Pets at work

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September 26, 2005 // UPDATED 1:58 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Rachel Drewelow
Rachel Drewelow

Now hiring: hardworking employees; fur OK; must be house-trained

While some workers would never let animals roam free among important files and expensive products, others find comfort in the notion. Along with their briefcases and coffee, several Downtowners tote something more heartening to work: their pets.

They say taking Fido to the workplace has proven to reduce on-the-job stress and even become part of the workplace dynamic.

The Surdyk family, who own Surdyk's Liquor Store and Gourmet Cheese Shop, 303 Hennepin Ave. E., bring a Yellow Lab and a Black Lab --appropriately named Cheddar and Corker, respectively -- to work each day. Lynne Surdyk said she brings the dogs to work because "It is a family business, and they are a part of the family."

Surdyk also noted that several of her employees are college students and the dogs reminded them of home. Cheddar and Corker are "morale boosters," she said.

The professional pets

Dogs can be found at another Downtown family business, Badiner Jewelers and Gemologists, 80 S. 8th St. An off-white Shih Tzu named Shana accompanies her family at the jewelry store.

Cheryl Watson, who owns the design office Graphiculture, 322 1st Ave. N. Suite 500, brings her cat, Bijou, to work specifically to "add another dimension."

The entire office staff picked out Bijou together, and the cat has spent weekends with each employee. (Watson has two other cats that stay home.)

H. Emerson (Chip) Blake of Milkweed Editions Publishing Press, 1011 Washington Ave. S., said he began bringing his Black Lab, Stella, of necessity. Blake said he'd originally found Stella in the woods as a stray.

He brought Stella to a previous job because she was traumatized and suffered separation anxiety after being lost in the woods. Of having Stella at work, Blake said, "She fit right in" and added that's why he's continued to bring her to his job years later.

Lisa Krohn, marketing director for The Hennepin Theater Trust, 805 Hennepin Ave., became used to having her dogs at work when she worked in the horse business years ago. After changing careers, Krohn asked the Trust's permission to continue to take her pet to work. (The task came a bit easier because her brother, Fred, runs the Historic Theater Group, the Trust's for-profit partner.)

Krohn's dog, Macho, has since died, and she now brings a brown border collie named Kirby to the office. It is so important that Khron spend extra time with Kirby that she has even convinced the Trust to add a clause to its bylaws to allow pets in the office.

Legality of pets in public places

According to a city ordinance, dogs are not allowed in public areas unrestrained, without a leash less than 8 feet long. Owners are also not to leave their pets unattended in public areas.

Dogs, unless they accompany a blind or hearing-impaired person, are not allowed in food or beverage service venues. No ordinances were found to prevent cats from being in offices.

The Hennepin Theater Trust's Kirby is the only dog mentioned who is restrained at the office. He is fenced inside Krohn's office by way of a child's security fence. Corker and Cheddar of Surdyk's are free to roam the store's office level away from food and beverage products. Stella of Milkweed and Shana of Badiner's wander freely.

Steven Badiner, business owner, said the IDS Center is very tolerant of Shana being in the building. All of the dogs referenced are very well trained, and no employees seemed bothered by them.

There are occasionally issues. At one Downtown business whose employees asked remain nameless, a pooch's presence means no food in wastebaskets (it should go in the kitchen trash anyway, notes the owner) and once in awhile, a meeting will stop moments after the gaseous canine lets fly.

Working like a dog (or cat)

Many of these pet owners say their office pets are less animal and more a part of their working staff. Shana works at Badiner's in the advertising department. The cuddly dog, donning a pink bow and a glitzy dog tag, draws in visitors -- potential customers-- daily.

Business owner Arlene Badiner said Shana seldom barks and never has "accidents" in the store. "[She] knows the rules and stays put," Badiner said, adding that Shana is great with children.

Bijou, the friendly orange tabby cat at Graphiculture, also keeps humans company. Mailmen and couriers stop in to see him even when they have no deliveries for the company.

The diligent cat also makes it a rule not to miss staff meetings. He "just plops himself onto the middle of the conference table," said Janice Stanford, a Graphiculture producer and art buyer.

Cheddar and Corker, of Surdyk's, are VIPs (Very Important Pets). The dogs remain on the upstairs office level for most of their workday -- but don't assume they just eat biscuits all day.

The busy dogs are hard at work playing with staff members on break, but for Corker, it is not all fun and games. While Cheddar eagerly brings a toy to greet newcomers at the top of the stairs, Corker inspects outsiders and snarls at suspicious people entering the office level.

Corker has been working at Surdyk's since he was a puppy and has an instinct for the store's security. According to Surdyk, Corker has a "vibe" about shoplifters. Surdyk said when someone is shoplifting, Corker becomes unsettled and growls.

Though one might expect stories of office dogs eating work documents and barking during conferences or cats chewing up phone cords, none of these businesses offered such gossip about their pristine pets.

However, Khron said employees have complained about her pet because her 4-year-old dog is as energetic as a new puppy and sometimes jumps on people. Because this can distract employees, Krohn now keeps Kirby in her private office, so employees can choose when to interact with him.

None of the businesses said that customers have complained about the pets. However, the Badiners admitted that Shana sometimes shocks people rushing through the IDS building when she marches from the elevator to the store without a leash.

Anxiety suppressants dressed in fur

Perhaps the most important function workplace animals serve is that of companionship, thus lowering workers' stress levels.

Calm Stella at Milkweed Publishing is a "stress reliever," Blake said. He said having an animal around makes for "a more humane working environment."

Krohn from Hennepin Trust said her pet reduces stress at work. She said when people see Kirby their, "blood pressure goes down a little."

At Graphiculture, Bijou is "definitely a stress subtractor," said Watson. "[He] reminds us that we are a fun and relaxed office."

Stanford called Bijou a "time-out for people." She explained that it is great to have him to cuddle or play with to break up the day.

Surdyk said when she does not bring her dogs to work, employees are sad. She said workers do not even greet her, but instead ask, "Where are the dogs?"

The Downtown workers said their office pets are a simple reminder of home and their secret stress reliever. Milkweed Intern Megan Bailles said simply of Stella the dog, "It's nice to have her here."

It should be noted that Minnesota Premier Publications, owners of Downtown Journal, Southwest Journal and Minnesota Parent, lost its office dog last month -- a mellow field spaniel named Dexter. Even though Dexter passed away quietly of old age, his face is still included among the staff bios at www.dtjournal.com.