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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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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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