Naples-area merchants have happy tales of dogs in office reducing stress

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 Trying to get someone to take him on a walk, Prince, right, a 4-year-old Doberman Pinscher, leaps into the lap of Donna Collins, account manager at Benseron Information Technologies, a local business in North Naples, on Thursday May 10, 2012. Owner Onur Haytac is one of several area business owners who have dogs roaming their respective offices. Haytac says the dogs help boost the attitudes of everyone at the office.

Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Greg Kahn/Staff Trying to get someone to take him on a walk, Prince, right, a 4-year-old Doberman Pinscher, leaps into the lap of Donna Collins, account manager at Benseron Information Technologies, a local business in North Naples, on Thursday May 10, 2012. Owner Onur Haytac is one of several area business owners who have dogs roaming their respective offices. Haytac says the dogs help boost the attitudes of everyone at the office.

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— Prince, a 4-year-old Doberman Pinscher, hoists himself up off the floor and strides over, tall and horse-like, to sniff your hand.

The pair reports daily to Benseron Information Technologies, a company in North Naples that manufactures and sells hardware and software for restaurants. But their only responsibilities are to provide companionship, reduce stress and create the occasional distraction.

"I just didn't want to get a pet and leave him at home. It's not fair," said Haytac, a 33-year-old entrepreneur whose desk is covered in papers, a ringing land line, a vibrating cell phone and a bag of pork skin twists for his dog Prince. "And I figured I'm the boss."

A preliminary study by professors at Virginia Commonwealth University, among others, showed people who worked in an office with dogs had lower stress levels than those who worked without dogs and who didn't have pets at home. Additionally, when dogs were absent from an office that usually had the animals around, stress for those employees and dog owners increased throughout the day.

Those are obvious conclusions for Haytac and several other Southwest Florida business operators who have seen the effect first-hand of having dogs in their offices.

"The minute you see that big dog and small dog playing around, you have that constant feeling all day," Haytac said.

Studies on the use of dogs in therapy have shown animals reduce pain in patients, motivate patients to walk and exercise, and increase socialization in people with dementia, said Lori Andersen, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero.

Anderson said it's not too much of a stretch to apply the findings of such studies to work environments.

Karen Lasker is the executive director of The Brody Project, which pairs patients with therapy animals to meet long-term treatment goals in the Naples area.

"When you engage with an animal, and certainly if you own an animal, you will have physiological changes while you're engaged with that animal. It increases cortisol and endorphins and decreases blood pressure," she said.

Lasker cautions there are issues to look at when incorporating a dog into the workplace. Co-workers with allergies or a fear of animals should be considered. The work environment should include a place for the animal to go to be alone and workers must have enough time to take the dogs outside. There are liability issues to be addressed, too.

"I don't think any of those issues are insurmountable," Lasker said. "The benefits would outweigh them."

At Benseron, the only issues with Prince have been the occasional theft.

"He's licked my egg roll, he's taken my Hot Pocket and a few slices of pizza," said Shawna Berg, an employee at Benseron.

And when he wants to go outside, Prince has been known to rest his head on Donna Collins' arm, breathing heavily until the papers on her desk flutter.

"Eventually he gets to go for a walk," Collins said.

Nia belongs to another employee, Denton Grimes, who has a dog bed and small toys tucked away next to her desk.

"I only worry if she's peed somewhere," Grimes said.

Dogs are welcome at Pucci & Catana Luxury Pet Boutique on Fifth Avenue South in Naples. Manager Chelsea Mooney's catahoula and lab mix Sammy rests behind the cash register, jumping up with her paws on the counter to greet customers.

"It's nice to be able to look down and see her. She's always wagging her tail," Mooney said. "It gives you a boost throughout the day."

Ted Bill, president of Pelican Wire in Collier County, brings his boxer-pointer mix Nora into his office on Wednesdays and Fridays. His father, Larry, did the same before he died, bringing in whatever dog he had at the time. Pelican Wire has been home to German Shepherds, a Belgian Shepherd, a Chow and a little white dog named Snowball.

"It was a protection thing early on," Bill said. "The plant was 24 hours a day and it was primarily my father who was here overnight. We were out in an industrial park where it was all dirt roads. There was no sheriff's department driving by."

Nora now serves as a companion, making the rounds to each employee.

"She knows who has the treats," Bill said.

Pelican Wire, a manufacturer of insulated wire used in electrical heaters, has seen tremendous growth in the past few years and is on track this year to beat its 2011 company record for sales.

"And we owe it all to Nora," Bill said.

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