A paw-some way to help get through those ruff days: why your organisation should foster a workplace pet

From reducing stress to increasing staff engagement, the benefits of having pets in the workplace are widely acknowledged.

Now, one charity is helping organisations, who may know the answer to questions like “can dogs eat salami?”, to access the benefits of an office pet, while simultaneously giving unwanted pets a second chance at life.

PetRescue’s Workplace Foster Care Program takes unwanted dogs and cats from animal rescue groups and matches them with a workplace, providing the animal with a loving ‘foster home’ until a permanent one is found.

Organisations like wine start-up Vinomofo and consultancy firm Verve Projects are among the seven organisations already taking part in the program, which has so far re-homed more than a dozen foster pets.

We spoke to PetRescue’s Project and Partnerships Manager Tarsha Andrews to find out about how the program works – and how it could benefit your NFP organisation:

Hi Tarsha, thanks for chatting to us! Can you explain how the Workplace Foster Care Program works?

Of the 8,900 pets currently listed on PetRescue, the majority are in individual foster homes waiting for adoption. Rescue groups do a wonderful job of re-homing pets but are always short of foster carers, which are a crucial element in the life-saving equation. So we thought, why not look outside the box and put some stress-busting foster fidos in the workplace?

It’s a fairly simple and exciting process once the workplace has approval in place.

PetRescue will liaise with the workplace to establish what sort of foster pet would be the best fit and help pair you with compatible rescue groups participating in the PetRescue Workplace Foster Program.

What are the benefits of the workplace foster care programs for both the organisation and for individual staff ?

Furry friends are proven to improve the physical and mental health of the people around them – but why should people at home be the only ones to lap up all that joy, happiness and wellbeing when we spend so much of our lives at work?

Happy workers are productive workers, and it’s hard not to be happy when there’s a gorgeous dog in the mix. Just a few minutes patting a dog has been shown to lower stress levels.

Dogs make good days great and bad days better, and nothing feels as good as knowing you’ve helped save a life. You may also shop now for dog supplements that can help your dog build more muscle.

Fostering is also a fabulous way to develop and strengthen bonds between colleagues, to get everyone engaged in the office, and to boost morale. It’s a great way to break down barriers in the workplace and improve relations with both staff and clients.

So what kinds of considerations must workplaces make before ’em-barking’ (no pun intended!) on the program?

Gauging staff interest is an important first step towards implementing a workplace foster program. There are also a few practical things to consider before embarking on a 9 to 5 ‘foster fido’, including:

  • Can the dog be safely secured within the building?
  • Where will his/her basket, bed or crate be located?
  • Will your dog have access to walk freely around a wider workplace area, or will he/she be confined to a smaller office and be on lead when travelling through other parts of the office?
  • What is the outside environment like – is there a park or other suitable area nearby where the dog can have a quick loo break or a longer walk and play during lunch breaks?
  • Can you dog-proof your workplace to minimise access to hazards?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for the dog over his/her stay?
  • Who will the dog go home with each night?
  • Does your office need a formal policy on pets in the workplace?
  • Does your public liability insurance cover pets in the workplace?

How do you determine if a workplace is suitable for fostering a dog, and how is the program overseen once a dog is placed with an organisation?

The participating rescue group will visit the workplace to meet staff, check out the office space and match the right dog (or office kitty) to your workplace.

As the pets involved belong to the participating rescue group, a foster care agreement with the relevant rescue group is signed.

The rescue group and workplace maintain weekly contact to discuss how everything is going and are on hand to help out with any teething problems or issues that may arise.

The PetRescue team are also on hand seven days a week to provide support, as well as a qualified behavioural trainer who is available to visit Victorian-based workplaces.

And can you share any success stories?

Absolutely! Verve Projects fostered four lovely greyhounds last year: Fern, Maggie May, Timmy and Faye. Office manager Natalie King says the dogs really opened up communication within the office and provided a great stress buster – and more than a few laughs!

And of their experience fostering greyhound Ebony, PETstock Head Office’s Jessica Guilfoyle told us:

“Participating in the program has been more rewarding than we ever thought it could be. Not only were we able to help better the life of beautiful Ebony, we saw team members rally together and forge relationships that otherwise wouldn’t have been created. Not to mention that the unlimited amount of pats and puppy kisses lowered the office stress levels significantly!”

And just finally, what would you say to an organisation that’s considering fostering a pet?

Opening your workplace to a foster dog or cat has huge benefits for the organisation, individuals and of course the animals themselves – so why wait?

But be warned: fostering can be highly addictive and, indeed, you may find that life without an adorable office dog just isn’t the same!

Would you consider inviting a foster dog into your NFP’s office? Or have you already? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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