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Paw-some or Cat-astrophic? Pros and Cons of Office Pets

Paw-some or Cat-astrophic? Pros and Cons of Office Pets
Credit: LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Imagine walking into the office every day to be greeted by a friendly pup or playful kitten. Then picture sitting at your desk with your own pet at your feet all day. Does that sound ideal? Not to everyone.

"If your office currently does not permit pets at work but you are considering becoming pet-friendly, your first step should be surveying existing employees on the idea, listening to feedback," said Teresa Marzolph, people strategist and founder of Culture Engineered. "Expressed concerns should lead to discussions. It's important to understand the root of any objection."

The decision should not be taken lightly, and both sides of the argument should be taken into account. The second step would be to reread your lease to make sure you don't need your landlord's permission. You might have decided it's worthwhile to have animals around, but it might be a moot point. Then, if your business has anything to do with food handling, look to your local licensing bureau. There are likely hard and fast health regulations in your area that you must follow.

If you're all in the clear on those two points, it's time to make a list of the pros and cons to weigh your decision. We interviewed workplace experts on their thoughts about office pets.

According to Emmi Buck, director of communications at Essential Oxygen, pets can reduce stress and anxiety, which leads to a better work environment.

"We've found that the majority of people love pets and are excited to have furry friends in the office," she said. "Having your pet or a co-worker's pet in the office is uplifting and brings a smile to your face."

Often, pets have a way of bringing others together by breaking tension and providing comfort to individuals. This makes people more willing to step out of their comfort zones and socialize with their team.

"Pets can foster a sense of connection and community," said Russell Hartstein, certified dog behavior consultant (CDBC), certified professional dog trainer (CPDT) and CEO of Fun Paw Care. "Pets also act as social lubricant, and people tend to act more compassionate and kind in their presence."

Marzolph said that bringing your pet to work makes the office feel more like home for many, which promotes healthy work-life balance. Employees likely won't view the workplace as a stressful environment, but rather as a home away from home.

Additionally, pets require time and attention, which can promote healthy pauses from assignments and creative breaks.

"When you need a breather from a big project, pets are a great way to take a minute to scratch their belly and give yourself a quick mini-break," said Buck. "Pets also generally need to go potty outdoors, so it's a nice breath of fresh air … to take a step outside to walk your pet during work."

Work-life balance is a great pro, but employees can easily take it too far. Be wary of too much time spent with the pets and not on work.

"While quick walks or belly rubs can be a good balance to work and taking breaks, some pets might be [needier] than others and end up wasting the time of the office employees," said Buck. "Additionally, if a pet is sick or injured, they might require more care or be loudly coughing, which would increase the distraction factor of the animal."

That's why it's so important for office pets to be trained, said Hartstein. If they're barking, jumping on people or destroying furniture, they might bring more trouble than ease, possibly even becoming a liability.

Some people simply don't like pets (hey, don't look at me – I'm just the messenger!) or, more justifiably, just don't want them in their workspace.

Buck said that if someone is allergic to or not fond of pets, this can create tension in the office and possibly even legal issues for the company. An animal allergy may be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and you must make reasonable accommodations for that person if they request animals not be allowed.  

While well-trained pets typically don't go around biting people for fun, they're still animals, and they can get spooked and defensive at a moment's notice.

"The unfortunate issue of an animal causing an injury is a big potential con of having a pet at work," said Buck. "Even if animals are generally nice and well-tempered, almost any dog is going to react negatively if they're provoked … An accidental bite or causing somebody in the office to trip would be extremely unfortunate, and again a potential legal issue."

This goes both ways, Buck added. Workers might accidentally step on or run into a pet, causing unintentional harm or emotional stress. Make sure any pets allowed in the office are insured. Also, you might speak with your lawyer about having pet owners sign an indemnification agreement that would require the owner to pay for any injuries to co-workers.

You don't want your office to smell like a pet store or become unsanitary for your workers, but sometimes, this can happen with animals.

"Extra hair around the office … can be an annoyance for whomever does the cleaning, and even some of the co-workers who prefer a tidy workspace," said Buck. "Even if pets are completely potty trained, there is always the potential of the pet getting into something they're not supposed to, and either making a mess or becoming sick and throwing up in the office."

If you do choose to have pets in the workplace, be sure to keep the office clean and fresh, and be receptive to any concerns.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.