Dogs make themselves at home — at the office

And we’re better for it.

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From left, Bridget Palmieri and Bella, Brittany Bowker and Obie, Peter Oberfest and Gus, Cameron Machell and Bixby, Danielle Zerbonne and Mookie, and Chris Roberts and Gloria. – Stacey Rupolo

We’ve called every dog we’ve had by several names. You’ve probably done the same. Dogs that came with birth names got new names. Dogs we named first, we renamed again and again. Diesel the mastiff was Deez, Deeds, Deedle. Ted the pug was Tedinsky, Tedward, or Teddle. Even Fatso, I’m ashamed to report. He and his sister pug together are the Littles or the Kids, this since our human kids have grown up and moved out. Each separately is Little. Our dear, year-old female pug is Scout, Scouty, or Fruitloop. The beautiful pug Zephyr that we lost to encephalitis was Zephyr, Z, or Fluffer. In occasional moments of fumbling confusion, I’ve also called each of these and many others by the names of each of our four children, and vice versa. No offense intended.

The accumulation of names was unplanned. We did not set out, no more than you did, I suspect, to create a changing list of names for your dog, to be used haphazardly and unthinkingly. I raise this because I suspect that dogs — and maybe cats; you cat folk will tell me — yours and mine, exert such a penetrating influence on us that even when we are without their company, they work their friendly magic nevertheless. Without them nearby, they are ever present, tirelessly invading our memories and flickering synapses to ingratiate themselves, to excavate a secure bunker in our deepest selves where they will dwell for all time and afterward.

This happens without a moment’s interruption of daily duty, including work, at the office, or the shop. The dogs are at home while we are bringing home the bacon, pounding the keyboard, hammering the roofing nails. But they are not idle. The pooches are multitasking among the structures of the cortex, sorting the high-functioning flow of information and deliberation so that the dog of one’s life makes sure he is never forgotten. He is sifting and prompting so that repeatedly, around every intellectual corner, his image pops up, just a moment’s reminder, a fleeting thought before immediate problems resurface to be considered and decided.

You may very well say that this sounds, brainwise, unhealthy, or at least inefficient, that your cerebral cortex ought to be head down, ass up (figuratively speaking), replying to that inquiry, writing this check, doffing your cap to the boss. You ought to be focusing on the work at hand, not wrestling with some damn pug who keeps hopping on your train of thought. You don’t need the interference; you get enough of that from the customers.

But you’re wrong. Don’t be cross when I say that. I was wrong too. And now, having all this in mind, I think perhaps the smart thing is to bring your dog to work. He or she is apparently on deck at all times anyhow.

That irksome dog that your subconscious trips over time and again while you work is not holding you back. On the contrary, he or she is working you out, like an intellectual aerobics instructor, tightening things up, stretching things out, building your mental stamina, etching those analytical abs, encouraging you mentally to walk and chew gum at the same time. Plus, he’s humanizing your workday thinking, suppling your rigidity. With Gus or Bixby or Mookie at work on you while you’re working at the office or the bakery, or wherever, you make better decisions, make them faster, leave the office relaxed and happy. It’s what dogs do.

So here’s the point. Bring them. Bring the dogs to work. I’ve been sitting in at the MV Times office for a while, helping out. The place is very doggy, far doggier than it was in my day. There are daily dogs, occasional dogs, visiting dogs. There are water bowls and dog beds, large and small, under desks and tables. There is the occasional whine, the rare disagreement, and once in awhile the furry muzzle plopped questing on the desk beside my doughnut, but mostly it’s just the hum of busy, agreeable coworkers speaking on the phone with customers and chatting among themselves while they step over the dogs to visit one another across the room.

In the interest of research, I asked the staff here for a census of the canine co-worker cohort at The Times office: human name, dog name (or names); then, with reference to the dog, the breed or style, age, size, physical description, most endearing feature, most off-putting (if any, which I hastened to say, I doubted); some sense of whether the dog likes the workaday life, or has come with under duress and is dreadfully bored; whether it’s a chore for the human colleague, a comfort, or a delight; and last, whether you are enthusiastic about the dogginess of the work environment or not. I told them it is important for science that I know.

Because they work for a newspaper and are trained to ask questions but to reveal nothing, and because they are polite, and know that no one wants to hear an endless hymn to the virtues of someone else’s dog, most of the dogfolk needed prodding. They came through.

Among the occasional dogs, there’s Gus, the publishers’ Bernese mountain dog, large, furry, eager, mischievous, and possessed of an unrestrainable determination to go here and go there to find out whatever there is to find out. Gus especially likes the weekly all-in meeting. He’s a convivial guy, so the larger the available audience, the better he likes it, and often the important business of the meeting includes refreshments.

Gus may not have cultivated the ticktock fastidiousness his Swiss pedigree implies, but at heart he is an alpinist, like so many of his forebears, a climber searching for the high ground on whomever he encounters, as if each were one of the lofty mountain meadows he was born to roam. Gus is an exciting presence for his owners. He stirs up the workplace when he visits.

