A veteran of Brookside Optical’s Overland Park store, Boomer knows his clientele well. There is the UPS man, the mail carrier and regular customers — they all recognize Boomer and stop to chat.
Boomer, a 7-year-old miniature Australian shepherd with bright blue eyes, is the official greeter at Brookside, bringing smiles to those who drop by.
“He has learned when the buzzer goes off on the door he is up and greets people,” said Leon Butler, Brookside’s owner and Boomer’s companion. “He has done that all on his own. … If they start petting him he rolls over to get his belly rub. If the person doesn’t pay any attention to him, he will come back to my office or chill out somewhere else in the store.”
At Mace Shoe Repair in Liberty, when Ellie Mae — an 8-year-old terrier mix — hears the squeaky door open, she rushes to the doorway, alerting owner Daryl Mace that a customer has arrived. The shop’s 2-year-old boxer, Laila, lets her canine pal take the lead.
“She will just lie in the window and snooze,” Mace said. Ellie is always on guard.”
Over at Rimann Liquors of Lenexa, it’s Duke who rules the roost and has done so for 30 years. Owner Marshall Rimann bought the Mexican red-headed Amazon parrot after a trip to Disney World, where he became fascinated with similar birds.
“I knew he would be happier here” in the liquor store than at home, Rimann said. “Birds are very social animals and they like to have a lot of activity around them.”
Boomer, Ellie Mae, Laila and Duke are among a growing number of pets that find themselves spending their days at their owners’ workplaces. These pets are not service animals; these furry and feathery friends provide companionship and more in the work environment.
There is little actual data available on the number of pet-friendly workplaces in the Kansas City area, yet there seem to be more popping up. While numbers are hard to pin down locally and nationally, there is data on the impact of pets in the workplace. Earlier this year, Banfield Pet Hospital’s Pet-Friendly Workplace PAWrometer surveyed more than 1,000 employees and 200 human resources managers from a variety of companies, large and small. The survey found that pet-friendly companies were more likely to retain talented employees, build a stronger sense of loyalty to the employers and help in recruitment.
“HR decision-makers at both pet-friendly and non-pet-friendly workplaces are noticing a rise in interest among employees about bringing their pets to work,” the survey states.
Acey Lampe, director of the undergraduate business program at the Helzberg School of Management at Rockhurst University, said having pets at work can increase the desirability of the environment.
“If they have a deep connection with their pet they are going to be more productive,” Lampe said. “But if the animal becomes a distraction, it has no place there and will decrease productivity.”
A Virginia Commonwealth University study found several benefits to having pets in the workplace. Sandra Barker, director of the university’s Center for Human-Animal Interaction, studied a group of employees at one company who had their dogs at work and compared them with others who did not bring their pets. The study measured stress, job satisfaction and organizational support.
“The dog group had the lowest stress ratings throughout the day,” Barker said. “These employees had significantly higher levels of job satisfaction and ratings of organizational support.”
For the 10 employees of Morningstar Communications, a strategic integrated marketing and communications firm in Overland Park, Raia is part of the workplace landscape. Raia is a 6-year-old black Labrador retriever mix that company owners Eric and Shanny Morgenstern rescued.
“The Morningstar employees have adopted her,” said CEO Eric Morgenstern. “They are Raia’s pack. We have a title for her: chief stress relieving officer.”
Raia, with brown eyes and triangular ears that express her mood, was homeless and likely abused, the Morgensterns said, and she came with a few quirks. Raia — whose name means “friend” in Hebrew — is a little skittish when guests first come into the open-concept workspace. To accommodate, Raia holes up in chief operating officer Shanny Morgenstern’s office to the left of the entry.
“Typically what we do is have the baby gate up in the office and the guest will say hello,” Shanny Morgenstern said. “I will have her sit and she knows I am control.”
Guests are asked to avoid Raia’s stare for just a moment or two, until the scary moment passes for the pup. Then she returns to her friendly self.
“She’s not the perfect office dog,” Eric Morgenstern said. “She’s a nine out of 10. It is the instant greeting moment we keep working on.”
Morgenstern said they have not had problems with having Raia at Morningstar, either with employees or clients.
“When people come to our office, they see immediately that we are canine-friendly,” he said.
When clients aren’t around, Raia has free reign of the place but usually settles in her space in Shanny Morgenstern’s office.
The Morgensterns have had a family dog in their offices since the company was formed in 1997. Two dogs preceded Raia.
Eric Morgenstern said having their dog at the office is part of the comfortable environment they established from the beginning.
“We are committed to creating an exceptional work culture, and Raia is part of the fabric,” he said. “It creates a less formal environment. When the dog is in the office it is a lot more casual and relaxed. … It allows us to be more productive. There is abundant science that shows the human-animal bond is a good thing for people,” he said.
