After spending more than 20 years in human relations, a very special dog inspired Claudia Melzig to create a business that enabled people to spend more time with their canine companions.
In today’s competitive workplace companies are expanding their employee benefit program to attract and retain talent, as well as help employees manage their lives more effectively. Many of us spend a majority of our time at work and with that comes deadlines, responsibilities and stress.
While 7% of U.S. businesses currently allow their employees to bring their dog to work, which is a 5% increase since 2012, there’s an even greater opportunity for companies to become dog-friendly.
Three years ago, Claudia began volunteering at Seattle Humane. “I was excited to come in, help and learn,” she said. “I love dogs and those with special needs inspire me to be their strongest advocate.”
That’s where Claudia met Miley, a six-month-old pit bull puppy who would change everything for her.
“She had been surrendered to Seattle Humane and she was so sick that she couldn’t get up,” Claudia recalled. “I didn’t know if she was alive or dead… I wasn’t sure if she had neck problems because she was abused, or what was going on.”
Miley was also very fearful, but Claudia fell in love with the little dog early on.
“A friend of mine offered to foster her for a week and I went to visit her every day. That’s how we started our relationship,” she recalled.
After one week, Miley needed a new foster home. “I had to take her,” she recalled, “but I did so without telling my partner. I told him, ‘It’s just a week,’ but I just couldn’t bring her back. I kept pushing for keeping her longer and making sure she could get a break from the shelter. From a medical perspective, we had to figure out what she had. She had a relapse, and that’s when we found out that she had meningitis.”
When Claudia returned to full-time work, she was able to bring Miley with her, but she realized that not all people had the option to spend as much time with their animals.
“I was thinking of a career change,” she said. “A lot of my managers were helpful and understanding, and my partner Paul saw how I lit up whenever I talked about dogs. So one year ago, I created Dogs At Work, a company that helps businesses become more dog-friendly.”
To prepare, Claudia undertook advanced behavior training with Christine Dahl at the Northwest School of Canine Studies.
“One of the biggest hurdles I’ve faced with people is helping them realize that making their business dog-friendly isn’t complex. People might have allergies, or be afraid of dogs, and we have ways to accommodate that. One portion of the business can be dog-friendly, and we also don’t let ‘any’ dog in; we have criteria.”
There are numerous benefits to having a dog-friendly business.
“People are more creative, they interact more, they’re more productive, and a dog can help a more introverted person open up,” Claudia said. “People also don’t have to rush home to let their dog go to the bathroom, because they’re with them already. Business-wise, my goal is for companies to be more productive and inclusive, fostering teamwork and collaboration. It’s my personal mission for more dogs to get adopted and make sure that more people are able to adopt them.”
Claudia has been inspired by the response to Dogs At Work. “For a lot of people, seeing that their business can be dog-friendly is an ‘A-ha’ moment,” she said.
“Eric O’Grey, who wrote Walking With Peety, has helped people learn how to eat healthier and exercise more, and has improved others’ health so much,” she said. “If more businesses become dog-friendly and more employees start working out with their dogs more, people will become even healthier. They’ll have less stress, less sick leave, and more productivity.”
“Allowing employees to bring loveable, well-behaved dogs to work creates a family environment in the workplace with improved morale and reduced employee turnover,” said Eric. “Think about it – given a choice between two employers and all other things equal – dog owners will choose the job that allows them to take their dog to work, every time.”
Miley, the little dog who was the catalyst behind Dogs At Work, continues to thrive.
“She still has meningitis, but it’s not the contagious type,” Claudia explained. “I’m not sure if she’ll have it for her entire life or if it will go away, but she’s doing well.”
Claudia believes that Miley wasn’t socialized during her formative months, as she was very reactive, but Miley has learned now that she’s safe and loved.
“And our veterinarian is our friend, now too,” Claudia said. “Her veterinary treatment helped socialize Miley. She’s stable at this point, and she couldn’t walk more than a few blocks when I first met her, but now she can walk ten miles.”
Miley has helped Claudia meet a wide circle of animal lovers. “She went from being a special needs dog who probably wasn’t well treated to a very loved animal,” she said.
“Seattle Humane has been wonderful and supportive, helping me with her medical condition and her socialization.”
Claudia’s family includes Miley, her partner Paul, and her Viszla, Dante. “My partner has been awesome with all of this,” she said. “He told me to follow my passion and follow my dream. I’m doing that, and I’m helping more people lead happier, healthier lives, too.”
To learn more about Dogs At Work, visit their website at www.dogsatwork.pro.