By Elaine Kish
When you enter the front door of Hartville Pet Insurance Group the lobby appears the same as that of any other office building. The receptionist, JuDee, greets you and inquires as to your name and who you would like to see. The similarity to other offices ends when Judee’s “assistant,” an 11-month-old German Shepherd named Zoey, wanders out from behind the desk to see who is there.
About 10 years ago, the management of Hartville Pet Insurance Group decided it only made sense to allow employees to bring their dogs to work with them. What started out as the highlight of the week on Fridays worked out so well it was expanded five years ago to include every day. Rows of office cubicles hold desks, computers, monitors, and telephones, as well as an assortment of dogs of all different breeds and sizes under the desks, on the desks and sometimes on their owner’s lap. There are fluffy beds, blankets, water bowls, and whatever they need to be comfortable. If a dog roams freely in the cubicle, there is a gate of some type. Otherwise, they must be on a leash and their leash fastened to something. There have been some incidents of furniture being rearranged when a stronger dog attempted to take a desk or chair with them.
To maintain order, there are some rules. Dogs must be on leashes when walking through the building. They are not allowed in the restrooms, break room or lunch room. There is a large, fenced area outside the back door for a little exercise and to take care of business and after visiting the area, employees are charged with cleaning up after their pet. In the event a dog is not well behaved during his first office visit, they are always given a second chance to adapt.
AVP of Marketing, Liz Watson, says, “We usually have 25 to 30 pets a day in the facility. We allow dogs to come each day, and cats are considered ‘telecommuters’ and are with us in spirit.” Approximately 99 percent of all Hartville Pet Insurance Group employees own pets, including dogs, cats, ferrets, horses and rabbits.
Throughout the office are the friendly and also furry faces of Mello (a Newfoundland) with Ashley, Ace (a Siberian Husky) with Justin, Lucy (a Golden Retriever/Chow Chow mix) with Julia, Bruce (a Chihuahua/Miniature Pinscher mix) with Sean, Duke (a Pitbull) with Ashley, and Westin (a Beagle/German Shepherd mix) with Hope. Hope says, “He lets me know he wants to go to work by waiting at the door.” Neighbors on “Shepherd’s Row” are Major, Angel and Sammi, 4 months, 17 months and 18 months old German Shepherds owned by Jason, Sandra and Cindy respectively. Despite their young ages, all is quiet in the neighborhood.
As Sherri pets her new puppy, Bolt, named for the white lightning–shaped streak on his forehead, she says, “There is a family feeling in the company.” Many of the new puppy adoptions are the offspring of other employees’ pets. Prospective employees are often told, how can you have a bad day when you bring your dog to work with you? Hartville Pet Insurance Group believes when a client calls in and hears barking in the background, it reinforces their mantra that they are not just an insurance company but are also “pet people.”
Jocelyn Kocher, Director of Call Center Operations, says, “I believe bringing my dog to work extends his life, relieves stress for my pet and myself, and makes for a happier place to work. Dogs in the office create a great environment.” Imagine visiting a coworker’s cubicle to discuss a project and being greeted by a new puppy relaxing in their bed on a corner of the desk. Bringing your dog to work is now being accepted as a new business practice in primarily the high tech industry, but others are beginning to follow this trend.
You might think that not a lot of work is accomplished in this environment, but despite all the petting and an occasional bark or two, Hartville Pet Insurance Group is very well organized and productive, as evidenced by the amount of calls they handle each day and the amount of policies issued. As they walk the halls though, it is obvious who the bosses are in this office and perhaps they just allow their human companions to accompany THEM to work.