How are pets coping with a return to work? Some are anxious, but Mr. Carrot is thrilled.

Mr. Carrot gets ready for work every morning by heading to the backyard to pee.

He waits until his driver (and devoted owner) Cat Small opens the door to her black, two-seater Mini Cooper. She snaps on his harness and leash and buckles him in the passenger side seat.

Mr. Carrot sticks his head out of the rolled-down window while they cruise from their Tower Grove South neighborhood to work at the Nestle Purina Petcare headquarters, where they work in marketing. The 6-year-old pointer, pitbull and German shepherd mix has looked forward to going to work every day since he became eligible at 16 weeks old. He’s one of about 75 pets who accompany their owners to the pet food company daily. Purina has allowed pets at work for more than 20 years.

Mr. Carrot greets the guard at the parking entrance with a friendly wag. After they walk into the main tower entrance, he stops by the security guard desk. The guard puts out four different flavored snacks. Mr. Carrot sniffs each one.

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Cat Small and her dog, Mr. Carrot, visit with Darrah Higginbotham and her pets, Randi and Ace, while riding the elevator at Nestlé Purina Petcare headquarters.

Laurie Skrivan

Will it be a beef day or liver? Once he makes his selection, he carries the treat over to a carpeted area for an early morning snack. He leaves the other three treats behind.

Mr. Carrot is not a glutton.

As they walk over to the elevator, coworkers smile and wave at him. One colleague stops to pet him while they wait at the elevator.

“I don’t know your name, but I do know Mr. Carrot, ”she says to Small, who smiles. They ride up to the 14th floor. Baby gates cordon off several desks in their workspace. Small puts a cup of Pro Plan (Purina, of course) in his bowl next to her desk and chops up a boiled egg to sprinkle on top.

After breakfast, Mr. Carrot might take a power nap, but he’s more likely to start his rounds. He has figured out how to push the gate open with his nose and patrols the floor, checking in with the marketing staff known to harbor treats. The office is his happy place. The pandemic turned his world upside when pets were temporarily barred from coming with their owners.

For six months, Mr. Carrot languished at home. Small, an extrovert who missed the office environment, returned three months before Mr. Carrot was allowed back. He looked miserable and sad every morning when she left.

“I tried to convince him that he didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “It’s a pandemic,” she told him.

The pandemic affected plenty of pets, according to trainers and animal behavior experts. As more employees adjust to new workplace routines – some returning to offices, others shifting permanently to home and some creating a hybrid – pets are also having to adjust.

Early data shows more people are returning to their offices post-Labor Day.

Mr.  Carrot back at work

Cat visits Small with her dog Mr. Carrot at her desk at Nestle.

Laurie Skrivan

Office usage in 10 major metro areas crept up to nearly 50% of 2020’s pre-pandemic attendance, according to Kastle Systems, a key-card property management company that tracks entries into office buildings. Train ridership is also ticking upward.

Those left behind at home may need some help coping.

A tricky transition“Dogs thrive on routines,” says Dr. Ragen McGowan, a pet behavior expert who works in research and development at Purina. The disruption to household routines beginning in 2020 began changing some pets’ behavior soon after.

Jesse McClure, a dog behavior consultant in St. Charles, with a doctorate in neuroscience and behavior, works with dogs struggling with aggression, anxiety and other behavior issues.

He saw an increase in some problematic behaviors at the start of the pandemic. Some clients, who suddenly had all day with their pets, were over-stimulating their dogs with too much activity.

“Occasionally, I have to tell clients to do less with their dogs,” he says. Many are surprised to learn that some dogs need about 16 hours of nap or down time daily.

The main thing to keep in mind, he says, is that people can help modify a dog’s problematic behaviors at any age. The critical thing is to find the right professional because of sheer volume of misinformation and bad advice available, he said.

Dr. Sally J. Foote, a veterinarian in Tuscola, Illinois, specializes in dog and cat behaviors. As pet owners return to work, the majority of them without their pets, the most common reaction – mostly for dogs but also some cats – is increased separation anxiety. Even pets who didn’t have problems with separating before got accustomed to increased bonding time and less time spent alone, she says.

