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Pets: they’re not just for home anymore


Customers at Alexander’s Photo often walk in the door and ask for Emma. Usually she is there, but if she isn’t, a quick check of her calendar allows the store’s employees to tell the customer when she is expected to return.

Emma, a Border collie and black Labrador mix, has become a fixture of the camera and photography business, according to Steve Alexander, the store’s owner who adopted Emma in 1998.

On New Year’s Eve in 1997, Emma was found abandoned on the streets of Des Moines. About two weeks later, Alexander and his wife adopted the 6-month-old dog from the woman who had rescued her. The Alexanders had owned dogs in the past, but decided that they would try something new with Emma by bringing her to work with them at their business on Ingersoll Avenue.

“We knew right away that her personality was right and the timing was right,” Alexander said. “It wasn’t that we were afraid to leave her alone. We just didn’t want to leave her alone because she is part of our lives, and we thought it would be healthier for her and us. It’s a matter of honoring the companionship relationship we have with her.”

Alexander said he knew Emma’s temperament would be suitable for the couple’s workplace after seeing how well she performed in obedience training. Out of a group of about 70 dogs, she finished at the top of her class. Obedience training also taught the Alexanders about the importance of socializing a pet.

“A well-behaved dog is as pleasant to have around as a well-behaved child,” Alexander said. “We found through her obedience training early on that socializing is part of that. By making her comfortable around other dogs and other people, she is very calm and well behaved.”

Alexander said there are many benefits to having Emma join him at work a few days each week. For one, customers seem to enjoy her company, and her presence fosters a comfortable, social environment for customers and staff. Shedding is about the only drawback, he said.

“Most people come in and are very pleased and happy to see a friendly looking dog, but occasionally, people who come in and are very concerned because they have personal fears and they wonder if she is friendly. I tell them, ‘In a business, you have one of two things: Either a very well-behaved dog, so you have nothing to fear, or a very stupid business owner who brings in a poorly behaved dog. I’ll let you be the judge.’”

Although Emma spends a majority of her time at the business resting, Alexander said she has adapted to her surroundings by taking on some responsibilities of her own.

“She will deliver notes and carry materials back and forth,” he said. “If she finds a scrap of paper on the floor she will bring the trash to us. She will even bring my keys if I drop them. We treat her as a valued member of the staff.”

Other businesses in Greater Des Moines also welcome pets into their offices, even if it’s just once a year during Take Your Dog to Work Day. The event, founded seven years ago by Pet Sitters International, benefits the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. RDG Planning and Design and Strategic America have participated in the event in the past, and plan to do the same this year on June 24.

Last year, 12 of RDG’s 72 employees brought in their dogs for the annual event.

Intern architect Thomas Wright also brings in his 8-year-old basset hound, Abraham, about once a month for a visit. Wright said he’s become an “official greeter.”

Strategic America, a public relations company, held several events last year to celebrate the company’s first experience with Take Your Pet to Work Day. According to Lore McManus Solo, the company’s vice president of public relations, the afternoon activities began with a red carpet parade for the pets – cats and dogs – and pet owners, with a “pet-parazzi” photo shoot, a pet/owner look-alike contest and animal and human treats for participants. The company raised more than $210 for the ARL by matching employees’ contributions on the day of the event.

“I think the associates we have here are extraordinarily dedicated and creative, and events like this truly feed their minds and their hearts as well,” McManus Solo said. “People seemed to really enjoy it, and it was one of those events where you got to learn more about your co-workers’ interests and family as well.”

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