Canines at the workplace and at doggie daycare
by Dan Marois | Photography by Lauryn Hottinger
Lucy, the black Labrador Retriever mascot at Evergreen Subaru, is feeling a bit disappointed.
“She usually meets the FedEx guy at the door and he has a treat for her every day,” explains Ashley Marquis, a sales consultant at the auto dealership. “But today, it wasn’t the regular guy so Lucy is confused as to why she didn’t get a doggie treat.”
Lucy is one of a growing breed of canines who are embraced in the workplace and becoming fixtures in area businesses. Some tend to be mascots and official greeters. Others tend to be morale boosters for employees with a hectic work schedule. Either way, some businesses are taking steps to allow dogs at the workplace with very positive experiences.
“Lucy started coming to the dealership when she was six weeks old,” said Lynn Weisz, marketing manager and wife of Evergreen Subaru owner, Doug Weisz. “We’ve had the business for almost 12 years and I joined the company about 5 years ago. Lucy has been coming here for nine and a half years.”
Because Maine is a dog-friendly state and Subaru is a dog-friendly vehicle, the decision of having Lucy as a regular employee was an easy one.
“She greets every new person hoping that she may end up with a treat,” explains Weisz. “She definitely has a routine where she goes about greeting all the employees in the morning, though she tends to gravitate to the accounting offices, where most of the treats are stored for her and where she has some dog beds. Otherwise, she has lots of places where she visits through the day, which may include on someone’s desk chair.”
At Rinck Advertising in their newly renovated digs at the former W.T. Grant store in the heart of downtown Lisbon Street, agency president Laura Davis Rinck “employs” two dogs, Huckleberry and Nellie.
Huckleberry spends the most time at the busy advertising agency with its 40 employees. He’s a bit of a conversation piece in that he is a rarely seen 100% English Cream Golden Retriever, pure white in color. Nellie doesn’t work as much; she’s half English Cream and half Golden, a more recognizable color for the breed.
“They have over 3,000 followers on Instagram,” a fact that would be known only to advertising executive Rinck. “Their page is #huckandnell.”
Like Lucy at the auto dealership, Huck has a daily routine.
“He goes from office to office greeting people in the morning. Of course, he has his favorite places with folks that give him more attention and a bit of a snack,” said Rinck. “Karly Eretizan’s office is one of his favorite stops. Karly is our Vice President of Creative Services. He also has a few other favorites.”
Rinck said that Huck is particularly attached to her during the day, choosing to hang around her office or follow her to and from meetings, all the time patiently sitting and waiting for his next move.
Rinck said that he likes to go for walks and will even enjoy a running excursion with employees that do a power run at lunch time.
Engaging with dogs
Both Rinck and Weisz point out that it is not only their own dogs that come to the workplaces, but that employees are welcome to bring their dogs to work as well.
About a third of customers going to the garage for service bring their canines. When visiting, they usually receive a few treats and some “dog swag” gifts.
“We have a chalkboard in the service area where we invite customers to write down the names of their dogs that have visited us,” said Weisz, pointing to the board that has about 100 names on it. “Our staff gets to know the dogs by name and they look forward to the fun of having them here.”
Evergreen Subaru has even hosted dog-friendly events along with the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society, including a dog Halloween costume contest and a pet adoption day when the society brought dogs to the dealership that were available for adoption.
The dog-friendly interest even extends to the marketing efforts at the dealership.
“Lucy is featured in most of our television commercials and we get lots of response from the public,” said Weisz. “We also have a commercial that features Lucy along with dogs owned by our employees. They all gathered for the video shoot.”
For both employees and employers, allowing dogs at the workplace seem to have major benefits.
For Weisz, having Lucy at the workplace is almost an employee benefit.
“It definitely unifies the team here where we treat her as our mascot,” noted Weisz. “She brings us together through the day where we all share the responsibility of taking care of her and engage her in our workplace. And she’s comfortable with everyone coming and going as she pleases.”
Katie Greenlaw, Director of Public Relations at Rinck, has taken her dogs to the office on occasion.
“I have two high-energy breeds, a Jack Russell Terrier and a Vizsla, who is still a puppy, so they aren’t as mellow as some of the other pups that hang here at Rinck,” said Greenlaw. “It does create some jealousy when I get home and my pups can smell other dogs on me.”
Greenlaw believes that there are benefits of having dogs at the workplace especially because of the positive vibe they bring.
