Your boss is on the warpath, sales have plummeted and the photocopier’s broken again. One member of staff, however, remains optimistic and unmoved-in fact, they’re enjoying a peaceful snooze under the desk. As anyone who takes their dog to work will tell you, the presence of an office canine does wonders for the atmosphere, puts things into perspective and offers a soothing presence.
Dogs couldn’t care less about hierarchy, they’re immune to the stress of falling sales and oblivious to office politics. Their judgments are based on the important things in life, such as which member of staff is most likely to share their crisps at lunchtime.
In the House of Commons, David Blunkett’s guide dogs often provide light relief during tense debates-one of the best-loved, Sadie, who met The Queen and Nelson Mandela, once showed her disapproval of a bill by throwing up on the carpet-and the widespread grief at Tatler after the much-publicised demise earlier this year of Alan the long-haired dachshund, who came to a sticky end in a revolving door, is testament to his valuable contribution.
Indeed, who on the Country Life staff of old didn’t feel the day improve after a waggy-tailed greeting from the late Lulu, the charming Jack Russell who ruled the picture library, or didn’t feel the atmosphere lightened by the fashion department’s Bella, a cheerful black labrador who chose an impending royal visit to the magazine to forget her house-training manners? The weekly visits of Alba, Art Market correspondent Huon Mallalieu’s westie, were also a highlight-until a depressing health-and-safety edict set in.
All kinds of workplaces can benefit from canine zen. In a shop or gallery, it’s like having an extra member of staff for free, as they’re often better at ingratiating themselves with the customer than anyone else. Brody, a black cocker spaniel, is renowned in the Scottish borders for his work in the Orvis shop in Kelso. When his owner, Rob Bacon, moved to manage A Hume Country Clothing, also in Kelso, he found customers would look past him and say: ‘That’s the dog from Orvis.’
Fortunately, Rob is used to being upstaged. ‘People often come into the shop to see him and this has a knock-on effect because even if they aren’t planning to buy anything, they’ll probably have a look. When I went for my interview, I intended to mention Brody, but my new boss, Archie, got there first and asked me “Will you be bringing Brody?”. Brody has even been known to sit on Archie’s lap.’
Sara Norman-Smith and her three colleagues run Hunters Interiors in Stamford, Lincolnshire. ‘There are four humans and four dogs (two border terriers, a Jack Russell and a working cocker) in our showroom. They come to work every day and have a wonderful life.’ For Sara, the dogs add a whole new dimension to work. ‘In a business that has a bit of a scary reputation for being for the well-heeled only, it does wonders for making people relax. Husbands that are dragged along generally sit down with their coffee and a dog, which keeps them occupied.’
Dogs appear in the company’s marketing material (complete with fabric neckerchiefs) and on its Face-book page. Like Rob, Sara is in no doubt about the commercial benefits: ‘Herbert (the cocker) actually had a visit from another cocker owner who had seen his photograph. She brought her dog in to meet him and then spent £5,000 on home furnishings.’ Dogs at work also provide another valuable service: ‘We’re in a rural location and get strangers calling in, so they act as our protectors, too.’
Working dogs are not, however, solely the preserve of the provinces, so don’t write the idea off just because you work in town. While I was researching this article, a man emailed to say: ‘I sometimes see the most gorgeous terrier at the Ordovas gallery in Savile Row. The dog is so beautiful and calm I used to wonder whether it was an art installation in itself.’ This art-world sensation turns out to be Lola, a two-year-old Welsh terrier belonging to the gallery owner. Pilar Ordovas explains: ‘Lola’s friendly barks and wagging tail have become a familiar welcome for many of the visitors who attend our exhibitions each year. The gallery is very much an extension of who I am, so it seems only natural that Lola should be my companion at work as well as at home.’
Across town in Bloomsbury, Rebecca Rose runs an online vintage fashion boutique called Juno says Hello. Juno is her wire-haired dachshund-Jack Russell cross. Rebecca explains: ‘We work by appointment only, which can seem slightly off-putting, but Juno does a lot of “customer facing” and she’s a real ice-breaker when clients arrive for fittings.’ Working life isn’t restricted to the studio: ‘Juno loves it when I do deliveries and comes with me everywhere on trains, the bus or the Tube. It helps that she’s small because I can pick her up for the escalators. If the Tube is busy, she sits on my knee and mirrors my body movements until we get off.’
Rebecca feels that Juno’s size is a bonus when it comes to office life, but bigger dogs also work. In Notting Hill, party planner Pippa Davies has taken her labradoodle, Gilbert, to work at Milk Studios for five years. ‘Gilbert has genuinely improved the atmosphere in the office, which is open plan and includes lots of different businesses. There’s a lot of silliness and people really drop their guard,’ she reports. This being Notting Hill, Gilbert has since been joined by some exotic colleagues including Stanley from Uganda, Freddie, a rescue dog from Cyprus, and a miniature Schnauzer called Tiffin.
