It’s fairly common to walk into a retail store in the Seattle area and find a four-legged greeter. In the office, not so much.
On the days when he goes into the office, Wally rides the bus from Kirkland to downtown Seattle, and then walks the last mile to burn off some energy. He typically spends his workday watering the trees outside his Belltown office, going to lunch at Pike Place Market and sleeping.
Wally is a 3-year-old Welsh corgi. His owner, Jamie Gault, is a game developer at Amazon, where dogs are not only allowed, they’re part of the culture.
Amazon’s long-standing dog-friendly policy is all thanks to another corgi, named Rufus, who belonged to one of the company’s earliest employees. Today, around 2,000 dogs come to work at the South Lake Union campus on a regular basis. It’s a benefit that everyone benefits from — even people who don’t have dogs themselves, says facilities manager Lara Hirschfield.
“No matter the kind of day you’re having, if you come down the hall and someone’s little doodle or terrier’s head pops out, you’ll stop and interact and have a positive moment that you normally would only have at home,” she says. “People are amazed at how quickly everything else melts away.”
Potential for problems
It’s fairly common to walk into a retail store in the Seattle area and find a four-legged greeter. In the office, not so much. Employers don’t want to be bothered with policing pets, and pet-owning employees aren’t sure of the etiquette, anyway. What if Fluffy doesn’t get along with other dogs? What if Fido is prone to accidents? What if your fellow employees are allergic or phobic?
And another thing: Aren’t all of these wagging tails a distraction from work?
Not at Trupanion, the Seattle-based pet insurance company. Dogs and cats are welcome at the Ballard office, and have been great for morale — and productivity.
Processing claims for sick and injured pets can be very emotional, says Dani Kahn, the office’s pet coordinator. “Being able to walk away for a while and spend time with a pet in the office is very soothing.” And a quick jaunt around the building with a dog or a snuggly puppy play date is just what employees need to recharge and get back to work, she adds.
More than 400 people work in the Ballard office, and more than 200 pets are approved to come with them. In-house pet walkers take dogs out for breaks every day, and there are two indoor play areas.
There’s even an on-site emergency response team, and all employees get a free insurance policy for one pet.
Structure eliminates issues
Kahn says the key to making a pet-friendly policy work is structure. At Trupanion, pet owners must first fill out an application, and then pass an in-person assessment. From there, the pet is placed on probation for 90 days. Once they’re allowed in the office, dogs must be on leash at all times, and cats, behind a baby gate.
Accidents are rare, due in part to the regular breaks, but also because no feeding is allowed at the office. Each team is responsible for overseeing its pets, and everyone is supposed to be open to suggestions from co-workers, says Kahn. People are welcome to reach out to her for help, but she keeps it easygoing, not punitive.
“My goal is to try and help the owner bond with their pet more effectively, so that nobody has to leave,” she says. “But dog owners are very responsible here.”
Gault reports that the same is true at Amazon.
“I’ve never seen anything bad happen, and everyone tries to do their best to make sure that everyone’s comfortable,” he says.
Most of the buildings on campus are dog-friendly, but there are dog-free spaces for employees who have allergies or who aren’t comfortable with dogs.
Wally has also been a great connecting point with fellow dog owners at Amazon, and Gault has met people that he otherwise never would have.
“People are just so inviting toward him in a way that I never normally see when I don’t have him,” Gault says.