Tech firms lead push to allow dogs in offices
Inclusive policy has tails wagging
Christine Del Castillo couldn’t be happier with her office mates, especially Eleanor. “I’ve never had a co-worker so glad to see me in the morning,” says Del Castillo, community manager at Workable, a recruiting software startup.
As if on cue, Eleanor wags her tail. Ellie, as she is known around the building, is an 18-month-old Labradoodle who goes to work most days with her owner, John Short, digital marketing manager of Workable.
In the common area, Pam McNamara and her black Lab, Bauer, greet Ellie. While the humans drink coffee and eat bagels, the dogs line up for biscuits that McNamara has brought.
There’s Pauline, a regal standard poodle. Milo, a buff Chow-Lab mix. Hank, a sweet rescue with a comical underbite. Other dogs come and go. There’s sniffing and licking and wagging all around.
It’s just another work day at 51 Melcher St. in Fort Point, where some 30 dogs are registered at one of the growing number of dog-friendly workplaces in the nation. This particular pup haven is courtesy of WeWork, which rents out space to startups, freelancers, artists, and small businesses in 15 cities globally.
“We knew that dogs add such a unique component to people’s lives,” says Capri Coury, WeWork’s community manager at Fort Point. “They boost morale, productivity, and overall happiness. They increase camaraderie.”
At the South Boston building, 900 people work on five floors for 250 companies, some of the companies as small as one or two people. Tenants, who are called “members,” can rent space ranging from working at a communal table to having private offices. There are common areas with kitchen facilities.
The setup seems ideal for dogs. The former warehouse near the old NECCO factory has cement floors, which is a plus for both maintenance and for those with allergies, as they don’t trap dog hair, odors, or waste. Each owner must register the dog with WeWork and agree in writing that the canines are up to date on vaccinations and will be good office mates.
“We want to ensure that members are responsible for their dogs,” says Coury. She says there have been no complaints because prospective tenants are told up front that it is a dog-friendly environment.
That was a major reason McNamara chose the locale for her mobile software business. She is CEO of Health Helm Inc., a startup that helps patients keep up with their medication and treatment plans. She and Bauer, who will soon turn 8, moved into the space in April.
“My family initially said, ‘Why do you want to bring Bauer to work?’ I said it’s simple. He makes me happy even on days when challenges pile up, and I figured it would be a great way to meet more people faster,” she says.
It has worked: “A lot of people have introduced themselves to Bauer first.” And when he’s not there, they ask about him.
Baptiste Cesarini, who handles business development and operations for Health Helm, sits across the table from McNamara, who works on her computer while Bauer lies on the floor next to her. At first, Cesarini wasn’t keen on the idea of a dog in the office. He’s a cat person.
“I was never used to being around dogs,” says Cesarini, who is from France. “I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t really comfortable.”
He adds, perhaps a bit tentatively: “I think Bauer is becoming my friend now.”
McNamara knows that not everyone loves dogs. So before she and Bauer get on the elevator, she always asks the other passengers whether they are OK with dogs. So far, the replies have been unanimous: Yes.
Software engineer and inventor Allen Razdow moved from Cambridge to South Boston recently, and the fact that he could take his dog to work “was huge” when he chose 51 Melcher St. for his company, Truenumbers. His black and white poodle, Pauline, has her bed in the corner of his office.
“She looks forward to coming in,” says Razdow. “She’s shy and calm and is getting to know other dogs here. The Thursday Meet-Ups are great for her.” (Some of the dog owners call it Dog Happy Hour, or Yappy Hour). That is every other Thursday, when dogs and owners get together in late afternoon to hang out and get munchies. Pauline, Razdow says, prefers the potato chips to the dog biscuits.
Outgoing Ellie seems to be the campus queen, trotting here and there to check everything out. Though Short likes getting her out of the house, he says it’s as much for his sake as for hers that he takes Ellie to work.
“There’s something about having a dog in the workplace that reduces stress,” he says. “After staring at the computer screen for a couple of hours, I can pet her and take a break to take her out. I talk to her. It’s good to have that release.”
A growing field of research shows that dogs are in fact good for people’s physical and mental health, forcing them to be more active and social. Several studies indicate that petting a dog can reduce blood pressure, slow the heart rate, and help calm nerves.
Still, it’s rare that people take their dogs to work. According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association, a nonprofit trade organization, only 3 percent of owners take their dogs to work. The group’s last survey on companies that allow pets in the workplace was in 2006, and showed that about 17 percent of US businesses were pet friendly.
Like the WeWork tenants, many of those are in the high-tech industry. “Google, Amazon, and Autodesk were among the first businesses to bring their dogs to the offices since employees were working 24/7 and didn’t have time to go home to feed their pets,” says Bob Vetere, chief executive of the American Pet Products Association. (Google, in fact, makes its position crystal clear in its official code of conduct: “We like cats, but we’re a dog company.’’)
At 51 Melcher St., Ellie is sniffing at the glassed-in office next door, where she spots her BFF: Fenway, a Catahoula leopard rescue. Fenway’s owner, Amanda Quinlan, works for Survey.com and brings Fenway to work if she doesn’t have meetings. “I get harassed if he’s not with me,” says Quinlan.
Jacob Heller sits back-to-back with McNamara and Bauer. He doesn’t have a dog at home but says he loves having them at work.
He ruffles Bauer’s hair. “It’s win-win,” says McNamara. Indeed, the humans are smiling, and the dog is wagging his tail.
Correction: A prior version of this story incorrectly identified John Short of Workable, a recruiting software startup. He is digital marketing manager.