Dogs in the workplace a growing trend in Sonoma County

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This month marks the 21st annual Take Your Dog to Work Day, a fuzzy, four-pawed ritual that falls on June 21.

Get ready for the pooch parade to unleash at the office, accompanied by the pitter-patter of little toenails and the oohhing and the aahhing of colleagues cuddling balls of fluff.

Whether the holiday is a pet project or a pet peeve depends on your relationship to man’s best buddy. But there’s no denying that the workplace is warming up to our four-legged friends.

Some pet owners do not have to wait for June 21 to take their dogs to work. All over Sonoma County, Rovers are riding shotgun with their owners or walking to work with them, then tucking themselves under desks or into cubicles at schools and tutoring centers, corporate offices and co-working spaces.

Despite potential issues involving allergies, injuries and lawsuits — not to mention the distraction factor — local companies that welcome dogs into the safe areas of their facilities report that overall, canine inclusivity has been a boon rather than a boondoggle.

“I find that it helps morale,” said Jim Jacobs, director of Community Giving for Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, where about a third of the 325 workers bring their dog to work on any given day. “When you’re having a bad day … you’ll have a dog come into your office, and it breaks you from the daily work grind. So everybody really likes that aspect.”

At Lagunitas the dog- friendly policy grew out of its founders’ love of animals. They have been part of the company’s brand since the beginning — after all, a dog is on the company logo.

“Our founder Tony Magee and his wife, Carissa, are huge animal people,” Jacobs said. “Back in the day it was a one-room office. There were dogs running around, and sometimes there were more dogs than people.”

At Lagunitas, dogs are allowed in any of the office settings but not the brewery or taproom or production areas. However, the outdoor taproom is both dog-friendly and kid-friendly.

Jacobs, who is charge of community giving, said that Magee was always a quiet philanthropist, giving away beer in the early days when he didn’t have cash.

These days, the company still donates beer, along with “sip and spill” packages for auctions — T-shirts, mugs and posters — and gives out grants as well.

“We probably gave to more than 100 animal nonprofits last year,” Jacobs said. “Here locally, there were 20 to 25.”

Local beneficiaries include nonprofits such as Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County, Pets Lifeline and Forget Me Not Children’s Services. “It’s part of our DNA, it’s what we do,” Jacobs said. “I like to work with the grassroots nonprofits, and know it’s going right back into the community.”

At Sonic in Santa Rosa, employees are also allowed to bring their dogs to work, provided the pooches have current vaccinations; are housebroken; do not bark, nip or bite; and stay on a leash while walking around. About 30 of the more than 500 employees bring their dogs to work every day, with many more pups tagging along on a part-time basis, said Jen Codarre, director of employee engagement at Sonic.

“There are people who borrow each other’s dogs to take them for walks to get some TLC and take a little break,” Codarre said. “Dogs are great healers. They are just so happy.”

Learning alongside pups

Some of the pups making appearances at Sonoma County workplaces are certified therapy dogs, while others are just naturally caring and intuitive, exuding a sense of calm wherever they meander. They can be especially helpful around students who have learning disabilities or attention difficulties.

Kori Behler of Santa Rosa’s Wise Owl Learning Center brings Murphee, a 6-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, to work with her to help students relax and find acceptance.

She took over full-time care of Murphee after her mother decided she wanted a puppy to soothe her during the last month of her life.

“It was really the only thing that helped bring her some joy,” Belher said. “Murphee’s very therapeutic for people and offers comfort almost instantly.”

The fluffy spaniel who loves tummy rubs is now a regular at Wise Owl Learning. If the students haven’t interacted with dogs before, Behler uses Murphee as a “coaching” vehicle to teach them how to greet a dog.

“Then I tell students that she’s going to let us work now,” she said. “And she’s going to go to sleep.”

To help ease your dog into your work environment, Behler advises assessing the dog’s temperament to make sure they will fit in. Murphee happens to be “really easy, mellow and super friendly,” she said. Still, she tries to be proactive about recognizing and avoiding problems.

“I keep her on the leash if people are coming and going,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of interactions where some people don’t want to say hi to the dog.”

At Herbert Slater Middle School, special ed teacher Meaghan King has been bringing her yellow Lab, Merika, to work with her since she started teaching there seven years ago. King used to work for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) in Santa Rosa, a nationally known training program that provides assistance dogs to people with disabilities, and she had Merika certified as a therapy dog through the nonprofit 4Paws of Rohnert Park.

After Merika set a good example in King’s classroom, the dog idea spread and now there are five dogs that attend school.

“Over time, Merika has been a really good ambassador for therapy dogs on campus,” King said. “Seeing how well she’s done has allowed other people to do it as well.”

First, science teacher Linda Kastanis started puppy raising for CCI. She raised three puppies and now brings her golden retriever, the CCI breeder Zoltron, to work with her.

Assistant Principal Jessica Romero also started raising puppies for CCI, and she now brings her 1-year-old yellow Lab puppy-in-training, Carla.

Just this year, history teacher James Sanders started taking his Bernese Mountain Dog, Teddy, to school. Teddy is a certified therapy dog, along with Link, a Saluki greyhound who was rescued by math teacher Lisa Cass.

