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‘What do I do with my dog?’: That’s not a problem at these pet-friendly employers

With the pandemic fueling a wave of pet adoptions, your newest colleagues just might have four legs.

Ray Cook’s dog, Elie (above), enjoys a treat at athenahealth.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

When Francesca Sanders pulls into the parking lot at athenahealth, her 7-year-old English bulldog, Sophie, starts to wiggle with anticipation. She knows exactly where she is, and she’s thrilled to be there.

Moments later, Sophie trots through the entrance, sporting her pink and white floral harness, and makes a beeline to Sanders’ desk, excitedly greeting co-workers along the way. She’s among a handful of dogs that regularly come to the office with employees who are embracing the company’s longstanding pup-friendly policy — especially since returning to in-person work.

“It’s great to have Sophie here, knowing that she’s not sitting at home alone, all day long,” says Sanders, travel and corporate operations manager at the Watertown health tech company. “It’s just good for my own mental health. Having this endorphin boost from a silly meatball of a bulldog, it helps during the day.”

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Dog adoptions spiked after the pandemic first struck in 2020, and with many people working remotely, pet owners new and old were able to spend more time at home with their four-legged friends. Now, with many people back in the office at least a few days a week, employees want to bring their pooches in, too.

“That separation anxiety is real,” says Bridger McGaw, executive director of global security and services at athenahealth. “All the people that started working for athenahealth during the pandemic don’t have to worry about ‘What do I do with my dog?’”

Allowing dogs at the office has its drawbacks, of course. They occasionally bark during meetings. Some co-workers might be allergic. And there’s always the risk of an unexpected potty break. But many companies say good communication between dog owners and their co-workers can overcome those challenges.

For many workers, bringing along a four-legged companion isn’t just a perk — it’s an essential. Nearly three-quarters of dog owners say they’re more likely to feel loyalty to a company that allows dogs, according to a report by Rover, a pet-sitting website and app. And 58 percent are willing to leave their current job to work for a more dog-friendly company.

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Francesca Sanders with Sophie at her desk at athenahealth's headquarters in Watertown.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Rover rated athenahealth No. 2 on its list of dog-friendly companies nationwide, citing its pet-care stipend (which reimburses pet owners for 20 days of pet sitting a year) and pet insurance benefit. The company also hosts a bimonthly “Yappy Hour” in the office kitchen, where dogs are treated to cups of whipped cream. “She loves the attention,” Sanders says, as Sophie wolfs down her “puppucino.”

Yappy Hour is just one of the events companies are holding for pups in the office; some throw Halloween costume parties, others host dog picture days. The goal is to make dogs and their owners feel comfortable in the office, which is key to helping workers readjust to in-person work — and removing barriers that might keep them away or have them looking elsewhere.

“It’s important for people to be able to share their dogs, which is part of who they are, with their colleagues here,” McGaw says. “We’re not a doggy day care — we’re still trying to transform health care. But the fact that you can bring your dog to the office is huge for a lot of people.”

Dog owners can also save money on pet sitters and dog walkers by bringing their pooch to work, of course. But pet-friendly policies aren’t just convenient — they help bring peace of mind to what could otherwise be a stressful day at work.

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Mckenzie Connors and her dog, Tiz (right), play with Edie (left) and her owner, Nikki D’Addario, during a 'Yappy Hour" at athenahealth.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Old Colony Hospice in West Bridgewater opted to allow canines in 2016 after moving to a new office with more space. Toni Eaton, president and CEO, has eight dogs of her own and occasionally brings them in — so fostering a pet-friendly environment in the office came naturally to her. And employees have jumped on the opportunity to share their workspace with their pups.

“When people have their dogs, they’re happy,” Eaton says. “Happy people are more productive. Productive people are happier. So it’s a really good circle.”

At Cramer, the Norwood-based marketing and events company, rarely a day goes by when a dog isn’t in the office. Christine Fleming, vice president of organizational development and head of human resources, said being dog-friendly improves office morale, which in turn has a positive impact on recruitment and retention. “Coming out of the pandemic, particularly, people were home with their pets, and so a lot of people feel badly leaving them home alone,” she says.

For Elana Snyder, a senior account supervisor at Cramer who has two potcake dogs (a mixed breed found on a handful of Caribbean islands), the ability to bring her pooches to work means she doesn’t have to rush home during the day to let them out for a bathroom break. And her dogs, 9-year-old Jackson and 1-year-old Sydney, adore their trips to the office once or twice a week.

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“When I wake up in the morning, I say, ‘Do you want to go to Cramer today?’” Snyder says. “And their tails start wagging and they run and get their leashes and drag them outside.”

For Snyder, bringing her dogs to work is the highlight of her week.

Andrew Waldrip with Rosie at athenahealth's Watertown office. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

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Collin Robisheaux can be reached at collin.robisheaux@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ColRobisheaux.