Matt Dietz has had a long day.
An hour in court, a few hours in mediation (“it’s like selling a used car”), another hour for a deposition. Like many lawyers, he literally argues for a living.
But as Dietz steps off the elevator and through the door to his law firm, Lucy, his black and white border-collie mix, bolts toward him in a burst of unquestioning affection. In a profession notorious for high rates of alcoholism and depression, having a dog is better than a handful of aspirin.
“To come back and to have my dog bark and me and jump up and give me licks,” Dietz said, “it really calms me down. It brings me to an even level.”
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Studies have suggested that having pets in the workplace provides benefits: stress reduction, social support and performance improvement. If that’s indeed true, businesses haven’t taken notice. While the number of pet-friendly workplaces has risen in the past few years, only 9 percent of American companies allow employees to bring their pets to the office.
Tech companies including including Google, Amazon and Glassdoor make up the majority of pet-friendly spaces.
“Having dogs in our workplace is an amazing treat. They make employees smile, and we’re proud this is such a uniquely Amazonian tradition. It’s truly ingrained in our company culture,” wrote Lara Hirschfield in an Amazon blog post.
In South Florida, it’s no different. At many small tech firms around the region, pets — especially dogs — are part of the workplace culture.
Santi Acosta, 24, is a user interface designer at motorcycle helmet company Urban Helmets USA. His office is nested in a Miami Beach co-working space, WeWork. Acosta brought Kiwi, his 5-year-old chihuahua-dachshund mix, to a recent “Yappy Hour,” a mixer in the WeWork lobby held in partnership with the no-kill Born Free Animal Shelter. As vendors advertise pet products on the sidelines, dog owners congregate over cocktails. (For canines, it’s water only.)
Acosta brings his dog Kiwi to work every day. If he couldn’t, Acosta said, he wouldn’t have taken the job. He thinks it’s endemic to a younger generation, where pets are replacing kids.
“People my age want responsibility and something to take care of,” said Acosta. “But we don’t want kids, so we have pets.”
People between the age of 18 and 36 own most of the pets in America now, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association. The survey also found that Millennials “are taking the humanization of their pets to the next level.” Owners from this generation are more likely to:
- Buy more and spend more on gifts
- Take their dog on errands
- Take their pet to the veterinarian more often
- Pay for daycare, pet-sitting or boarding
“You can bring a child everywhere you go but not a dog?” said Acosta. “Like I get it. You don’t want a huge dog in your meat section. But if it’s a small dog in the cart what’s the big deal?”
WeWork isn’t the only co-working space that allows animals.
Suraj Hemmani and his business partner Shiv Takhar work out of The LAB, a co-working office nestled in Wynwood. They’re the creators of Weather Kitty, an app that cycles through different pictures of cats as the weather changes. It’s a hit, garnering five stars on the app store and media attention from Buzzfeed and Mashable.
Oliver, Hemmani’s 9-year-old mixed breed pup, holds the distinction of CBO, Chief Barking Officer — a normally-lame pun only offset by Oliver’s objective cuteness.
Oliver alternates between roaming around the space and lying next to his owner as he types away on his MacBook. For Hemmani, the ability to bring Oliver wasn’t an all-consuming deal breaker like it was with Acosti, but Hemmani considers the perk a “very strong determining factor” in his place of employment.
The two co-working spaces have similar policies regarding pets. All dogs are allowed as long as they aren’t aggressive, are potty-trained and the owner is responsible. There’s no size limit and pets don’t have to be leashed.
Similar policies govern most dog-friendly workplaces. Florida has limited laws concerning pets at work.
“There’s not a lot of guidance out there in terms of bringing pets,” said Gregg Morton, past chair of the animal law section of the Florida Bar. “If you have a business that has customers come in, the biggest thing you have to worry about liability issues.”
Insurance-wise, there’s no special policy. In the event of a worst-case scenario — a dog bite — companies are covered under general liability insurance. Restrictions by commercial landlords are the most common fence. So is corporate culture many firms view animals as a distraction, said Dietz.
To Katie Blineau, co-founder of vintage event rental company Unearthed Rentals, that doesn’t make any sense. In fact, Katie and her husband Jovan see having a pet-friendly workplace as integral to their company culture. On any given day, as many as six dogs may be hanging out at the Doral office.
“Companies and people can be close-minded.” said Katie. “They see things as always being a certain way, so why evolve and adapt?”
The couple, who are in their thirties with two kids, have two rules: workplace dogs must get along with their own two pups, Stella and Riley, and dogs must be potty-trained.
“We try to create a family environment,” said Katie. “Sometimes you’re at work more than you’re at home, so we do anything we can to make work feel homey.”
While many pet-friendly workplaces are small companies, bigger institutions have come to welcome pets as well.
The Kimpton Surfcomber hotel, located on Miami Beach, welcomes all animals regardless of weight or breed.
This pet-friendly policy extends to the brand’s 65-plus hotels. And it applies to employees as well as guests.
“Lady Penelope,” a Staffordshire Terrier owned by bar and restaurant employee Sarah Jones, can often be found in the hotel, following her owner.
“I love being able to bring her to work,” said Jones. “She was abandoned as a puppy and doesn’t like to be alone at all.”
Rafael Paris, the Surfcomber’s director of finance, bring his 13-year-old Fox Terrier Luna to work every day. He has had her since she was only 2 months old. When he was interviewing for his job a few months ago, the idea of having her under his desk was an attractive perk.
“She helps me to decompress,” said Paris. “Some people smoke; I walk my dog. If she’s happy, I’m happy.”