Tech workers need dogs on the job
May 3, 1999
by Bill Brazell
(IDG) -- Forget the semiconductor, espresso bars or stock-option incentives. In the Internet Economy, the dog is central to productivity.
In a time of job insecurity, fluctuating stock prices and rapid technological change, dogs are portable havens of peace – as long as they keep the barking down.
Case in point: When Amazon.com officials shopped Seattle for new office space recently, they kept one objective firmly in mind. The new building had to welcome Rufus.
The current building, after all, gives Rufus free rein. "His name is actually on the lease," says spokeswoman Kay Dangaard. As badly as the growing bookseller needs new space, a defiant Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com's CEO, "was willing to walk away if pets weren't allowed." According to Dangaard: "That was a deal-breaker." Asked to specify what she means by "pets," Dangaard laughs. "I believe it's generally taken that we're talking about dogs," she says. "I don't think we want cats around."
Netscape spokeswoman Nicole Taggart calls the canine effect "stress release." Taggart says her dog, Mystique—part wolf, part husky, part ridgeback—"sticks her nose up to me when things are tense."
Scientists have demonstrated that petting an animal releases the same endorphins joggers get as part of "runner's high." Unlike jogging, petting can be done at a desk or cubicle. The loyalty of dogs makes them unlikely to wander off and cause trouble elsewhere in the office. Taggart says Mystique "knows where my cubicle is and stays pretty close."
AOL's Steve Case may or may not know about the endorphins, but he has a sixth sense for the penchant for pooches among the Net set. When AOL bought Netscape, the first thing Case told Netscape employees was that their dogs could stay. A cheer went up.
But as anyone who has read Stephen King's Cujo will tell you, dogs don't always soothe nerves. Some employees may be allergic. Some may find canine licking habits distasteful. Still others may object to being jumped on while trying to work.
Whether for those reasons or others, the portal company Excite, of Redwood City, Calif., has seen fit to ban dogs entirely. One rumor says CEO George Bell clamped down after an office dog barked and distracted him during a phone conversation. An Excite spokeswoman who asks not to be identified says only that the decision to ban was "based on employee feedback." She hotly denies another rumor: "We do not have a flea problem." So bowwows are out, but the company continues to house a fish. "A little guppy thing," she elaborates.
Although wary of going to the dogs, some may find the banning of warm, furry mammals in favor of cold-blooded "guppy things" a bit extreme. The San Francisco office of New York-based Razorfish took a vote, and now Wednesdays are Dog Days. Managing director Len Sellers says the Wednesday plan has made the office safe for staff dogs Booger, Colonel and Argus. Disruptions have been minimal. "The staff is much more rambunctious than the dogs," says Sellers, "and they shed more hair, too."
"We got rid of the ferrets, though," he continues. "We did that for two reasons. One, they ran up people's legs and bit them. Plus, the governor of the state of California signed a bill saying ferrets were legal, so they became boring."
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