Advice from the Trenches: Pets at Work

Dear C and Dr. B
I am a mental health counselor in a fairly large and busy office. Recently I started bringing my cockatiel, Polly, to work with me primarily because this bird is human imprinted and suffers if left home alone. I found most of my clients love her. People say Polly makes their day and they find her presence soothing. They love that this bird likes to pose for selfies with them. But a problem lurks in pet paradise – not with the clients, but with the other staff! Four coworkers are having real issues with my bird. They either obsess about Polly’s poop, or about the mess from seeds … some of them straight-out fear it, and have been freaking out.

The clinic has allowed clients to sometimes bring therapy animals and our boss used to bring his two dogs, who slept all day on the carpet. I don’t want to stop bringing Polly to work, but I am unsure what to do. Help?
The Bird Man of Alcatraz

Dr. B says: A lot of life is putting up with other people’s crazy crap. People smoke, vape or stink of perfume, or bring therapy dogs on airplanes when there isn’t room for even one passenger. People are terrible at parking and drive like maniacs. We can’t get away from it. But if there is no official office policy against pets in the workplace, you should be able to do what you want in your own office. However, public spaces like cafeterias and waiting rooms are a different story. Try to be conscientious of your peers.

C says: This is an interesting problem. The whole idea of bringing therapy pets to the workplace is to provide therapy, and it seems to be having the desired effect on the patients. Now the question becomes: Who is the priority here – the patients who are paying customers seeking professional services? Or the workers who are supposed to provide those services? I think that your clinic may need to have to establish a policy so that everyone, staff and patients alike, knows what to expect. Is this a workplace and clinic in which therapy pets are part of the treatment? Or is your clinic a pet-free zone? You can’t really have both without constantly having to juggle priorities and individual needs.

If the staff objects to pets purely on a sanitary level, this is a problem that is easily circumvented. Anyone who brings their pet to work should be made responsible for making certain there is no contamination of either the clinic area or their own office. This just makes sense – a medical clinic needs to be a feces/litter-free zone. The Board of Health would shut you down if you became a petting zoo. But if the staff objects to therapy animals on a purely phobic level, I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to keep them on staff – can people who can’t control their own phobias really give guidance to others
who are seeking help? But first, I’d give workers a chance to speak. I suggest an office therapy meeting to discuss everyone’s feelings on the matter. My experience is that if you listen to people, they feel less freaked out and are more likely to tolerate small exigencies. What bothers people more than anything is if they feel like no one gives a crap how they feel. So pretend you give a crap, even if you don’t.

If there isn’t a way of arriving at a solution that appeases everyone, and especially if the boss wants to allow pets, you may need to reconsider the staff. A clinic that allows therapy pets wants to hire staff that likes the idea. Lots of people do. Why force the issue down the throats of the few who don’t? You need to decide what is more important, the pet therapy or the staff. But if you just want to take Polly to work for personal reasons, and the clinic decides on a no pet policy, you are going to have to be the one to back down. After all, the clinic isn’t responsible for the psychological needs of your pet. As with parents and their children, that’s the thankless job that every pet owner needs tend to themselves.

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