The everyday dogs have a larger responsibility than the occasional ones or the visitors, and so they make a particularly improving contribution. They are softeners, testing and strengthening one’s kindness muscle.

Cameron’s Golden Bixby has been ill. Cameron has been stricken. Big, friendly, toy-toting, Bixby has needed surgery. Cameron describes Bixby as handsome, and says his most endearing feature is that he can hold two tennis balls in his mouth at once, or one ball and a stick, or a ball and a toy. He also crimps his ears. None of this has changed after surgery. He’s Bixby, as always, only getting around on three legs. “Belly rubs are a welcomed distraction for all parties involved,” she says, “and not feeling guilty that he’s home alone all day allows me to better focus on my work.”

Danielle has a new, old dog, Mookie. He’s nine, a 20-pound bichon/poodle, sporting a body halo of tight curls. He has only three legs, and manages very well, thank you.

Mookie is new to Danielle and her husband: “We’re still getting to know him, but he seems to be a ‘been there done that’ kind of guy who doesn’t stress too much … we’re planning on being his forever home. Mookie came with a bed that could fit three Mookies in it. I’ve tucked it beneath a shelf in the ad sales department, and filled it with blankets. He seems content to snooze there most of the day, occasionally stepping out to deal with pesky lunch crumbs that have fallen in the area. He seems to be a nearly perfect office dog, but I suppose time will tell.

“We lost our 15-pound black mini poodle Monty in February. He spent lots of time in the office … When I was going through my cancer experience, I took him to work with me a lot, and often carried him around with me. Looking back, I see how incredibly comforting and helpful that was. Often people who come into the office seem thrilled to see the dogs. I suppose it can be slightly distracting at times … but overall it makes the workday infinitely more enjoyable.”

Angus is a Boston terrier who belongs to Jamie and Barry. He’s little and quiet, a bit standoffish, doesn’t see very well, particularly since he had an eye surgically removed. At first, perhaps because his depth perception was compromised and until his nose work stepped up to meet the new challenge, he moved around the office tentatively, and occasionally bumped into things.

Watching him, one marvels at how he accepted the change, never seemed sorry for himself, figured out familiar surroundings and people that were suddenly less familiar, and carried on.

Lily is a Cavalier King Charles who sometimes works with Kris, her owner. Kris is a designer. Lily is a small, long-lashed beauty who, despite her jaunty appearance, knows very well that life at work is stern and earnest. So when Kris needs her help, she sits on his lap and directs her attention to the designs that reveal themselves on the computer screen in front of them.

Bridget’s endearing cockapoo Bella is a Vegas transplant who leaves nothing to chance. She likes a sure thing, and make her desires clear. Her chief desire is that Bridget stay nearby. That shattering howl you may hear during your next trip to The Times will be Bella, letting Bridget know that she has violated first principles, and ought to get back to her desk on the double. She is smart, stubborn, picky, yet very gentle and sweet. Bridget’s words, not mine.

Chris’ Gloria is a miniature Schnauzer, age 4. She visits a couple of times a month. Her natural tendencies are, of course, loving obedience, but her youthful excitability required that she serve a calming internship at home before regular trips to the office got on the agenda. “When she was a puppy, she was a bit of a handful to have underfoot, and as a ‘teen’ she was a total punk,” Chris says.

Obie is a black Lab under Brittany’s care for a month. He shadows Brittany, craves attention, and may whine, howl, or bark if a passing someone snubs him. He’s convivial, and expects others be the same. The dog of Louisa Williams and Chris Brooks, Obie has a proper name. He is Obediah Brooks Williams of West Tisbury. He leaves an impression.

Also among the occasionals, there are the dogs that come with customers. They have an effect similar to strangers one meets on the ferry. They are friendly, curious, willing to be chummy if their advances are accepted. Each has a story, but before the bonding, there is the tentative exchange of pleasantries, dog to dogs, dog to staffer. Sniff, sniff. What a sweet dog. What kind of dog is she? How old? She’s a rescue, how wonderful is that? I think I have a treat in my desk drawer, just wait. There is no sign on the door that says “No Drinks, No Backpacks, No Dogs.”

One-eyed, three-legged, furry, smooth, playful, solemn, yours or a coworker’s, resident or visitor — Jamie says that together they look like the crew of a pirate’s ship. But they do what dogs do, like it’s a job, flexing us, softening what’s hard, infiltrating and adjusting owners, colleagues, and mere acquaintances. Cameron says the more dogs at work, the better. She’s right.

1 COMMENT

  1. Dogs at the MV Times office is a tradition that goes back 30 years. I’ll never forget Doug’s big beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback named Radner. especially the day he raised his leg and began peeing on the back of Gerry Kelly’s chair — with Gerry in it! And one of the best parts of living on the Vineyard was having the constant companionship of my dog Roland: at home, in my little red Suzuki, and in the office, where he met Betsy Corsiglia, his eventual foster mother. Roland had the bad habit of picking through visitors’ purses if they left them within reach and bringing me little “gifts” he scavenged. But it was always a conversation starter as I returned them to their rightful owners!

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