WASHINGTON - During the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, millions of people adopted dogs for comfort and companionship, and because they had the time to care for them at home since they were not commuting to work.
As many companies reopen to a hybrid work schedule - allowing their employees to work both at home and in the office - many pet owners want to keep their canine companions nearby and are taking them to work.
"Our pets are becoming our families, and it makes sense they should come to work with us," said Steve Weinrauch, chief veterinarian at Trupanion, a pet insurance provider based in Seattle.
"It's really important to me to be able to bring my dogs to the office," said Diana Cross, partner support manager at Trupanion. "I love having both of them here, so I can pet them and play with them."
Trupanion, like some other companies, allows well-behaved dogs to join their owners at the office during the workday. Trupanion was even doing that before the pandemic.
"As we go back into the office environment, the dogs are helping people adjust," said Bridger McGaw, executive director of global security and services at athenahealth, an electronic medical records software company near Boston. He told VOA that pets are also beneficial to the company because they help build camaraderie and people are more engaged at meetings when the pets are there.
Helping to improve morale
Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, began its Dogs at Work program more than 25 years ago at its headquarters in Seattle. Today, some 10,000 dogs are registered at more than 140 Amazon buildings, according to Amy Neumeister, global services senior manager.
Having pets in the office helps with "morale and engagement at work and provides emotional support from bringing your best four-legged friend to work," she told VOA.
They also bring joy to colleagues who may not have a dog.
"It brings smiles to people's faces when they see a dog rolling around or chasing its tail," said Weinrauch.
Yuehan Ding, an employee at athenahealth, takes her dog Snowy to a company "yappy hour," a social gathering for employees and their four-legged friends.
"During meetings, folks will drop in to see the dogs and get a cuddle, and I think that's important in the workplace," McGaw said. He noted the company even hosts "yappy hours" - a happy hour for employees and pets- which includes special dog treats.
Lorelei Pate, a program manager at Amazon's Herndon, Virginia office, said she will be bringing in her dog soon. "After working remotely and then returning to the office part of the time, this will help maintain the balance between my work and personal life."
Having a dog in the office can also be an ice breaker.
"It's been awesome bringing in my green-eyed Labrador named Pistachio," said Logan Cunningham, a senior financial analyst at Amazon's second headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. "As a newer employee, Pistachio has allowed me to meet a ton of new people since dogs are usually a great conversation starter."
"I have met people at work who I didn't know because they came up to me and said they would like to pet my dog, Chai, an adopted pit bull, who wears a pearl necklace," said Molly McLaughlin Soha, a senior marketing associate for athenahealth.
Health benefits as well
Studies have shown that pets can improve mental and physical health by reducing loneliness, relieving anxiety and lowering blood pressure.
Dogs are welcomed to meetings at athenahealth, an electronic medical records software company near Boston. Molly McLaughlin Soha's dog, Chai, came wearing blue pearls.
A study by Virginia Commonwealth University found that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced less stress during their workday and had a higher level of job satisfaction.
"My dogs bring me comfort, especially if I'm having a hectic day with a lot of phone calls or meetings," Trupanion's Cross told VOA. "Taking a few minutes to snuggle or play fetch with them is really relaxing."
"The animals offer real value to athenahealth," McGaw said, "by lowering the stress in the office and helping people to really connect with each other."
Having dogs in the office may also encourage employees to stay at their workplace.
A recent survey by Rover.com found that 75% of dog owners said they were more likely to remain with an employer that lets them bring their pet to work.
Amazon's Cunningham said being able to bring a dog to the office "was a big selling point" when she accepted her position. She said it's been nice making friends with some colleagues who take a break from their work to play with her dog.
McGaw at athenahealth is encouraging other companies to consider allowing dogs at work.
"I think it helps with the recruitment and retention of employees and provides a valuable benefit for employees with the care of their pets," he said.