Service dogs in Marysville are amazing. They have been extensively trained, live strict but loved lives, and take care of their owners like truly no one else can. The dogs’ abilities to detect seizures, pick up dropped items, and even warn owners of impending stroke or heart attack make these dogs literally life savers.
With all the amazing things these animals can do, it’s no wonder we have learned to accept them in places we usually wouldn’t, like a restaurant or the office. But there is a growing cynicism towards service and support animals in general, and mostly because of misunderstanding, and I’ll admit that I used to be one of these people.
I was not raised in a house with pets, and I never could understand the “emotional support animal“. I could understand a seeing eye dog or a dog that assists with the hearing impaired, but these are obvious needs that a dog could help with. When I would see articles about an emotional support pig or bunny, I would roll my eyes.
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A recent study from the Virginia Commonwealth University found that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels throughout the work day, reported higher levels of job satisfaction, and had a more positive perception of their employer.
"There might be a benefit here," Randolph Barker, business professor at VCU and lead author on the study, said. "It's a low cost wellness benefit, and it could be a recruiting opportunity (for businesses)."
The study was conducted over the span of a week at Replacements, Ltd., a dinnerware manufacturing company in Greensboro, North Carolina. Seventy-six of the company's employees participated in the study and were broken down into three groups: 18 dog owners who brought their dogs to the office each day, 38 employees that owned dogs but did not bring them to the office, and 19 employees that didn't own pets.
At the beginning of the day, all of the study participants had a saliva sample taken to determine baseline levels of Cortisol, a hormone that measures a person's stress. There were no noticeable differences in starting stress levels across all employees.
But as the work day wore on, Barker found noticeable differences between the stress levels of those with and without dogs by their side.
Barker then had members of each group report their stress level at four different times throughout the day and found that the workers accompanied by their dogs reported the lowest amount of stress at all points in the workday. The most stressed out group turned out to be dog owners that left their pets at home.
The benefits go far beyond just reducing worker stress, though, Barker said. Dogs owners who were allowed to bring their dog to work reported high perceived organizational support (the feeling that one's employer cares about his or her personal and professional development).
Comments from participants in the study indicated an array of other possible benefits, including increased productivity, higher employee morale, and increased co-worker cooperation, Barker said.
"Dogs were a communication energizer," Barker said. Dogs in the office tended to spark conversations between those with and without pets, and "people who didn't typically talk to one another, were now more engaged" with dogs in the office, Barker said.
Nearly half of those who brought their dogs in reported increased productivity, while the rest reported no remarkable difference in their daily work output. A majority (80%) of those who did not bring dogs in did not report reduced productivity in the office, and 25% said dogs positively affected productivity.
Barker said there are issues companies should consider before enacting a dogs in the office policy, including whether or not the pets are well-behaved, employees potentially having pet allergies or a fear of animals, and the organizational culture of the company.
The study's findings on the positive effect of dogs in the workplace were unsurprising to Replacements, however.
"This is not anything new to us," Lisa Conklin, public relations manager for Replacements said.
Replacements enacted a pets in the office 17 years ago when founder and CEO Bob Page received a dog of his own and didn't want to leave it home alone. The office has seen a slew of interesting pets since, including a duck, a pot-bellied pig, and an opossum.
Customers can even get in on the fun. On the outside of the store is a sign encouraging customers to bring in any well-behaved pets, Conklin said.
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Animal experts attribute most animal actions and thoughts to instinct. It seems that they don't give our dogs, cats, birds and other pets enough credit. Why? Because there are documented cases of peoples' pets saving them from fire, fending off attackers and other brave acts. How do we truly know that our beloved pets are doing these things strictly from instinct? Though I'm not an animal behaviorist or scientist, throughout life I've watched and worked with many different animals. I believe that they have feelings, and are more like us emotion-wise than we give them credit.
For example, lately in the news, a woman reported that her Golden Retriever gave her the Heimlich manoever when she was choking on a piece of apple. He kept jumping on her chest until the apple ejected from her throat and flew across the room. Then, he ran over and ate it (he still is, of course, a dog). He knew his owner was in danger and responded to it. Now, that's devotion.
Observe your animals deeply, and see what you think. Are they just doing what their genes tell them to do or are they showing emotions? Science is advanced, but there is so much more to know about our pets and what makes them tick. Those who relate well to animals seem to be more in tuned to the way they think. Being calm and slow moving around many animals puts them at ease. Same with people, we like those who are calm and not aggressive towards us. Animal husbandry is fascinating, and worth learning more about. The more we know about our animals, the better we will relate to them. We may not speak their languages but we can at least show them the respect and understanding they most definitely deserve.
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One scroll through social media is probably enough to convince you--if you needed convincing--that people love cute animals in general, and their dogs in particular. But while humanity in general may be endlessly enamored of man's best friend, bosses frequently disagree.
From fears of litigious allergy sufferers to costly personal injury claims to animal-hating landlords, there are plenty of reasons company leaders might be skeptical of joining the dog-friendly office trend.
If your boss is among them and you're a die-hard dog lover, is there any way to persuade him or her to open up your workspace to fuzzy friends?
Here's yet another area of life where science might be able to help you out. New research from Central Michigan University offers a rationale for dog-friendly offices that you just might be able to sell to your wary boss.
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The study, which was highlighted recently by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, is based on a simple premise: Have groups complete short tasks that involve creativity and cooperation, such as coming up with a fictional 15-second ad, and see how having a dog present for the experiment affects outcomes. So, how did it go?
It turns out canines are great for collaboration. Both the participants themselves and outside experts who rated the videotaped tasks for closeness, warmth, and cooperation said that adding a dog to the mix made people more trusting and more helpful. In short, just having a dog around seems to do wonders for teamwork.
"When people work in teams, the presence of a dog seems to act as a social lubricant," lead author Steve Colarelli commented. "Dogs seem to be beneficial to the social interactions of teams."
Why do dogs have such outsize impacts on how we treat each other? The answer offered by the researchers will come as no surprise to most pet owners--it seems that having animals nearby just makes us happier, and people who feel better tend to be nicer.
So if your boss is not sold on opening your office to canine companions, you might want to show him this study. And if you need to apply a little more pressure, earlier research showing that dogs also reduce stress, or this useful post from my Inc.com colleague Christine Lagorio-Chafkin on overcoming objections to dog-friendly offices might also be helpful.
Do you find your personality or behavior changes when there are dogs around?
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Sadly, some people are asking whether "service animal" laws are being abused by those who want to scam the system.
There have been news stories, articles, opinion pieces and other editorials where people rant and complain about people they believe to be abusing the system. You hear some complain that they had to sit near a dog at a restaurant that they don't believe is a "real" service dog, or others complain that their neighbors have a pet in a "no pet" building because they claimed the animal is an emotional support animal.
Some of the commentary has an indignant tone, and some people are downright angry.
How does this affect those who legitimately own and use a service animal to better their lives? In many ways.
For one, it can it more difficult to navigate bureaucracy of the world when your claim of a disability and your service or emotional support animal's status is questioned. If a landlord or business owner has heard negative stories claiming that some people are abusing the system, it can cause them to look suspiciously at all claimants.
But that percentage of abuse, which in the area of service animal laws is hopefully small, is arguably a very small price to pay when compared to the higher goal of promoting access and equality for all.
In the end, you cannot control any system to make it 100% abuse proof. So tolerating the few people who scam service animal laws is the price we gladly pay to ensure that the disabled in the great state of California have equal access under law.