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Woof! Dogs in the office make for relaxed environment, businesses say




At some offices, dogs are more popular than people.

On any given day, seven to 10 pups bounce around Benevity, a tech firm in Calgary. Workers play fetch with their pets or let them sleep at their feet. Sometimes the furry critters play with each other, livening up the already colourful, relaxed office in Bridgeland.

« It just makes people happy, » said people and programs manager Angie Duong. « I think you see people who are fiercely focused and they’re just working away, and as soon as a dog comes into the picture, they just melt. »

People love their dogs, and businesses are booming as a result. There are pet stores and dog groomers, dog walkers and doggy daycares, and pet-friendly beaches, trails and parks — and even so-called « pet-ternity, » leave that owners can take after adopting a new animal.

Winnie, 2, is a corgi, and Indiana Jones, 11, is the little dog farther back. Indiana Jones has a kidney problem so he can’t have all the treats. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

But a few are leading the pack by allowing their employees to bring dogs into the office. It may sound like a fun idea but can take quite a lot of organizing and consideration of health concerns.

The trade-off, they say, is the less stressful, more relaxed environment that comes with a pet-friendly office.

Business owners say dogs in the office create a fun, relaxed environment with less stress, and they’re trying to balance health risks and noise. 1:11

Benevity employee Jodi Stapley, who brings her dog two days a week, says she use to worry about leaving her dog home alone.

« She’s an old English sheepdog who really likes to just be with her person. That’s a trait a lot of them have, » she said.

« She just laid under my desk, laid on my feet, and she was a perfect little angel, so I started bringing her in more and more often. »

Jack is a three-year-old dachshund. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

The company has had this program since its inception a decade ago. It now provides doggie doo-doo bags at reception and dog-specific cleaners in the kitchens. Cats are allowed, too, but aren’t as common.

Wendy Giuffre, an HR consultant for Calgary small businesses, said she’s encouraged companies to develop guidelines to avoid problems — even if things appear to be running smoothly for now.

« It’s obviously got to be a well-behaved dog, and that’s where we find some of the problems because that’s very subjective, » she said. « It’s just like kids. Everybody thinking, well, my dog’s well-behaved. »

Health risks no joke, doctor says

Another key concern is allergies. Some people get sinus symptoms — sniffles and watery eyes — but in other people, allergies can trigger asthma. Anyone with an allergy should be avoiding the trigger entirely, not managing it through daily treatment, said Dr. Joel Doctor, a Calgary allergist. Prolonged exposure to a « trigger, » like pets, can make an allergy worse. 

In allergy-induced asthma, animals could trigger a severe asthma attack, and that can be dangerous, Doctor said, so he struggled to see how a workplace could bring in pets while protecting employee health.

« The benefit has to be weighed very carefully against the risk, and so the benefit is kind of questionable, » Doctor said. « I’m not sure what the real benefit there is to having animals in the workplace, yet for some individuals, there is significant risk that would be involved. »

He said perhaps dogs could help in « some really niche workplaces, » but he’s confident the practice won’t spread widely due to the health concerns.

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests there are potential benefits to dogs in the workplace, such as higher morale, productivity and attendance. But it notes research is preliminary and recommends employers consider all parties before adopting the practice.

Polly plays with Peggy in the office. Each day, there are usually seven to 10 dogs in the Benevity office in Bridgeland. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

A director for Calgary-based Rogers Insurance says staff try to keep those people away from dogs. They say they’re not scared of pulling the program if something arises, but, so far, it’s worked smoothly.

« It’s invisible now. All the fears that some people had, people being afraid of dogs, people being allergic to dogs, we never have complaints, » chief operating officer Bruce Rabik said.

He first allowed in dogs after trying to scare pigeons off the deck at work. Then other employees were curious about bringing in their dogs. Now, the office has an internal notice announcing each day’s pet guests with their photos and names, as all dogs are registered with human resources.

It’s so common, Rabik says, he forgets the dogs are there.

« I walk around, give people tours of the office and I forget we have dogs, because a puppy will come running up, » he said.

Jack explores the office. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

As insurance brokers, however, Rabik said they do take « a conservative approach, » so they banned three breeds, Rottweilers, mastiffs and pitbulls, based on research they found that indicates those are more aggressive breeds.

Benevity says all potential employees are told it’s a dog-friendly office.

« We’re really upfront during the interview process, everyone really understands that the dogs are really huge in our culture, » Duong said. « So we make it really clear that if you have really adverse allergies or have huge fears of dogs, then this may or may not be the place for you. »

Giuffre​ said that’s not a good approach and may be construed as discrimination against people with health issues. Instead, she recommends trying to find a solution.

« I think you’d really have to take those case-by-case, » she said. « It’d either be, abolish the policy or try and work around it in some way. »

Some dog owners contain their pets to their cubicles using gates. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

She’s helped several offices set up dog policies. In one case, the business moved the allergic person’s desk far away and set up an air purifier. Other options might be to allow only dogs with little dander, or give employees the option of working on a dog-free floor.

She suggests raising the idea with all employees to see if there’s interest or opposition and then develop some sort of policy.

Businesses may find their employees are keen. Roughly one in 13 Calgarians and one in nine Edmontonians owns a dog, according to pet registration data. Statistics Canada has found Albertans are the third-highest spenders on pets in Canada.

In a « dog city » like Calgary, office pets can be a way to draw in employees, Giuffre said, a nice « no cost perk. »

« It does bring a different level of casualness to the business and, in most cases, it lightens the atmosphere, no different than comfort dogs, » Giuffre said.

With files from Mike Symington and the Calgary Eyeopener.


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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow




Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise




Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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