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Canine companions bring touch of home to the workplace

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Siegfried isn’t just attorney Michael Sutherlin’s 4-year-old Doberman. He’s also a trusted aide who’s never far from the lawyer’s side at home or at his Indianapolis office.

“I just like having dogs around. They sort of calm you down, and they pay attention to you when you’re making the best argument you’ve ever made,” Sutherlin said.

IL_Michael_Sutherlin03-15col.jpg Indianapolis attorney Michael Sutherlin at work with Siegfried (IL Photo/file photo)

Sutherlin isn’t alone in favoring four-legged friends at work, and multiple studies show pets in the workplace reduce stress and appear to improve job satisfaction. But not every office allows pets, and some people may view legal beagles as less than professional.

But Robert E. Grant doesn’t see it that way. As chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Indiana, he’s been bringing Chloe to his Fort Wayne office for about six years, after adopting her from a shelter when she was 2 years old.

“Everything you read in the press in regard to published studies is true,” Grant said, noting benefits beyond stress reduction, including improved morale and increased productivity. “When Chloe isn’t here, the office is not as happy a place.”

Chloe, a border collie-Newfoundland mix, changed things for the better, Grant said. “What I ended up doing, I spend the lunch hour, the noon hour, walking her. Previously, I spent it working at my desk. … Coming from someone who didn’t exercise at all, that was quite a change, and I consider it beneficial.”

130125-Mordecai-Hard-at-Work-15col.jpg Zionsville lawyer Donna Bays at the office with her bichon, Mordecai. (submitted photo)

Grant’s office doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but he said Chloe even changed that a bit. “I’m amazed at the number of people who stop by to see Chloe. Nobody stops by to see me,” Grant quipped.

Bays Family Law attorneys Donna Bays and daughter Jennifer Bays Beinart say bringing their pets to work at their Zionsville office is good practice not just for them, but also for clients. Bays gave her daughter a rat terrier named Gideon as a law school graduation present, and Bays later adopted Mordecai, a bichon frise. Both are now regulars at the office.

“Our dogs are an integral part of our law firm, and we

wouldn’t have it any other way,” Bays Beinart said.

Bays said she always checks with clients to ask if they have any discomfort around dogs. She said the only people who’ve had objections are dog owners themselves worried that their pets might react negatively to the scent of another dog.

Emma-2-15col.jpg Goldendoodle Emma pulls up a chair at the Cedar Lake office of attorney Jennifer Irons. (submitted photo)

Mordecai seems to have remarkable empathy, Bays explained. “What’s amazing is, he can tell when people are getting emotional just ahead of the actual emotion.” she said. At the office, Mordecai usually makes himself at home in his doggie bed, but when he senses an emotional response, he approaches the person, raises his front paws on the edge of their seat and leans in to offer comfort.

“Frankly, it’s very calming to have this little loving animal right there as people are having to tell things that are frightening or embarrassing,” she said. “We’re divorce lawyers who do lots of child custody cases, so emotion is the norm.”

The positive difference dogs can make for children is something Lake Superior Juvenile Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. took to heart when he was appointed to the court last year. He wanted a therapy dog that could help bridge the gap between the court and youths in the county juvenile detention center, said Mark Price, chief deputy in Stefaniak’s court.

Flying W Farms in Piketon, Ohio, donated an American mastiff pup, Moxie, who’s been coming to court every day and is being trained as a therapy dog.

moxie-stefaniak1-1col.jpg Lake Superior Juvenile Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. leads Moxie, an American mastiff pup being trained as a therapy dog. (John J. Watkins, The Times of Northwest Indiana)

Price said either he or Stefaniak walk Moxie through the detention center daily, and getting to spend time with her is a reward for juveniles. “We bring the dog and have the kids get a chance to interact with something other than walls and cell doors,” Price said.

“Moxie’s with the judge 24/7. She lives with him, comes to work, goes to community events – she’s at work just like the rest of us,” he said.

Moxie’s training will last until she’s about 2 years old, but Price said there are some things that seem to come naturally. “They’re called gentle giants and their demeanor is just amazing,” Price said of the breed. When Moxie is full grown, she may tip the scales at 140 to 160 pounds, but American mastiffs are reputed to be among the most therapeutic breeds for children.

“They seem to know when kids are needing attention,” Price said. “They seem to know when kids are in distress.” Indianapolis constitutional law attorney Rich Waples practices in a home office where his dog Bo and cat Pepper have run of the place. It usually isn’t a problem, though he has had the occasional client with allergies to cats. When that’s an issue, he keeps the cat out of the office or meets those clients at another location.
 

chloe-15col.jpg Chloe (Submitted photo)

“Most people love the dog and cat. They’re very good-natured animals,” Waples said. How people respond to the animals can be useful, too, he said, because it can lend insight into someone’s personality.

Many lawyers who bring their pets to work, like Waples, have the benefit of a home office, or they’re the boss and can make the rules. When Jennifer Irons opened her own general practice last November in Cedar Lake after working 11 years in private practice and as a deputy prosecutor, she said being able to bring her goldendoodle Emma to work was one of the best parts.

“It makes my day much happier to have her curled up by my feet,” Irons said. Emma makes rounds to Irons’ associate and office manager, too, “so they also get to benefit from having a little attention throughout the day.”

mordecai-1col.jpg Gideon (Submitted photo)

Clients sometimes can be nervous or intimidated walking into an attorney’s office, Irons said, but Emma puts them at ease. “I can see people relax and immediately respond to her. It often sets a comfortable tone for the client meeting.”

Brownsburg attorney Sarah Heck has taken Tanner, a pit bull mix, to work for the past couple of years. “I feel lucky to have the sort of job where I can do this,” she said.

Tanner can be a little eager to greet, so Heck keeps a pet gate on her office door when visitors come. “Most of my clients think it’s great, and many want to meet him,” she said.

James E. Gentry Jr. represents clients in Indiana and Kentucky and works from his main office in Evansville and a home office in Dixon, Ky. Though he said about 80 percent of his caseload is in Indiana, his 4-year-old boxer mix Bay Bay makes a persuasive case for him to work from the home office, especially on cold and rainy days.

Bay Bay gives a little low throat groan when visitors are arriving, Gentry said. “For me, it’s a nice ‘Hey, someone’s coming’ warning.

“Many of my Kentucky clients are farmers and other rural folks, and they always love seeing Bay Bay. Actually, when I opened my Dixon office in 2012, many people knew BayBay’s name before mine,” he said.

“She has been and remains quite the popular local celebrity on the courthouse square,” Gentry said.•

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