Raia comes to work four days a week when Shanny Morgenstern is in the office.
Morningstar employees benefit from the pet-friendly workplace too. President Sheri Johnson brings her Australian shepherd, Koda, in on Fridays in Raia’s absence. From time to time, another member of the team also brings her dog.
Morningstar associates who don’t have pets enjoy the canines’ presence, too.
“She adds to the work environment and allows us to decompress,” said Paige Kauffman, an account coordinator. “It makes it really special to work here.”
Pets in the workplace may be the perfect perk, but there are some things to be mindful of if you plan to add them to the office environment. Rockhurst’s Lampe said employers should take their employees into consideration.
“If someone is allergic to dogs, you have an obligation to consider the employee before you bring the pets in,” she said.
Attorney Timothy Davis with the Kansas City law firm of Constangy Brooks & Smith suggested putting a policy in writing to avoid problems.
“You are going to have to set some parameters as to when they are allowed, making sure they are not dangerous to anyone,” he said. “You need to be sure the workplace is conducive.”
In an October 2014 article in Entrepreneur magazine, author Pratik Dholakiya said there are a few things to consider if you’re a business owner wanting to become a pet-friendly workplace:
▪ Lay down clear ground rules for acceptable and unacceptable pet behavior at the workplace.
▪ Offer the basic necessities of life to your four-legged co-workers, such as litter boxes, water bowls or fountains and flexibility for employees to take their pets out on a walk for limited periods of time.
▪ Provide a “pet-free” zone for employees who are allergic to pets or are uncomfortable around them.
While none of the businesses interviewed for this story has a written pet policy, Morningstar Communications did consider Raia’s needs when the company moved into its current space three years ago.
“She was a component of the lease negotiations. It was mandatory,” Eric Morgenstern said. The couple specifically looked for a space with a first-floor entry.
“We didn’t want to sneak her in, and our terms were that she needed to be able to come in through a side door,” Shanny Morgenstern said.
Raia is a key component to Morningstar’s culture, and it was a non-negotiable item for the Morgensterns.
“Culture is the glue that drives the organization,” Eric Morgenstern said. “Raia is part of that fabric. Clients love coming here. … I think the dog adds to the appeal of the office. … Almost everyone loves that there is a dog in the office.”
Brookside Optical’s Boomer also helps create a welcoming culture for customers.
“I think people feel more comfortable when they come in,” Butler said. “I see them relax quicker and it helps open up dialogue much easier, especially with the kids. It helps break the ice.”
Since Brookside does not do eye exams, there is little issue with the dogs and providing sanitary surfaces.
Boomer, who got his name for the state he was born in — Oklahoma — is never far from Butler.
“He’s not a lap dog. He hates to be held (but) he will always be in my eyesight,” Butler said. “If I go out front to work with a client he will typically go to the client and lay down close. … Occasionally he will bark, but I can’t figure out the pattern.”
When the two are not in the store, Brookside Optical general manager Nick Alvarez will occasionally bring in his three rescue dogs — Moxie, a three-legged Maltese; Bella, a teacup Yorkie, and a boxer named Avery.
“They do very well in the store,” Alvarez said. “The two little ones sleep most days but poke their head around the corner. Kids will toss a toy to Avery. … People just love it.”
And from time to time, Butler’s daughter Brianna brings her dog, Zeus, to the store as well.
Has there ever been an issue of a customer being afraid of the Brookside pets?
“On rare occasions we will have a client with fears,” Butler said. “In that case, the dogs just go to the lab area in the back and lay down. … That’s where the treats are kept,” he said with a laugh.
Before the dogs arrived on the scene at Brookside, Butler had birds on site. First there was a parakeet for 10 years that died from a tumor. Next came a Quaker Parrot named Zac, short for Prozac, said Butler, because his wife is a pharmacist.
“He spoke very fluently. He would say hello and goodbye and whistle ‘Dixie,’ ” Butler said. “I had him for a good eight or nine years here, and when I expanded and opened a store in Olathe I had to get rid of him because he got so stressed. … He became very agitated because I wasn’t in the store with him every day.”
Butler has always been an animal lover and can’t imagine not having them in his store.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people love having animals in the store,” Butler said. “… Nearly everyone falls in love with him.”
Marshall Rimann knew Duke would be a perfect addition to his liquor store when he bought him from a local pet stop.
“He whistled at Mary (his wife and business partner) so we knew he was meant to be with us,” said Rimann with a laugh. “I knew he was a good judge of character then.”
