With a new study demonstrating how dogs support our well-being, legal employers need to focus on inclusion when considering pet-friendly office policies.
The ways in which dogs support our emotional well-being have been established over recent years. Specifically according to NAMI,
Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and improve your all-around health. For example, people with dogs have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease—just playing with dogs has been shown to elevate oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, new research from the University of British Columbia-Okanagan suggests that actually touching a dog, “including tummy rubs, ear scratches and nuzzles,” provides a greater boost to our mood than non-physical interaction. As the study concludes:
Results indicate that participants across all conditions experienced enhanced wellbeing on several measures; however, only those in the direct contact condition reported significant improvements on all measures of wellbeing.
As pet owners begin and anticipate returning to time in the office, employers might consider transitioning to pet-friendly environments, as suggested in this recent Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article. Pointing out benefits to inclusion for emotional support needs, general well-being and mood, and employee retention, the article highlights that service dogs are a distinct and legally protected need, while also noting a couple potential problems: “For example, if the layout of your business doesn’t allow pets to remain in designated areas, it could make things difficult for those uncomfortable with other people’s dogs and cats. Additionally, you would need to find a way to accommodate employees with pet allergies. It would also be essential to establish a clear, objective approval process. If you subjectively allow some workers to have pets with them while not allowing others, you run the risk of accusations of discrimination.” A few related considerations:
- Leases unfortunately might not be as pet-friendly as we want to be.
- Volume and dynamic of pets could get more chaotic more quickly just in passing than one anticipates; a schedule might help in some situations.
- People might overstate how ‘good’ their pets are, which involves an obvious risk.
Inclusion and belonging has to be a top consideration and priority, and is a balancing act, affecting individuals differently. The MLW article notes the need to find a way to accommodate employees with allergies. But when an office space can’t accommodate both an employee with allergies and another with emotional support needs, the employee with the allergy might be favored, given a 2020 decision from the Iowa Supreme Court involving tenants in an apartment building, as explained in this ABA Journal article.
Beyond individuals with allergies, some people just don’t enjoy dogs, and as much as their fans might forget — dogs have caused some among us traumatic injuries. As common and enthusiastic a breed as we dog lovers are, and as helpful as science might show dogs to be, it’s important for us not to ignore the possible problems as we consider creating more pet-friendly office spaces. A clear, written policy would always be necessary, and it’s up to employers to make them sufficient, hopefully including a process to receive and review feedback.
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