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Monday, January 05, 2009

Dogs at Work: A Q&A with Congresswoman Linda Sánchez

LTS-and-ChavoIt’s a New Year, and many of us have made resolutions to improve our lives and the lives of others. But corporations, too, can resolve to make life better for their employees and for animals simply by creating a dog-friendly workplace. At a time when many companies are tightening their belts, here’s a way they can offer a free benefit to their employees, and give a boost to staff morale and retention.

To help employers make the transition, Humane Society Press has published a new book, Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces, by Liz Palika and Jennifer Fearing. After The Humane Society of the United States implemented a dog-friendly policy at its own headquarters, there was an uptick in dog adoptions because staff members knew they would be able to bring their new canine companions to work.

While this may be a new concept in the private sector, it’s old hat for many lawmakers. Members of Congress have been bringing their dogs to work for years, and I rarely make a visit to Capitol Hill without petting a congressional canine. Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) brings her rescued dog, Chavo, to work with her in Washington, and she recently took some time to talk with me about what it’s like to have Chavo in the office.

Michael Markarian: How long have you had Chavo and how did he come into your life?

Linda Sánchez: I adopted Chavo in 2005 because I wanted to have a dog in Washington, in addition to my two dogs back home in California. He’s a rescue beagle and he came from a shelter in Pennsylvania.

MM: When did he start coming into work with you on Capitol Hill?

LS: Chavo has always come to work with me. I don’t like leaving him at home alone, and he turned out to be a great Capitol Hill ambassador.

MM: Does he have any official duties in the office?

LS: Chavo is our unofficial greeter—happily wagging his tail and greeting tourists, the mailperson, visitors, and anyone else who walks in the office. The Capitol police even know him by name. It’s also nice to come back to my office after a hearing, or after votes, and have Chavo there waiting for me. Harry Truman himself was fond of saying, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

MM: How do constituents and other visitors react when they see a dog in the office?

LS: Sometimes people coming into the office to see me are nervous or tense. I think that seeing a dog, being able to pet Chavo, or even say hello to him, is a relaxing act. By the time they talk to me he’s calmed them down and won them over.

MM: What impact does a dog in the office have on your staff?

LS: I think having a dog in the office can be a stress-reliever. Chavo makes sure he stops by to see everyone during the day…mostly whoever is eating!

MM: Does Chavo receive any constituent letters or fan mail?

LS: Chavo has been grabbing the attention of tourists and even the media. He was in the National Journal and the Washington Post earlier this year. Before you know it, he might need his own press secretary.

MM: Do you have any policies related to having a dog in the office, such as regarding safety, hygiene, or taking Chavo for walks?

LS: There is an office policy not to feed Chavo too many treats—or else he gets spoiled. We never have a problem getting people to take Chavo out for walks. I’ll take him out between votes and some of my staffers and interns enjoy taking him around. I have taken steps to make the office dog-safe, and we keep a handy supply of lint-rollers around.

MM: Do you think if more dogs were allowed at the office it could help animal shelters by both increasing adoptions and reducing relinquishments?

LS: I am a big proponent of adopting dogs through shelters and rescue operations. Having dogs in the office might not be right for everyone, but it has certainly worked well for me. My advice to other offices, on the Hill and off, would be to try it out.

Chavo-sleeping-on-couch MM: Have you ever had any problems related to having a dog in your office?

LS: Chavo has gotten into trouble before. A couple times during important meetings in my office, Chavo noticed someone sitting in his “spot” on the couch. Each time, Chavo was interested in taking a nap and proceeded to jump up behind the person on the couch and gradually nudge her out of the way. We were all able to laugh about it later, but it was clear that Chavo was not willing to give up his nap time on his favorite spot—despite any meeting.


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