“They lose some of their independence skills,” she says. Owners need to help them learn how to be happy hanging out by themselves again. It’s best to begin with short outings away from home, when the pet has a toy or food treat to keep them busy alone. Gradually, increase the time, building confidence for the pet. Another post-pandemic issue she’s seen is an increase in aggressive behavior toward visitors in the home and more barking problems.

This is primarily a result of the isolation and safety measures people took to protect themselves, Foote explains. For more than a year, dogs became less used to visitors spending time or dropping by their homes. There’s also a group of young dogs, under the age of 2, who simply did not get enough time during their critical development to socialize with other people and dogs, she says.

Mr.  Carrot back at work

Mr. Carrot and Cat Small arrive for work at Nestle Purina Petcare headquarters on Chouteau Avenue.

Laurie Skrivan

For those experiencing these issues with their pandemic puppies, it’s important to talk to their vets and follow the recommendations, even if the vet suggests a calming medication.

If you have a pandemic dog, he may never be as easy as a dog who was able to get out and socialize before the age of four months, Foote says. Nonetheless, “Get them in a puppy class now,” she advises.

Jody Epstein, owner of Nutz about Mutz training and behavior services, in O’Fallon, Missouri, says 98 percent of her current clients work from home. She helps them establish boundaries and routines for their dogs to make working from home easier. Owners can’t have their dogs barking in the background during Zoom calls and can get help with classic counter conditioning techniques. The most important advice Epstein offers pet parents is to reframe their mindset when their dog does something they don’t like.

“Don’t look at it as ‘The dog misbehaved.’ The reality is that dogs do behaviors that work to keep them safe, like barking at the mailman, ”she says. Trying to understand the problem from the dog’s perspective can help toward a solution.

She suggests clients shift their mindset to: “He’s doing that because he’s having a hard time. He’s not doing it to give me a hard time. ” This framing helps increase the owner’s patience and tolerance while training, which, in turn, helps the pet feel more secure.

If you know you will be going back to the office more often, start helping the dog prepare well in advance, she says. Build up to three or four hours alone rather than 8 to 9 hours right off the bat.

While some pups will enjoy a return to doggy day care or having a dog walker come home during lunch hour, others can stay entertained on their own.

“We have a lot of people using remote devices, like Furbo,” she said. It’s a remote-controlled treat dispenser that allows the owner to see the pet while at the office.

Mr.  Carrot back at work

Marketing Specialist Cat Small and her dog Mr. Carrot arrive for work on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, at Nestlé Purina Headquarters. During the pandemic, Small said it was tough on both of them when she returned to the office before he was cleared to return. Photo by Laurie Skrivan,

Laurie Skrivan

Purina says it wants to encourage other employers to consider a pet policy, which they argue makes employees happier during the work day. Spokeswoman Lorie Westhoff says negative incidents are very rare.

“I’m not aware of any bites in recent history. Most associates are very dialed into the temperament of their pets, so aggressive behavior isn’t an issue we see with any regularity, ”she says. Pet potty accidents are also rare, but do happen. Purina keeps cleaning supplies on hand and have procedures for the cleaning crew, as well.

Mr. Carrot’s colleaguesTwice a day, Small and Mr. Carrot take a short walk around the park-lile paths on the 55-acre campus. They might run into other furry friends along the way.

Stella, a shorthair black cat, is one of the few felines on campus. Her owner, Stephanie Harwin, is a digital brand manager and started bringing her to work in January.

“The first day she was like what the heck is going on,” Harwin says. But, then she settled into her routine. She alternates between napping on Harwin’s desk, the window sill or in her tent.

Harwin taught her how to high five and give fist bumps, which attracts some visitors curious about the cat who does tricks.

“She’s very smart and curious,” Harwin says.

Stella refused to perform a trick for a reporter and hid under the desk until the media left.

Mr. Carrot is far more indulgent, although he also has a sneaky side. When he patrols the rest of the marketing floor, he is apt to bring back treasures that strike his fancy. There’s a large pile of toys next to his bed that have been pilfered from neighbors. He does politely share them with canine visitors when they stop by. He also managed to procure his own bed.

It belonged to a coworker’s pet, but the pair relocated to a different workspace.

“Mr. Carrot might as well keep it, ”he said.

He’s so friendly that her coworkers enjoy seeing him everyday, Small says.

Once in a while someone might ask, “Is that Mr. Carrot snoring? “

“He’s just living his best life,” Small says.


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