“We’ve often referred to them as our chief morale officers because they encourage us occasionally to sit back, take a break from meetings or plugging away on projects, and take a breath and simply enjoy their company,” said Greenlaw. “Having dogs in the office creates an opportunity to bond with employees, clients, vendors, the postal carrier- you get the idea- over a shared loved of animals. And, I think it also speaks to the type of environment we enjoy here and extend to all who enter: that we are open, flexible, warm, inviting.”
Rinck added, “Dogs have a sixth sense about human beings. They know what they need emotionally and they can respond by helping to relieve stress with their very presence.”
Occasionally, staff from the local animal shelter will arrive at Rinck with an assortment of puppies that are up for adoption.
“We simply take a break and everyone ends up on the floor playing with them,” admits Rinck. “It is powerful puppy therapy.”
Advice for becoming dog-friendly
“When introducing dogs to the workplace, they should be friendly to humans and other dogs, housebroken and well-mannered,” said Donna M. Kincer, Development Director at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society, advising that both management and staff be supportive of the idea. “The workplace environment should be amendable to dogs. Some dogs, whether shy or fearful, may not enjoy a busy work setting.”
When becoming dog friendly, Rinck advises to take things slowly.
“Restrict the dog to your own space and work its way out through the building,” said Rinck, who remembers using a childproof baby gate to limit Huck’s reach. “Keep them on a leash and give them frequent walks. But most of all, take full responsibility for your pets especially if they have ‘accidents’. Start small and be aware of how the dog affects others.”
With some effort, a dog friendly business can be welcoming for all concerned.
“Insure that having a dog is a good fit for your business,” adds Weisz, pointing out that dogs might not be appropriate in some settings. “Having a dog should be value added and not an intrusion.”
When the doggie needs daycare
What happens when your fur baby can’t go to work with you?
Simple. Sign up with doggie daycare.
That’s right. Along with the many daycare centers for youngsters that dot the countryside, dog owners have found the joys of doggie daycare.
“The advantages of doggie daycare are numerous,” said Kincer. “There is playtime, socialization, exercise, and for those dogs who are bored or have separation anxiety, doggie daycare is a healthy way to deter unwanted behaviors.”
“Today, we have 60 dogs on the premises. Our all-time high was 111,” said Bruce Bilodeau. He and his wife Lisa own Doggone Fun Doggie Daycare on outer Lincoln Street away from the downtown area. “When I first started, I would have been happy with just me and 10 dogs a day.”
In addition to daycare for dogs, Bilodeau offers overnight boarding, for pet owners who will be away for an extended period. It is a busy operation that runs seven days a week year-round.
“I charge people by the day so I’m never quite sure how many dogs I will have for a single day,” said Bilodeau. “Some come a couple of days a week, and others come for five days.”
Bilodeau charges $20 a day for the daycare service and $30-35 for overnight boarding. People who sign up for five days a week of daycare receive one day free of charge.
At The DOGGz INN on Washington Street in Auburn, owners Rebecka Campbell and daughter Celeste Truman average 40 dogs per day with cost ranges from $14 to $27 per day, depending on how many days they attend.
According to Bilodeau, the attraction for doggie daycare comes from people who have busy lives but still want to have a dog as a pet and companion.
“People want the dog but feel guilty leaving them alone during the day,” said wife Lisa. “One customer boasts that she never paid for daycare when her children were growing up but now pays for her doggie to have daycare.”
“When I started 10 years ago, it was a luxury,” said Campbell. “Now our lives have become so busy these days that it has almost become a necessity.”
And the type of customer at doggie daycare varies considerably.
“Our customer base is as varied as our dog breeds,” said Campbell. “But the one thing they all have in common is a love for their dog.”
“We have single young people, families with children, professionals; there is a diversity in our clientele,” said Bilodeau.
Bilodeau estimates that about 60% of the dogs at his daycare have been adopted from animal shelters and, in general, the dogs tend to get along with one another.
“We have a staff of six full time and 3 part-time employees to run the place. It takes a special kind of person to do the job,” Bilodeau said. “If someone says they are great with dogs and simply like to be around them, they will last for only two days. There is lots more to learn than just being great with dogs.”
Staff first must learn the nature of the barks and growls of the dogs, noting which ones are playful and which ones are threatening. They also must learn a point system of when to intervene when the doggie roughhousing gets too rough.
“We have a point system of one to ten. When the activity gets excessive, around a seven, we step in and give the dog a timeout,” said Bilodeau. “We have to remember that they are pack animals and what they might think is playful can have consequences when they are playing with sharp teeth. After a few minutes, they usually calm down and can return to the play area.”
If a dog is too disruptive, Bilodeau said they might have to be “voted off the island” or if they do not get along well with other dogs, they might not be allowed in the daycare.
“Safety is our major concern.”