Pippa admits: ‘We talk about the dogs all the time and watch what they’re doing. There is rarely any trouble. Gilbert once had a slightly mad episode when I put some peppermint oil down, but they usually just find their corner of the office and chill out. At lunchtime, we walk them in Little Wormwood Scrubs or Hyde Park.’
Out of town, a more tweedy collection of dogs mans the desks at Sale and Partners, land agents in Wooler, Northumberland. Richard Landale has a springer called Driva (named after the river where he caught his first salmon), Rob Pardoe has a black labrador, Juba (named after a princess in a Wilbur Smith book), and Ewan Harris has a cocker spaniel, Bella. Rob finds Juba’s presence therapeutic: ‘Having my friend asleep in her basket next to me is very nice and I consult her on all kinds of professional matters.’ Ewan adds: ‘There was an unfortunate occasion when Robert’s pre-
decessor’s dog bit the accountant, but the current three are very well-behaved. Having dogs about definitely softens the office edges.’
It needn’t be disruptive. Kate Hall, who works as a fundraiser for the Bob Champion Cancer Trust, says: ‘Between seven and 10 puppies have been brought up in our office [including Kate’s springer spaniel, Nellie] and only one phone line has been chewed through. Once you get into a routine, they walk in, go straight to their basket and barely move until lunchtime.’
Having a place to walk them is crucial. In Sheffield, James Hanson, vice chairman of snuff manufacturer Wil-sons and Co (Sharrow), has his black labrador, Edith, at his side. ‘We have an old mill with a mill pond, so we have a wander around that each day.’ James Armstrong is clerk of the course at Newcastle Racecourse so his fox-red labrador can often be seen checking the state of the going: ‘He gets at least one two-mile walk per day.’
The message to all harassed office staff, town and country, is: chuck out the stress toy and get a dog basket under your desk. Your working life will improve immediately.
Helen Stone of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home offers advice
With proper planning, a dog will consider commuting a treat. He’ll soon get the hang of it-a Jack Russell called Frankie once made his way unaccompanied to Maidstone West station, boarded the 7.22am to St Pancras and settled down in a window seat
- If you have a puppy, start taking it on public transport early; they can sit on your lap, which will make it less scary later on. Build up the journey in stages, and make it fun ride one stop, then go to the park
- When it comes to the real thing, avoid rush hour at first. Make sure they’ve relieved themselves beforehand and pack their basket and water bowl. Keeping them entertained is important-give them half their breakfast on the way to the office and half when you get there
- Watch out for people treading on their tail and paws. Don’t be afraid to muzzle your pet, both for their safety and other people’s
- Check your train operator’s pet policy. On London trains and buses, animals must be kept on a lead and aren’t allowed on seats. You must carry them on escalators and through ticket gates
- When your dog arrives at the office, everyone will want to say hello, but it can be overwhelming. Try to stop your colleagues from all making a big fuss at once
- Put the basket out of the way so the dog doesn’t get woken up all the time-commuting is tiring
- Keep open bins-and the biscuit supply-out of the way and don’t leave the water bowl where everyone will tread in it
- Keep a supply of wet wipes for mopping up slobber and worse remember, other people’s dogs aren’t always lovable all the time
Dogs on duty
Curling up by the fire in the officers’ mess or racing alongside the troops on a training run, dogs are a familiar sight in the British army. Keeping an eye on things in the Coldstream Guards is Tangle, a seven-month-old yellow labrador belonging to Capt Charlie Starkey. ‘I’ve thought about getting a dog for years, so when I got back from tour last October, I decided to make her a tour bonus,’ he explains. There are four other dogs living at Wellington Barracks at present, and Tangle has acquitted herself admirably. ‘I’d like to say it’s my training,’ says Capt Starkey, ‘but she’s got such a good nature. A dog is a great icebreaker-when I meet senior officers, they start talking to Tangle before they’ve noticed me.’
Well-bred labradors, spaniels and terriers are popular, but some dogs beloved by their regiments have a less obvious heritage. For Zorba, a Cypriot dog of mixed breeding, army life began 11 years ago, when he was scooped up on the motorway near Limassol by passing soldiers, as a ‘scraggy little ginger thing, about two months old’. Since then, he’s accompanied Surg Lt-Col Jedge Lewin of the Household Cavalry everywhere. ‘He’s definitely a Mediterranean dog. On one exercise, we were running up and down dunes, and he soon worked out that it was easiest to stay at the bottom and wait for us.’
More of a ‘person dog than a dog dog’, Zorba was very protective of the Lewins’ first child, born in Cyprus-‘he would curl up by the cot’ and has won fans in unlikely quarters. ‘My father wasn’t keen on dogs,’ remembers Lt-Col Lewin, ‘but he was melted by Zorba.’
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