For some Baltimore employees, every day is Take Your Dog to Work Day

Ever-prepared, executive assistant Marian Smith stocks her desk with all the trappings of a modern office: Paper clips. Sticky notes. Pup-Peroni.

That last one? It's the only thing Smith's officemates at the Maryland Institute College of Art actually beg for.

Coscimo, for instance, a white bichon, regularly wanders from one vice provost's office to join Smith for snacks — his little coffee break. And there's the rescue dog that's a regular in the alumni relations department. Or Budge, the aptly named pit bull that barely moves from under the desk of the guy who manages the school's publications.

Though most companies still forbiddogs, on the nation's 13th annual Take Your Dog to Work Day, which takes place Friday, officials say the workplace is warming toward pets. According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, about one in five companies allows pets. And 3 percent of dog owners have brought theirs to work up to a couple of dozen times.

And it's not just mom-and-pop gift shops withcats in the window.

Dogs are now welcome at mega-corporations including Amazon and Google. Lobbyists in California only wish they could hit as many high-level shindigs as Gov. Jerry Brown's corgi. Even at North Carolina's Replacements Ltd., the nation's largest vendor of china and crystal, pets accompany the workers who tend to the fragile merchandise.

The growing allure of the office dog can be attributed to money, suspects Jennifer Fearing, a former economist for The Humane Society of the United States and co-author of a book about creating a dog-friendly workplace. It's an inexpensive perk that goes a long way with the workforce.

"Most dog owners feel guilty about leaving them alone all day and feel tension between trying to get what we want done at work and being the guardian to our dogs we think they deserve," says Fearing, who's now the Humane Society's California director. "From an employer standpoint in this era of benefit cutting, this is something employees value, but costs us nothing to provide."

In the Baltimore region, dogs are hardly an office staple, but companies that welcome them include IMRE Communications in Baltimore County, the Timonium home theater installer Gramophone and the Inner Harbor yachting firm Marinalife.

At MICA, one of the Baltimore-area's larger pet-friendly organizations, 150 dogs, cats and even a rabbit or two have permission to roam campus, allowed pretty much anywhere, except eating areas, residence halls, libraries and computer labs, where fur could do a number on expensive equipment.

To be on campus, a pet must be registered and wear a school ID badge shaped like a bone on its collar.

MICA faculty and staff who take advantage of the privilege — and many of their co-workers that don't — say having pets around makes the office a happier, more collegial place. Even the college's president, Fred Lazarus, has been known to bring his two Jack Russell terriers to the office — where they're likely to run into Vice Provost Jan Stinchcomb's bichon, whom most folks just call Cosmo or The Cos.

"It keeps things human and provides a sense of the simple," says Stinchcomb, who's brought Cosmo to work so often, people wonder where he is if an executive meeting starts without him. "The informality of allowing it is something people really like. Well, I'm sure some don't. But I do. It adds humor and fun."

While Stinchcomb works, Cosmo will sit on the carpeted floor in front of a big, arched window, keeping an eye on Bolton Hill. He's got a plush round bed there and treats waiting in her bottom drawer. They'll break for short walks around the building and to attend meetings, during which Cos has been known to snore, often falling asleep flat on his back, feet in the air.

Provost Ray Allen, one of Cosmo's bigger fans, likes sneaking peeks at the dog during all those administrative confabs and watching him run to Marian Smith's desk to beg for snacks. "It's a reminder of what's important in life," Allen says. "Food and relaxation."

Though proponents of dog-friendly offices offer enthusiastic endorsements, the idea of pets at work doesn't charm everyone — not even some people with pets of their own.

A cat owner, writer Chris Landers has nothing against animals. But as someone who's spent the past few years working from offices in Baltimore and Virginia, he'd rather not run into them at work. First, he has allergies. But he also doesn't trust owners to know their dog's temperament as well as they think.

"Dog owners who can't understand why I might not want their precious pet assaulting me are a constant source of low-grade annoyance and possible physical danger," he says. " 'He's just being friendly,' they'll say. What I am doing is wondering what would happen if I walked around town with a large bear on the end of a string and merrily chirped, 'Oh, he's just saying hello,' as he decapitated my fellow pedestrians with a single swipe of his meaty paw."

Take Your Dog to Work Day began in 1999 as a promotion. Its creators hoped when people saw co-workers with pets they loved enough to bring to the office, they might consider adopting a shelter animal. Just 300 companies participated that first year, but by 2003, 5,000 firms were on board. Now, Pet Sitters International has lost count of participants — but points to hundreds of thousands of hits on the site in the weeks leading up to Friday's event.

When Michael Walley-Rund, who manages MICA's print publications, brings his dog to work, he can reach down and rub Budge's head as he works at the computer. In fact, if he had to choose between this and a higher-paying gig where dogs weren't allowed, he says he'd probably skip the extra money to be able to spend days with Budge.

Fearing of the Humane Society points to studies showing that when people can bring a pet to work, absenteeism drops, people work longer hours, office communication improves and morale increases.

She helped write "Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces," after working for months to help the Humane Society's Gaithersburg headquarters become pet-friendly four years ago. Of the office's 300 employees, about 50 bring their dogs to work every day.

Dogs are permitted in the office only after an application is approved. All dogs must be vaccinated and there's a zero-tolerance policy regarding aggression toward humans.

New dogs are on a six-week probation. They enter through certain doors and stick to agreed dog zones — no bathrooms, no kitchenettes, no meeting rooms. No exceptions. Baby gates keep each dog confined to the owner's cubicle.

"We're not going to jeopardize our employees or the dog program by bending the rules," Fearing says. "People should, if they want to, be able to go through their whole day without dogs."

Like MICA, the organization has yet to eject a dog from the program or have any employees complain about an animal. However, a few new entrants to the dog club needed reminders of things Fearing thought were obvious. Like cleaning up accidents immediately. And disposing of dog business in outdoor, rather than indoor, trash cans. "It was like, 'I cannot believe I have to say this but …'"

In Timonium, the people and pets seem to be coexisting amicably at Gramophone. That's despite one puppy who has soiled the carpet on occasion. And the time a visiting ferret gave a programmer a serious case of the willies.

Just the other day, several small dogs held court in one of the sleek conference rooms. Assistant operations manager Sue Bauer's 2-year-old bichonpoo frolicked under the table with Charlotte, marketing director Kate Hudkins' miniature poodle.

The women say their boss, whose dachshund makes regular appearances too, has made it clear that as long as the work gets done, the pets are welcome.

And as long as the pets are welcome, these women are thrilled. As far as they can tell, so are the dogs.

"Sometimes in the morning," Hudkins says, "Charlotte will give me a look that says, 'I need you today.'"

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