Pets in the Workplace

The increase of tenants with pet-friendly policies creates a host of challenges for property and facility managers. Buildings must establish clear rules and disciplinary procedures surrounding pet behavior – fighting, noise, accidents. Cleaning protocols and janitorial contracts need to be escalated (it takes up to six times longer to clean with an upright vacuum equipped with a roller-head than with the backpack-and-wand-style models used in most facilities). Flea and tick prevention requirements must be in place and insurance and liability policies revisited. How to accommodate occupants who are allergic to or afraid of dogs?

Add to this list the need to update your building’s emergency response plan. Simply stating that pet owners must have an evacuation plan for their animal is not sufficient. Having pets (primarily dogs) in the workplace adds a range of new challenges during an emergency.

First, evacuating with a dog is usually fairly straight-forward. Small dogs should be carried whenever possible. But put a big dog who is sensing stress and fear in a crowded stairwell during an emergency, and they can behave unexpectedly, potentially disrupting and delaying evacuation. The risks from stairwell backups grow with floor count: evacuating a 7-story building is one thing; evacuating 5,000 occupants from a 40-story high-rise is another. Should large dogs and their owners be required to hold back and wait until stairwells are clear before descending, or use a designated stairwell, keeping the other dog-free? Your building’s emergency response plan should address these considerations.

A bigger challenge is managing an extended shelter in place. Most shelter-in-place responses are over quickly, however some last for many hours or overnight. And in earthquake country, occupants need to be prepared to remain in place for several days to two weeks.

During an extended shelter in place, many occupants will be experiencing stress, and some could be injured. Emergency supplies of food and water may be limited. Adding dogs to the mix creates even more issues. Will dogs be provided with limited water and food? Where will they do their business? Colleagues who don’t appreciate dogs to begin with may quickly lose patience when forced to deal with them under challenging conditions. Should a designated dog area be set up? In regions with baking summers or frigid winters, will a loss of power create a hazardous situation for pets?

At minimum, dog owners should be required to keep a 3-day supply of food, water, medications, and cleanup supplies for their pet in the workplace. Current vaccination records need to be kept on file – most emergency shelters will not accept pets without proof of immunizations. Owners that live more than a walkable distance from work should identify an emergency shelter nearby that will accept pets – many will not. Local offices of emergency management usually have lists of pet-friendly shelters.

Other good ideas for dealing with pets during disasters can be found at the Humane Society and the Department of Homeland Security’s website.