Small business owners say having pets in the workplace raises morale, customer engagement
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
First-time shoppers at DeVine Designs by Gail in Fulton expect to see floral arrangements by owner Gail Jones and an array of gift items. What they likely don’t expect is a greeting from Kooper and Kali, her great Danes or Mia, her Boston terrier.
“Kooper has more fans than I do,” Jones said. “People now come in to see the dogs, especially Kooper. He can just look over the counter to greet everyone, like he’s saying, “May I help you?”
Her large dogs also offer her companionship and protection if she remains at the shop alone late at night. Jones keeps the dogs behind the counter so they cannot contact customers unless customers want to pet them. She has crate trained the dogs so that if a customer feels uncomfortable, Jones can send them to the back of the store. Mostly, the dogs sleep the day away.
“I think it’s wonderful when I go to stores and see they’re pet friendly,” Jones said. “I think it’s terrific. When people see Kooper, their problems disappear for a few minutes. They want to talk about Kooper and forget about their problems for a little bit.”
Because of his size, many customers ask how tall he is, where he sleeps and how much he weighs. A few ask Jones if she has a saddle for him, even.
“They’re gentle giants,” she said of great Danes.
Unwittingly, Jones has made her pooches part of her store’s branding.
“I have people call who can’t remember the name of my shop — especially people from out of town — and they ask if this is the place with the great Dane,” Jones said. “They remember that this is the right shop where they stopped before. It makes a mark in their memory.”
Flossy, the cat at the dental office
Some people visit the dental office of Anthony J. Tabone, D.D.S. in Auburn for more than just a cleaning or filling. Flossy the cat and her three feline friends, Slick, Walla and Soffi, draw some patients to the office.
Somehow, the office has become a magnet for stray cats. Tabone said that for the past 20 years, he has both housed cats at the office and at his home. He has also found homes for about 300 strays.
“This seems to be a haven for strays and we’re suckers for animals,” he said. “It’s something we feel we have to do. We try to give them the best life they could ask for. The majority are skittish. It’s hard to see an animal looking at you wanting help but it is too afraid.”
He maintains a place for the cats in the back, vaccinates them and feeds them. The cats live at the dental office.
“We are cognizant of patients’ allergies,” Tabone said. “If you walk in, you wouldn’t know we had an animal in here. We have an older woman who comes in just to pet the cats, not even on a day where she has treatments. She comes in to play with the cats for about an hour.”
Nervous patients sometimes visit with the kitties to relieve their anxiety.
So far, no interviewees for positions at the office has mentioned cat allergies. Tabone asks within the first 10 minutes.
“One hundred percent of the people are excited we have cats,” he said. “One hygienist interviewed because of our relationship with cats. She specifically came here because of the cats. Without fail, there has not been anyone to my knowledge who has said ‘Why do you do that?’”
The employees enjoy petting cats during down time as a means of stress relief.
The cats do not roam the office, but patients can interact with the cats whenever they would like.
Tabone compares his cats with therapy dogs in hospitals.
“I’ve had my share of people tell me that why they chose our office is that we have a unique quality to it,” Tabone said. “Being at the dentist’s is stressful enough. Lap animals seem to help.”
Bella and Bailey: Two mascots
Lesley Wilcox is director of operations at A La Carte Business Services and Arete HCM Solutions in Syracuse, which are businesses that welcome two dogs most days of the week.
Wilcox said that Chris Belna, the owner, brings Bailey, and her mother, Barb Belna, who performs administrative work at the businesses, often brings in her pooch, Bella.
“It’s very positive,” Wilcox said. “Bella when she comes in, likes to sing. She will start singing and it’s quite funny. We have treats for them. A lot of times, Bailey lies in her bed under Chris’ desk. They’re well behaved and don’t run around and bark.”
Usually, the dogs attend meetings with Chris and Barb.
“I don’t think we’ve had a client or visitor object,” Wilcox said. “They love everyone who comes in, except UPS, Fed Ex or the Postal Service. Otherwise, they love everyone who comes in. And belly rubs.”
Wilcox thinks that having pets in the office creates a more easygoing atmosphere and brings more fun to the company’s culture. Any applicants are told in advance of the dogs’ presence and so far, it has not been a problem.
For any others considering office pets, Wilcox said that if the animals are well-behaved, “why not? It creates a different type of atmosphere and another ‘teammate’ or a mascot for the business. It puts a smile on people’s faces. Why not give it a try?”