For some Baltimore employees, every day is Take Your Dog to Work Day

Companies large and small are allowing dogs and other animals to share office space as a small perk for pet owners

  • Jan Stinchcomb and her Bijon "Cosmo" share office space at MICA. At MICA, faculty and staff can bring their pets to work every day, as long as they register them on campus and get the official MICA dog tag.
Jan Stinchcomb and her Bijon "Cosmo" share office… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
June 23, 2011|By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun

Ever-prepared, executive assistant Marian Smith stocks her desk with all the trappings of a modern office: Paper clips. Sticky notes. Pup-Peroni.

That last one? It's the only thing Smith's officemates at the Maryland Institute College of Art actually beg for.

Coscimo, for instance, a white bichon, regularly wanders from one vice provost's office to join Smith for snacks — his little coffee break. And there's the rescue dog that's a regular in the alumni relations department. Or Budge, the aptly named pit bull that barely moves from under the desk of the guy who manages the school's publications.

Though most companies still forbiddogs, on the nation's 13th annual Take Your Dog to Work Day, which takes place Friday, officials say the workplace is warming toward pets. According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, about one in five companies allows pets. And 3 percent of dog owners have brought theirs to work up to a couple of dozen times.

And it's not just mom-and-pop gift shops withcats in the window.

Dogs are now welcome at mega-corporations including Amazon and Google. Lobbyists in California only wish they could hit as many high-level shindigs as Gov. Jerry Brown's corgi. Even at North Carolina's Replacements Ltd., the nation's largest vendor of china and crystal, pets accompany the workers who tend to the fragile merchandise.

The growing allure of the office dog can be attributed to money, suspects Jennifer Fearing, a former economist for The Humane Society of the United States and co-author of a book about creating a dog-friendly workplace. It's an inexpensive perk that goes a long way with the workforce.

"Most dog owners feel guilty about leaving them alone all day and feel tension between trying to get what we want done at work and being the guardian to our dogs we think they deserve," says Fearing, who's now the Humane Society's California director. "From an employer standpoint in this era of benefit cutting, this is something employees value, but costs us nothing to provide."

In the Baltimore region, dogs are hardly an office staple, but companies that welcome them include IMRE Communications in Baltimore County, the Timonium home theater installer Gramophone and the Inner Harbor yachting firm Marinalife.

At MICA, one of the Baltimore-area's larger pet-friendly organizations, 150 dogs, cats and even a rabbit or two have permission to roam campus, allowed pretty much anywhere, except eating areas, residence halls, libraries and computer labs, where fur could do a number on expensive equipment.

To be on campus, a pet must be registered and wear a school ID badge shaped like a bone on its collar.

MICA faculty and staff who take advantage of the privilege — and many of their co-workers that don't — say having pets around makes the office a happier, more collegial place. Even the college's president, Fred Lazarus, has been known to bring his two Jack Russell terriers to the office — where they're likely to run into Vice Provost Jan Stinchcomb's bichon, whom most folks just call Cosmo or The Cos.

"It keeps things human and provides a sense of the simple," says Stinchcomb, who's brought Cosmo to work so often, people wonder where he is if an executive meeting starts without him. "The informality of allowing it is something people really like. Well, I'm sure some don't. But I do. It adds humor and fun."

While Stinchcomb works, Cosmo will sit on the carpeted floor in front of a big, arched window, keeping an eye on Bolton Hill. He's got a plush round bed there and treats waiting in her bottom drawer. They'll break for short walks around the building and to attend meetings, during which Cos has been known to snore, often falling asleep flat on his back, feet in the air.

Provost Ray Allen, one of Cosmo's bigger fans, likes sneaking peeks at the dog during all those administrative confabs and watching him run to Marian Smith's desk to beg for snacks. "It's a reminder of what's important in life," Allen says. "Food and relaxation."

Though proponents of dog-friendly offices offer enthusiastic endorsements, the idea of pets at work doesn't charm everyone — not even some people with pets of their own.

A cat owner, writer Chris Landers has nothing against animals. But as someone who's spent the past few years working from offices in Baltimore and Virginia, he'd rather not run into them at work. First, he has allergies. But he also doesn't trust owners to know their dog's temperament as well as they think.

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