildren.”

Boomers and Gen X may have never won the fight for child day care.

But their kids did. In their own way.