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. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.