Helping paws

Pets in the workplace are common, and they help business


Fred Lintz and his dog MJ take care of business at Gator Cycle. MJ, a 3-year-old Great Dane, Rottweller, pit bull mix, makes the store a fun place for associates and customers, said Lintz, the store manager. "She's like the best customer service associate you could ask for," he said

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 1, 2012 at 1:18 p.m.

When people walk into the Shady Oak Stained Glass Gallery in Micanopy, it's not the beautifully hand-crafted, stained glass lining the windows or the wind chimes hanging from the ceiling that they see.

Instead, it is the tiny, white Maltese sitting on the checkout counter that first catches the attention of customers. The 13-year-old dog named Sassy the Wonder Dog may, at first glance, look like a small stuffed animal, with its big, black, sweet eyes.

Even people who claim they don't like dogs are smitten by Sassy. That's just how special she is, said Sassy's owner, Ginny Beam.

Beam, an employee at the store, said she and everyone in her family believe Sassy is more than just a dog.

"I'm amazed by what she does to people," Beam said. "It makes me wonder what it is. I have never seen a dog have this kind of appeal. I know she's cute, but…"

It could be Sassy's calm, sweet nature that makes people fall instantly in love with her, but Beam said she thinks there's more to it than that.

Sassy is a registered therapy dog, which means her job is to make people feel better.

Two women walk into the store, and in seconds, one of the women spots Sassy and offers to buy her. Beam responds with her usual answer: "Not for a million."

After spending most of her time playing with Sassy, the woman buys a bracelet, commenting as she pets the dog, "I'll buy the bracelet, if I can't buy you."

That seems to be the effect pets in most businesses have on customers and usually employees, too.

"Pets serve to charm customers, help customers relax and enjoy their time there," said Julie Levy, the director of Maddie's Shelter and the Medicine Program at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida.

Patricia Olson, the chief veterinary adviser at the American Humane Association, said that keeping pets at business can be a positive thing as long as everyone involved likes it, including the pet

"When I worked at Guide Dogs for the Blind, I brought my yellow lab to work with me," she said. "At first, she loved it, but as she got older, she wasn't comfortable there. She was really comfortable staying home."

When she worked as an independent adviser for the American Humane Association, she did research on pets in businesses and found through collaboration with National Jewish Health in Denver that dogs usually work better for office pets than cats.

"Cats can be more problematic than dogs because people have more allergies to cats," Olson said.

Beam said that without a doubt, Sassy improves her sales.

"Normally, when someone comes in, they'll be a stranger," she said. "There's not much you can say. With Sassy, you can talk about the dog. It's an ice breaker."

Levy said she has no doubt that a cute dog or other pet in a store can improve sales. She said she thinks it's more relaxing for customers to be greeted by pets than employees because they know pets are not going to pressure them into buying something.

"It certainly seems intuitive that if you like animals, interacting with them would make you enjoy shopping more," she said.

Olson likens businesses with pets to pet-friendly hotels and restaurants. People who are pet owners want to support animals, so it makes sense that they would want to shop where there is a pet, she said.

No one at B&B Office Systems in Gainesville planned to have Reggie, a six-pound Chihuahua, Boston terrier, rat terrier, and Jack Russell terrier mix, become a part of the business. It just happened.

Duane Olsen started taking Reggie, who belongs to his 11-year-old daughter, Kattia Olsen, on route in his service truck. But when it became too hot for Reggie, Olsen stopped bringing him to work. That's when the other employees suggested Reggie hang out in the office while Olsen was on his routes.

Since then, Reggie has been a fixture of the office and still goes on routes with Olsen when the weather is mild.

Customers call in asking Olsen to bring Reggie when he comes, said Michelle Gould, the general manager.

"If he's in the car, Duane gets an earful until he brings him out," she said. "Customers get very excited when they see a dog."

But they're not the only ones. All the employees love Reggie, Gould said.

"He's a stress-reliever," she said. "He's a good reminder to put things in perspective. It's hard to get too stressed when you have a dog around."

Reggie will sleep in Gould's office, cuddle in her lap, run across the building and bark ferociously at people before they enter the building.

When his owner, Kattia, a sixth-grader at Westwood Middle School, is around, he loves to be in her arms.

"He's very snuggly and sweet," she said. "He never nips or bites. That's the best thing about him."

While some pets are in businesses solely to make employees and customers happy by winning their hearts, others cater to other business needs.

Sausage Bob, as he's affectionately known, is the sweetheart of All Cats Healthcare Reception, but since he's diabetic, he's also used to train people how to treat their own diabetic cats.

"He's really good at helping people get used to the fact that cats with diabetes can live for a while," said Dr. Patti Gordon, one of two vets at All Cats and Bob's official owner, although he belongs to the office.

He's a large, black and white, three-legged, domestic short hair cat with a black nose, a relaxed personality and an interesting past.

He used to be a tomcat, living outside of Gainesville with a different family until he was shot. His leg was shattered, and he had so many other health problems that the family could not afford to keep him. They relinquished him to All Cats, and he has been there since.ߓ He's one of too-many-to-count cats there, said.

"Bobby never has trouble with anyone," Gordon said. "He gets along with everyone. Because he was a tomcat, you would think he might have problems."

Laid-back is probably the best way to describe Bob.

He has a cape because he's super cat, Gordon said, and he doesn't mind the cape or any of the other many costumes he has.

His relaxed demeanor might be why he has won over the hearts of all the staff and patient owners.

"His greatest love in life really is just to be petted," Gordon said.

At Gator cycle, MJ, a Great Dane, Rottweiler, Pit Bull mix, makes the store a fun place for associates and customers, manager Fred Lintz said.

The three-year-old dog is always happy and willing to bring you her rope toy to play, he said.

"She's like the best customer service associate you could ask for," Lintz said.

He said he thinks she has helped sales, too. He had one woman say she was buying a bike because of the cool dog. Lintz couldn't tell if she was joking or not.

While she adds atmosphere to the story, Lintz said he also brings her out of necessity.

He doesn't want to leave her at home for nine or 10 hours. And she doesn't like being away from Lintz. When he goes outside with a customer, MJ paces the store, anxiously waiting for him to come back in.

Most customers love her, he said. Some, including the mailman, bring her a treat every time they come in, and she knows exactly who those people are.

There are a few who are scared of her, like the elderly woman who accidentally fell over MJ.

MJ walked up to the woman as she was checking out and leaned against her legs. The woman turned to walk away but didn't see MJ and tripped over her.

Lintz said the woman knew MJ didn't do it on purpose, so she still shops at Gator Cycle. But now Lintz hides MJ every time the woman comes in.

These kinds of business pets bring joy to a lot of people, but they're also there to help people through hard times.

When a couple walked into Shady Oak Stained Glass Gallery one day, and saw Sassy, they went straight toward her, and she got up to greet them, said Beam.

First, she went to the woman, then to her husband. Beam could sense that the couple didn't seem quite right. She asked them what was wrong. They told her that they had just put their dog to sleep.

Beam placed Sassy in the woman's arms, and the woman walked around the store with Sassy crying for 10 minutes.

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