By VICKI HILLHOUSE of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Daisy the Australian shepherd mix has been known to commit so deeply to her naps that you’d think she was classically trained in playing possum.
Splayed on the floor of the downtown Walla Walla retail shop owned by her masters, Jim and Kathy Ruzicka, she sleeps so soundly through noise and the legs of roving shoppers that customers have wondered if she’s dozing or departed.
“We’ve actually put a sign on her saying, ‘I’m not dead,’” cracked Jim Ruzicka.
Customers get no shortage of canine cuddles if Daisy doesn’t rouse from her REM cycle. Her four friends, Guido, a black Labrador/Australian shepherd mix; Carmen, a miniature schnauzer; Kawaii, a golden Lab; and Fritzi, a miniature dachshund, also take up residence at the Main Street embroidery business. If they seem at home there, it’s because they are.
The Ruzickas are part of a growing contingency of people who take their pets to work.
In an age when animals have their own parks, clothing lines, parades, even therapists, the workplace is yet another frontier for our loyal companions.
From the punch of the proverbial clock, they are along for the daily grind, snuggling in beds behind retail counters, pressing their noses against store windows, smacking their tails on display cases and floorboards, hopping in the truck for service calls, meandering through vineyards and sniffing customers as they step through the door.
For many, the decision to bring their pets to work is a means to an end.
“Just leaving them at home would be bad on them,” Ruzicka said.
Jolene Berry, and numerous other business owners, echoed the sentiment. Berry, the owner of downtown clothing, shoe and gift shop La Colombina, said her 21/2-year-old pug, Ping, is “very needy, and does not like to be left alone.”
Bringing the dog to the store three days a week — the days when both Berry and her husband are tied to work — gives Ping a social environment for positive interaction.
Aside from ensuring their shoes, furniture and other personal items remain intact throughout the day, people with animals in the workplace reportedly have an added benefit. The calming presence of pets is believed to help reduce stress, a poll from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association reports.
According to the national poll released last June, 17 percent of working Americans 18 and older said their companies allow pets at work.
An estimated 75 million Americans believe having pets in the workplace makes people happier, the poll concluded. Seventy million also believe animals in the workplace reduce stress.
Count Kathy Ruzicka, surrounded by her five pooches on a recent Friday, as one of them.
“It’s calming to have them here,” she said before reaching into a giant jar of dog treats for the giddy pups, some acquired through breeders, others through adoption at the Blue Mountain Humane Society.
Dogs are the most common pet brought to the job, comprising 76 percent of animals in the workplace, the poll reported. That figure is easily illustrated at Walla Walla wineries. So many dogs, in fact, are affiliated with area wineries, that the subject became the focus of a coffee-table book published this year. “Winery Dogs of Walla Walla” features 77 canines from 47 local wineries.
Cats make up an estimated 15 percent of animals in the workplace. A feline is a frequent visitor to the outdoor patio at the Green Lantern. The New York Store has a resident cat, as do retailers stretching from Pomeroy to Waitsburg.
Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, said the results of the poll demonstrate that more people realize the importance of pets in the workplace.
“Pets are becoming more of a welcome addition and proving to be beneficial to employee well-being and office culture,” Vetere said, in a prepared statement.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to bring your pet to work if you’re the one who owns the business.
At Mike Harvey Plumbing on Second Avenue, Shally the blue heeler won’t likely be sharing the sales floor with any other four-legged friends, owner Mike Harvey said. With a job that takes employees into other people’s homes, Harvey said he wouldn’t want the added liability concern of another employee’s dog.
He knows firsthand the risk of protective animals, having been on the receiving end in the past. “I’ve been bit numerous times by customers’ dogs,” he said.
He said he understands the territorial nature of dogs. Consequently, he said it’s imperative that animals brought into the workplace have a gentle disposition. In the case of 12-year-old Shally, who’s been a fixture at the business since she was 6 weeks old, she’s always seen the customers as her visitors.
“She’d actually go and take things off the shelves, small pipes, to play with,” Harvey said. “As far as she was concerned the customers were there to play with her.”
These days she’s slightly less playful. But in all those years at the shop only twice did her presence ward off customers who likely didn’t agree with the sight of a dog in the store. Along with Harvey, others who bring their pets to work said they are mindful of people’s reactions to the animals. When children are present, most have another location within the business for their pets.
For the most part, though, business owners say the animals become a sort of mascot for the companies. Gotta Go Embroidery has become a popular stop for Whitman College students far from home to get a canine fix.
The Main Street shop features a long corridor between the door and the jewelry cases. Sometimes the distance creates an awkward walk for customers headed toward the cases and sales staff waiting at the opposite end, Hoctor said.
But greetings from Kreml’s approximately 13-year-old “Peanut,” and Hoctor’s nearly 4-year-old “Paris” — named for the city in France, not the socialite — help ease the anxiety.
“It’s definitely the ice-breaker,” Hoctor said. “It softens the approach for people coming in.”
As with all the animals at local stores, Peanut and Paris have their daily routines. Peanut often bikes in with Kreml for the 9 a.m. opening of the shop. He greets everyone in the store, including Paris, with whom he rarely actually plays during the rest of the day. Peanut has a bed in the basement of the shop, but has also been known to drift off in a cozy space behind the jewelry counter.
Paris, whose collar sparkles like the diamonds sold in the cases, prefers to lounge on a black mat on the counter, if she can get someone to lift her to the spot. When she wants down, she signals either vocally or with a longing look in her eyes. She enjoys trips to the post office and is practically famous at the bank.
The Yorkies take bathroom breaks on walks and breaks outside the back door. Somehow, as if they were punching the clock themselves, they instinctively know when the day winds down.
“When we’re closing, they’ll wait for us by the door,” Hoctor said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-3300, ext. 284.