• Shore

St. Michaels shop owner gives a local perspective of the benefits in bringing pets to work

BY MANNING LEE | PHOTOS BY CAROLINE J. PHILLIPS


Buster Brown greets a customer at the St. Michaels Pet Supplies shop.


Something Mary Jane Nagel, owner of St. Michaels Pet Supplies, has known for years is that bringing pets to work may actually be a terrific idea. Nagel brings her poodle mix rescue dog, Buster Brown, to work every day.


“People love him and sometimes come in only to visit with Buster,” she said. “When the school bus comes in the afternoon, a couple of the kids come right over to see him and say hello. I have some customers who come in only a couple of times a year from Pennsylvania and from a few other places too. As soon as they walk in the door, they want to know if Buster’s here. He’s on our Facebook page and on our website. We post pictures. People know him and come in just to talk to him.”


Sometimes, the pup acts as a model. “When customers wonder if clothes will fit a dog or not and they are close to Buster’s size, he models for us. We also use him to demonstrate how to use equipment like muzzles or leashes. So, it’s like he’s the star of the store,” said Nagel. Buster Brown’s presence communicates the friendly demeanor of the shop. Buster Brown helps turn shoppers into repeat customers.


The St. Michaels Pet Supplies shop.


Whether in a small-town store or corporations in large cities, workplace stress contributes to production problems, lowered morale, and even burnout. Companies interested in encouraging their employees’ well being look for low cost, effective solutions to improve stress levels and productivity.


Dog lovers already know that pets at work make us happy, but do they help reduce work stressors, too? Now there’s science to catch up with the craze.


In 2012, a Virginia Commonwealth University study under the guidance of business school professor Randolph T. Baker took a deeper look inside a company called Replacements Limited in Greensboro, North Carolina. The operation employed 450 people and typically allowed between 20 to 30 dogs in their office.


During the week of the study, participants either worked with or without dogs and completed surveys and gave saliva samples measuring the stress hormone cortisol at certain times of the day. Although researchers found no difference in cortisol levels among the participants, employees who worked with dogs reported that their stress levels declined in afternoon. During the same time, stress reportedly increased for participants in the study who had no pets at work.



Top left: Buster Brown accompanies shop owner Mary Jane Nagel to work each day and sits in his bed behind the counter until a customer arrives. Above: Buster Brown kindly welcomes customers into the shop.


The researchers also discovered that the dog-related interactions contributed to reduced stress and happiness. Participants without dogs requested to take dogs on breaks that included exercise.


“Buster Brown and I usually go on a walk of about a mile and a half in the mornings,” Nagel said. “Once he gets back from his walk, we play fetch for a while — only he doesn’t really ever bring the toy back — then he settles in his bed.” That kind of exercise makes the day go faster and everyone feels better.


A December 2018 article in Business Insider reports that office pets “not only help lower stress levels but may also boost productivity levels. Marie-Jose Enders of Open University in London who studies how animals and humans interact said, ‘Not only does your cortisol level drop when you pet a dog; you also produce more of the hormone oxytocin, which makes you feel more relaxed and happy.’”


Although the study merely scratches the surface, perhaps employers are coming around to what pet and shop owners like Mary Jane Nagel have known all along. Having our pets at work just makes being at work better.

The study was supported by the VCU Center on Human-Animal Interaction. A copy of this study is available by contacting the journal at communications@emeraldinsight.com.