Pets in the Workplace

There is a growing movement among businesses to introduce wellness programs into their work environment.  It’s a response by employers to help reduce stress in the workplace, stress that can lead to reduced productivity and even loss of an employee.   Programs such as yoga, meditation, exercise, nutritional advice, help for addiction….. all directed toward improving workplace conditions, creating a positive “work-life balance”.

  This brought to mind a particular client of mine, Mary.  She introduced a unique way to reduce anxiety in her work environment, her own anxiety and her customer’s, her patients.  Mary is a psychotherapist. Her workplace is her home.

One afternoon Mary arrived for her appointment at my vet clinic for Alex’s annual wellness exam.  Alex is her Toy poodle.  During the exam she amazed me with an intriguing story about Alex, her “business partner”.   During her therapy sessions she allows Alex to be in the room with her if her clients don’t object—few do.  Alex would lounge in a chair off in the corner, head between her paws, occasionally perking her ears to the sound of Mary’s gentle voice, quietly present.  

On day Mary was working with a very shy nervous young lady that was having difficulty relaxing enough to begin her session.   On a hunch, Mary asked her if she would like to hold Alex on her lap.  She quickly nodded, and Alex became a participant in her first therapy session, quietly nestled in this young lady’s lap.  It was miraculous, the lady instantly relaxed and from that moment on her sessions with Mary went smoothly—a wonderful example of “pet therapy”.

Over the years, Mary could call on her canine helper to assist with those “pet loving” clients who needed extra help relaxing.  Alex would either settle comfortably in their lap or lie quietly at their feet, helping them enter much more readily into their therapy session. Mary confided in me her belief that pets have a special bond with people, giving them a feeling of acceptance—unconditionally.  In a special way, pets sometimes act as a “bridge”, helping clients find their way back into the difficult world of “human” acceptance.

The use of pets in therapy sessions, although not unique, is still uncommon. Mary admits she herself is more relaxed with Alex present, this helps her to be a more effective therapist.   Alex became her “natural helper” in the workplace, both for her and her clients.  It’s no surprise to veterinarians that pets are fast becoming important members of our workplace culture.

Dr. Bob Slack, veterinarian

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