Bringing a pet to work is certainly an idea that I love. Yet, is it really the best decision from the perspective of pet health and safety? In honor of Take Your Dog to Work Day (6/22/12), I feel compelled to explore this topic. My intention is not to play "Debbie Downer" (cue the "wha-wha-wha" soundtrack), but my own dog has suffered repeat bouts of a life threatening illness that has been kept at bay, in part, due to his current infrequent visits to my workplace.
Here’s some background on my point of view. For years, I looked forward to getting a dog and having him accompany me to my veterinary hospital jobs. I acquired Cardiff as a three-month-old puppy when we lived in Washington and he frequently went with me to work.
Unfortunately, Cardiff’s hospital-bound days turned out to be quite stressful for him. As an energetic puppy in need of constant training, Cardiff didn't take well to being confined to a cage or a plastic airline carrier while I saw my patients. He would vocalize, jump at the cage door in an obsessively circular motion, and occasionally soiled his cage with urine or feces.
I did my best to reduce Cardiff’s stressful experience by providing vigorous pre-work exercise and frequently taking him out for socialization, training, and the opportunity to urinate and defecate. As he matured, the distress behavior reduced but remained, so I sought out activities to expend his exuberant youthful energy outside of the hospital setting. While I worked, Cardiff would often hike with a pet sitter or stay at home with a friend.
Upon moving to Los Angeles, my professional responsibilities included overnight emergency duty. In those circumstances, the quieter late night hospital setting permitted Cardiff to lead a more cage-free existence, but for a leash attaching him to my desk. Occasionally, Cardiff wandered free through the hospital’s treatment area, which seemingly sufficed some of his energetic needs by providing socialization with my coworkers and their personal pets. During my day shifts, Cardiff remained in a cage just like when we lived in Washington. This frequent confinement created stress for him on an ongoing basis. When Cardiff’s illness emerged I was abruptly and urgently forced to address the "bring my dog to work with me" issue.
About a year and a half after we moved to Southern California, Cardiff developed his first episode of Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA). The exact cause of Cardiff’s IMHA is unknown despite an extensive battery of diagnostic blood, urine, and imaging tests I’ve run during each of his three IMHA occurrences.
Besides his immunosuppressive medication, nutraceuticals, Chinese herbs, and whole-food based diet, Cardiff’s ongoing health maintenance plan includes reducing his exposure to infectious organisms, immunostimulants (including vaccinations), toxins, and stress. Optimally functioning adrenal glands are essential for supporting the immune system's management of the stressors pets are exposed to on a day-to-day basis, including environmental variations, food changes, infectious organisms, and others.
I’ve also made positive changes to my professional life, as I’m primarily house-call based, except for weekly responsibilities at the Veterinary Cancer Group (VCG). I don’t take Cardiff with me on my house calls, so he primarily stays at home with his "other daddy." Additionally, VCG is a calmer environment where I keep Cardiff leashed to my desk during the infrequent occasions he does accompany me. Cardiff's holistic wellness plan takes into account all aspects of his existence that I can reasonably control and has contributed to the best management of his IMHA, which last reared its ugly head in December of 2009.
Both veterinary and human hospitals are places of illness where disease frequently walks in and out, or potentially stays (or even takes up residence, as the Salmonella bacteria did at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in 2004). Therefore, it’s really best for veterinarians’ personal pets to primarily stay away from their master’s work place.
Fortunately, the general population of pet lovers who face this dilemma are not veterinarians and their pets likely will not be exposed to the infectious organisms that lurk in veterinary hospitals.
Although I love the idea of bringing my dog to work, my personal experience has led to the professional perspective that it's not in the best interest of his health. As a result, I hope that others who currently take, or plan to take, their dog, cat, or other pet to work highly consider their pet’s health as the utmost of priority in determining if pet accompaniment is really the most appropriate decision.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Image: Cardiff shows "self restraint" while he is tethered to my desk at my previous place of work (the emergency hospital), by Dr. Mahaney