While a lifelong dog owner, Rimann said his canines didn’t have the appropriate behavior for the store. Rimann did name the bird with his canine companions in mind.
“At the time we had a dog named Duchess, so we though it would be appropriate to have a Duke and Duchess.”
When Duke first moved into Rimann’s Lenexa store he lived in a cage just behind the counter.
“When we remodeled, we moved him to the office and the door is almost always open so people can come visit him,” Rimann said. “And some come to the store just to visit him.”
Unlike the dogs in this story, Duke lives full-time at the store, with his cage near the wine room.
“He watches special events but we don’t let him drink,” Rimann chuckled.
Duke will mimic people who come chat with him.
“He will always say hello, and he lets us know if he wants a cracker, and he says, ‘Thank you.’ He is a very polite bird.”
The liquor store staff takes turns caring for Duke, making sure he has plenty of food and water on hand and covering his cage at night.
Has Rimann noticed increased sales because of Duke’s presence in the store?
“You can’t quantify how it impacts business, but he adds to the nice shopping environment we pride ourselves on,” Rimann said. “It makes it that much happier of a place, and we want it to be a happy place.”
Craig Sole has the “purrfect” pet for his floral design company: Petals the cat. Sole’s floral business is located in a turn-of-the-century two-story home in downtown Overland Park. Black and white with hazel eyes, Petals has lived in the shop since Sole rescued her 17 years ago.
“She was found in a Dumpster by a friend of ours,” Sole said. “I went to the vet to look at her and when they opened the cage, she jumped on the counter and put her paws on my chest … and I knew she would he our cat.”
Filled to the brim with all things floral, Sole’s shop is the perfect place for Petals. She meanders around watching everything.
“She is part dog and part human,” Sole said. “She will follow you at her pace. She will jump to your level to get your attention. She has no fear, that’s why I got her.”
Sole did have to do a little training with Petals so she would know her boundaries — and not chew on arrangements.
Sole meets with numerous clients in his shop arranging for the many events he designs and planning weddings with brides and grooms. Sole said Petals is an asset when it comes to customers.
“She’s very much a part of the store,” Sole said. “She likes men. When I do a bridal consultation, she will walk around and check things out, and then she will settle on the groom and sit in his lap.”
Petals is quite popular, often appearing on the store’s Facebook page and on Instagram.
“She’s also on the card we give out to brides and on every card we do,” he said.
Prior to Petals, Sole had another cat named Willow who disappeared.
“She was a very loving cat and we think someone took her,” he said.
And there were other animals, as well.
“We had a couple of shop rabbits — Rose and Lily. We would bring them out on display. They died of old age,” he said.
One of his employees also brought in his Boston terriers, Peggy and Lucy.
“They would greet everyone who came in the store,” Sole said.
Today, Petals has a bit of competition from the new dog in the shop, Boston terrier Sadie Mae.
“She really doesn’t like other animals, just people,” Sole said. “She tolerates Sadie Mae.”
Three stray cats lurk around Sole’s shop, but Petals rules the place. Among Petals’ favorite places is the curb outside of Sole’s shop where she suns herself.
“People will go by and wave at her,” he said.
Sole keeps a watchful eye on her, making sure Petals is inside the place when he closes up for the night.
Sole said having Petals in the shop is good for him and his customers.
“Everybody smiles when they come in to pick up something or ask where she is because it’s a connection to us,” Sole said. “You don’t realize the power of an animal to change you.”
Back at Mace Shoe Repair in Liberty, Ellie Mae and Laila continue snoozing in the front window.
“We take them out twice a day,” Daryl Mace said. “They let us know when they need to go out.”
Laila was the first of the two dogs to come regularly to the shoe repair shop.
“Laila had so many emotional issues that we couldn’t leave her home alone,” Mace said. “Then when my wife joined me in the business full time in January of 2015, they both started coming. They both came to us with their baggage.”
Mace said the dogs are friendly with customers.
“They both love children,” he said. “And they have their regulars who stop in to see them. They have a different greeting for all of them.”
Sandy Mace said Ellie Mae and Laila are an asset to the shop.
“They have been some of the best PR for the business we could ever have,” she said. “People don’t mind waiting if they have dogs to pet. … I’m sure it brings more people in because we aren’t flashy but they see them in the window and stop.”
If someone is frightened of dogs, the Maces will put their pups in the back. For the most part, the dogs are a pleasant addition to the shoe repair shop.
“I love having them here,” Sandy Mace said. “They make the customers happy, too.”
“It provides a nice break in the day for us,” Daryl Mace said. “I can go up to the window and give them a little love. Or Laila will come back and put her head on my thigh while I am working. They are good company, especially when I am here by myself.”