All the therapy dogs are certified by the nonprofit 4Paws, which means they meet specific standards to be on campus and come with insurance coverage, King said. Having them present in the classroom creates an energy that is “calm and inviting,” she added.

“Every dog on campus works with my special ed kids in some capacity,” said King, who co-teaches 20 students. “It helps typical children feel comfortable with my students. They don’t see a kid that has autism. It’s another student who has a really cool dog.”

Now that Merika is 9 years old, she’s slowing down a bit but still looks forward to her job at school. King always tries to remember that she is still a dog, and if there’s a lot of chaos in the classroom, she will put Merika in her crate so she can have some down time.

“People are always saying, ‘I want to bring my dog,’” she said. “Realistically, there’s a responsibility component that comes with it.”

Dogs at the start-up

Robbe McAlexander of Santa Rosa is not the only worker who brings her dogs to her office in CoLAB, a coworking space in downtown Santa Rosa. But with her two Weimaraners — the lanky, 73-pound Tess, and the 57-pound Willie — she is hard to miss as they stroll from her home in Montgomery Village to her part-time job as controller of a drug safety start-up.

“People know us; I’m the Weimaraner lady,” she said. “We usually sneak out a couple of times to walk around downtown, and at night, we do a one-hour walk.”

The Weimaraner dogs were originally bred to hunt large game in Germany, she said, but in the U.S., the elegant-looking pooches became “more showy and less hunty” as they began to be bred for magazine shoots.

“Tess is gun-shy — she looks at birds and says ‘Are you nuts?’” King said. “She’d rather lay on a couch and look lovely.”

Willie, on the other hand, was a show champion at nine months and is working on his Senior Hunt Title, an AKC award. Last January, she also got another young Weimaraner, Lucky, after meeting him at the National Field Trials. He has his own job that takes him around the country to different field trials, but McAlexander keeps him close on her screen saver.

“He’s on his way to becoming a field champion,” she said. “I have to go to him where he is … I’m going to be traveling to see him in late August.”

McAlexander, who started bringing her dogs to work after she lost her husband to pancreatic cancer in 2013, also works part-time as a CPA for a Petaluma tax firm, where she keeps the two dogs in her office.

Bringing her dogs to both workplaces has several advantages. The busy tax season and working for a start-up can require her to work up to 70 hours a week. Having her dogs with her gives her the flexibility to work longer.

On a personal level, however, the dogs also help open up her social interaction. People are always stopping and saying, “They’re so beautiful” or “They’re so well-behaved.”

“I’m by myself now, and I’m more social with the dogs,” she said. “It’s kind of an ice-breaker with people.”

French Bulldog like a child

Bringing your dog is work is a bit easier if you have your business. Carlos Garcia and his wife, Esmeralda, own a deck refinishing business, and their 1-year-old French bulldog, Chancho, either heads out to work with Carlos in his truck or watches over Esmeralda in her home office.

Garcia even bought him a pair of goggles so that he can stick his head out the window, and lets him sit shotgun, so he can check out the items in his lunchbox.

“When I do estimates, I take him with me,” Carlos said. “He loves it. He goes in backyards and smells everything, and he usually finds sticks.”

Unlike his kids — the couple have three daughters ages 13 to 21 — Chancho stays quiet in the car and doesn’t complain about the music Carlos plays on the radio. Because the dog rules the house, Carlos said, his girls are all jealous of him.

“He is basically like a child in the house,” Carlos explained. “He sleeps with us.”

When Carlos is out on the job applying a finish to decks, Chancho stays home and keeps Esmeralda company in her home office.

“He has his own office chair and a blanket,” Carlos said. “One of the reasons he’s not with me every day is because she misses him ... but he’s always greeting me at the door.”

Everyday is dog day

At Sonic in Santa Rosa, one of the founders, Dane Jasper, got involved with Canine Companions for Independence and started bringing his dog to work about 18 years ago. The employees enjoyed hanging out with his dog so much that he decided to let everyone bring their dogs.

Some workers bring smaller, younger dogs in crates, Codarre said, so they don’t have to worry about them. Others put up little gates in their cubicle or baby gates at the door, so they don’t wander.

“Dogs are a great stress reliever,” Codarre said. “They’re always loyal. They love you. You might be having a bad day, and they’re wagging their tail … and they love to cuddle. “

Any issues that arise, she said, are few and far between. If a dog has an accident before they get out the door, it’s not a big deal. Everyone treats it as a coaching moment. If your dog is young, maybe you should carry it?

“People will bring dogs to meetings … or if they don’t want to juggle their dog, they will ask co-workers to dog sit,” she said. “One of our account executives has a dog named Penny, and everyone loves her, so they pretty much kidnap Penny.”

Codarre, who used to bring her dog to work, said it was nice at the end of the day because the dog was already worn out.

“You’re not coming home from work and trying to do the interactive thing,” she said. “It’s great socialization for animals — they get to meet all kinds of people and are in an environment that is quiet and other times very noisy during meetings. It gets them acclimated.”

As for insurance, pet owners at Sonic are liable for their own animals, she said, and common sense reigns.

“If you’re not comfortable bringing your animal, don’t bring it,” she said. “You know if you have Cujo.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

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