During tax season, Steve Merritt’s accounting firm is extra busy. Tax returns stack up and the phone rings off the hook.
So when Merritt and his employees need stress relief, they turn to Louis, a 5-year-old British bulldog who roams the halls like he owns the place.
He’s not the only pooch in Hampton Roads that spends his days in the office.
Bringing pets to work is becoming a trend now that there are more pet owners than ever, said Elizabeth Kerr, a human resources client partner at the College of William & Mary. More than 144 million households have pets, according to a survey last year by the American Pet Products Association.
“By having pets in the workplace, it’s kind of saying, ‘We care about your life and we care about what you care about,'” Kerr said. “It says, basically to employees, ‘We realize this is an important part of your life and we would like to be able to offer you options.'”
The Merritts adopted Louis five years ago specifically to be an office dog, after having to leave their last dog at home for 17 years. They hated doing that.
“He’s just calming,” said Barb Merritt, who owns the firm with her husband. “He provides a little bit of a break.”
Louis dresses up in costumes for major holidays and his birthday, participates in the bracket pool for March Madness, and eagerly greets clients when the come in for meetings. He’s on the firm’s website and part of a newsletter sent to clients.
He won’t pass up a nap under Steve Merritt’s desk. Sixty-five-pound Louis knows when it’s lunchtime – 11:30 a.m. – and whom to hit up for his daily doggy trail mix.
American Do-It-Yourself Garage in Virginia Beach doesn’t have cubicles and desk phones, but it’s where Deborah Rogers brings her golden retrievers, Sundae and Sprynkles, when she is in the shop Saturday mornings. She wasn’t sure at first how customers would react to having the dogs around, but the more she brought them, the more they were loved.
“I think it adds community, it adds family. I think they add more than just a business,” Rogers said.
Kerr, from William & Mary, said allowing employees to bring their pets to work builds loyalty.
“They think, ‘My gosh, if I take another job, I might not be able to bring Fido with me,'” she said.
Employers these days are more supportive of helping their employees strike a healthy work-life balance, she said, and they want to be a resource when things go wrong in employees’ personal lives. The trend is also taking off because people are treating their pets as family members, a shift over the past decade or so.
It’s moved from “unconditional love and companionship to full family member status,” Kerr said.
At Brand Fuel, a marketing and promotions company in Norfolk, Bear, an English cream golden retriever, greets visitors at the door. He’s the office’s unofficial greeting committee, since there’s no receptionist.
A sign in the window says “by appointment only,” but Robert Fiveash, Bear’s owner and the company’s president, thinks Bear sends a better message than the sign. People will ignore the sign, but see the dog and think twice about coming in, Fiveash said.
Fiveash has been bringing Bear to work since he was a puppy, and said it’s thanks to a kind landlord – who used to bring her own dog to work – that he can do so.
When he’s not the pseudo-receptionist, Bear stays by Fiveash’s side and and often sleeps at his feet.
Kate Stanley, a sales coordinator for Brand Fuel, said Bear set the tone when she came in to interview a few years ago. Because of Bear, her first impression of the company was that “this place isn’t super formal and is approachable.”
At J&A racing, a Virginia Beach company that organizes races including the Shamrock Marathon, five dogs come to work every day – four Labs and a bulldog puppy.
Ben Vaughan brings one of the Labs, Alice, with him to work. He had known the company’s owners, Amy and Jerry Frostick, for years before moving to the area and knew they took their dogs to work. So there was no question when he started that he could bring Alice, who he says is “the happiest dog.”
“It helps the day go by a little faster,” Vaughan said.
The dogs wander around the office. It contributes to the family environment and keeps morale up, Vaughan said.
Josh Wade brings his 7-month-old bulldog puppy, Mable, to work at J&A, too. He said it’s been good to have her there because he can get her into a routine and potty train her without leaving her alone for several hours. It’s good for her to be around the other dogs – even if they aren’t big on it – and she’s learning how to be around people. Plus, it gives him a reason to get away from his computer screen. He was thrilled that his bosses let him bring her to work.
All the dogs in the office are fun to be around, Wade said. They’re “part of the team.”