These animals are icebreakers, tension tamers and publicity magnets.

Share story

On a chilly morning in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Mimi and Coco trot off to work at Amy’s Hair Salon: two Maltese dogs in hand-knit sweaters. They are Amy’s dogs. But for no extra charge, they will join the customer in the styling chair.

Uptown in the garment district, a costume jewelry firm has six rabbits hopping around its headquarters — office pets that double as unofficial members of the marketing team.

In the cluttered office of a parking garage on Claver Place in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, the phone rings. Except it’s not the phone. It’s an African gray parrot named Blacks. He makes small talk at a blue-and-gold macaw named Lola and anyone else in earshot, including the garage’s resident mutt.

A lot of animals have jobs in New York City these days: therapy dogs at nursing homes, four-legged explosives detectors nosing your luggage at the airport, cats on mouse patrol at the corner bodega, not to mention holdovers like the carriage horses of Central Park.

But there are countless others whose duties are less formal and more about making the workplace a nicer place to hang out.

At Amy’s Hair Salon, where a complex procedure like hair straightening can take hours, petting a dog seems to make the time vanish. “They play with the dog, they pat the dog, so it’s not boring,” the owner, Amy Ooi, said. (The dogs’ white coats also make them perfect hair-dye models, because their fur does not have to be bleached first to make the color show up. Lately, Coco has pink, blue and purple stripes on her ears and Mimi has purple-pink stripes.)

One recent Friday afternoon, Michi Yoshimuri, a music therapist, came in for highlights. Ooi lifted Coco onto Yoshimuri’s lap. She stroked Coco’s tail contentedly. Coco’s sister Mimi gave a few jealous yips. “You want Mimi, too?” Ooi asked. Yoshimuri did. “That cute face!” Yoshimuri cooed. “It’s healing just to watch them.”

Ooi wrapped Yoshimuri’s new highlights in foil. Yoshimuri stroked Mimi’s ear until the little dog fell asleep.

Some years ago, the costume jewelry company Sequin invited Vogue editors to its showroom on West 39th Street. The meeting was tense; the editors from Vogue said nothing.

“They were very nice, but they were nonreactive,” said Kim Dryer, an owner of Sequins. “Then the rabbit hopped across the room, and it broke the ice completely. It changed the dynamic of the whole meeting.”

The rabbit was huge and black and named Grizzly. The new jewelry line got a nice write-up.

Recently, behind display boards hung with earrings and necklaces, a black rabbit named Lucas munched a big kale leaf. Downstairs, four cats lined up by the time clock around quitting time to get their heads scratched by sample makers as they punched out.

“The first question we ask anyone at an interview is, ‘Are you OK with pets?’” Dryer said.

Carlos Huerta cleans a patient’s teeth with a lap-sitting assist from his dog, Luna, earlier this month in New York. Huerta says Luna is adept at soothing anxious patients. (Sam Hodgson / The New York Times)
Carlos Huerta cleans a patient’s teeth with a lap-sitting assist from his dog, Luna, earlier this month in New York. Huerta says Luna is adept at soothing anxious patients. (Sam Hodgson / The New York Times)

Dr. Carlos J. Huerta started taking his rescue dog, Luna, to his Midtown dental office a couple of days a week so as not to leave her home alone. But she quickly proved adept at soothing anxious patients. “There’s several people who won’t make an appointment unless they know she’s going to be here,” Huerta said.

One recent Thursday, Kyle Rush sat down in the exam chair and Luna, a 3-year-old spaniel mix, hopped up in his lap. Huerta reclined the chair and Luna stretched out along Rush’s legs.

“Sometimes I get a little bit tense,” Rush said. “It’s nice every now and then to pet Luna rather than just get more and more tense.” The drill hit something and changed pitch. Rush gently dug his fingers into Luna’s haunches.

Patients sometimes got nervous, too, at Allied Orthopedics, a prosthetic limb outfitter in Brooklyn. That was where Zeus, a very large African spurred tortoise, came in.

“The patients were entertained because he would walk off with their socks,” said Robert Cohen, the owner.

Zeus lived into his 30s and eventually grew to nearly 80 pounds. Sometimes he would hide under the bathroom sink and startle unsuspecting visitors. Allied Orthopedics, now in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, has been without a tortoise for five years. But Cohen’s daughter is raising a hatchling who may follow Zeus’ footsteps into the family business. “Eventually,” Cohen said. “One day.”