By Roger Vincent | LA Times
It was just another day at the office for Peanut, a cocky little mutt who swaggers around Playa Vista ad agency 72andSunny, socializing with employees and other dogs who pass their days there.
Then Rob Lowe arrived. The actor spent hours at the agency in 2015 posing for a GQ magazine photo spread on men’s suits, and Peanut was drafted to appear in a handful of pictures as Lowe’s companion.
Peanut has been dining out on her brush with fame ever since as the best-known dog at 72andSunny, where she has plenty of four-legged company.
“It’s her favorite place to be,” said Peanut’s owner, Alexis Mendoza. “She is upset to be left at home.”
Although dogs have been office mates at some free-wheeling tech and entertainment companies for years, the still-rare practice is getting more mainstream as a growing number of businesses such as 72andSunny follow the dot-com industry’s management cues and try to foster creative, collaborative environments for their workers.
Carle Pierose, a Los Angeles area real estate broker, estimates that only about 5% of office lease holders say it is important to them to bring dogs to work. Most of them are in creative fields and tend to work long hours.
But the numbers are growing. “The millennials run the world and we have to accommodate them,” said Wayne Ratkovich, 72andSunny’s landlord.
But it’s no walk in the dog park.
Obstacles to widespread adoption include common pet allergies and some people’s fear of dogs. And big institutional property owners typically stick with long-standing pet prohibitions, favoring predictability and clear-cut rules over flexibility and judgment calls.
Such rules, though, are going the way of neckties and pantyhose as offices grow less formal.
“Those policies go back to the old days when old white men made the rules to suit themselves,” said Christopher Rising, one of the first L.A. landlords to allow tenants to stroll in with Fido or Spot.
“I think it’s the future,” he added. “More and more we expect our personal, social and business lives to move smoothly together. The point of having a dog is that you want to have him around.”
Rising was actually just looking for an edge when he decided to allow dogs in a sparsely occupied office complex in downtown Los Angeles his company Rising Realty bought in 2012.
The century-old PacMutual building had historic flair but was struggling to compete with newer modern office towers. Welcoming dogs would differentiate PacMutual from the competition, he reasoned, and perhaps draw attention from the laid-back entertainment and technology firms he hoped to attract.
The presence of pooches made the offices more familial, he said: “I don’t know if there is causation, but once you allow dogs, people bring in their kids more.”
Still, good manners on the part of dogs and their owners are essential to making pro-dog policies work. And as is typical with offices that allow dogs, Rising set some rules.
For example, dogs must get a license issued by the building that can be revoked if they don’t behave, and that includes keeping quiet. Aggressive breeds such as pit bulls that many people find intimidating are not allowed. (So far no tenants have sought to allow cats, but Rising said he would consider it if asked.)
For the most part, though, dog owners are self-policing because they know their dog’s behavior reflects on them and they are, after all, at work.
“We’ve had dogs that bark, and then there is horror on their owners’ faces,” said Rising, who is sometimes accompanied on the job by his black Labs Taylor and Surrey. “If a dog barks too much the owner is embarrassed and doesn’t bring him back.”
Office landlords are following a path blazed by apartment owners, said Lynn Owen, chief operating officer of TruAmerica, a Los Angeles company that owns 32,000 apartments.
Dogs were forbidden for tenants when she started in the business in the 1980s, but a shift began about a decade ago when improved data tracking revealed that apartment landlords were missing out on signing a lot of tenants who wouldn’t live without man’s best friend.
“Owners and managers realized people wanted dogs,” said Owen, who has a yellow Lab mix named Freckles. “Dogs are just a part of everyone’s family.”
Now, leasing agents at TruAmerica apartment buildings lay out bowls of water and dog treats to court prospective tenants. Pet parks that cost as much as $35,000 are key features of the company’s rental communities, Owen said.
TruAmerica apartment tenants put down a deposit of up to $300 to be tapped in case of pet-related damages. Typical pet deposits for companies that allow dogs in the office are $1,000, said Pierose, the real estate broker.
At Ratkovich’s office tower in the Bloc, a hotel, office and shopping complex in downtown Los Angeles, accommodations will soon include a designated doggie elevator.
“People who have a fear of dogs, allergies or are in black suits and don’t want a golden retriever to shed all over them” can ride the other elevators, said Clare De Briere, an adviser to Ratkovich Co. who has two black Labs named Cammie and Lizzie.
The presence of dogs in a high-rise office is a new phenomenon, she said, and the company is working on a lease amendment for tenants that De Briere calls a “dog rider.”
Tenants who lease a full floor have automatic dog privileges. Tenants who share floors with other tenants can bring dogs too, but will quickly lose their privileges if one of their dogs leaves a mess, bites another dog or barks incessantly. The company plans to give tenants on shared floors veto power over whether other tenants can bring dogs.
“We need to sort of figure this out as we go,” she said. At this point, “we take all comers and have a right to cancel” dog privileges at a moment’s notice.
At 72andSunny, dogs are seen as a “great way to create community” in the office of nearly 500 people, said Chief Operating Officer Evin Shutt, a Wisconsin native with a black Lab named Lambeau. “When you stop to pet a dog you have a conversation” with the owner.
Full-time employees who have been with the company at least 60 days are eligible to bring their dogs to work, but there are limitations.
The animals must be leashed and are required to wear a tag with the company’s sun logo on it to show that they have passed muster by not being on the American Veterinary Medical Assn.’s list of aggressive breeds.
“And as much as we love puppies, they need their shots and they need to be house-trained,” Shutt said.
Even well-behaved dogs, though, create problems for some. 72andSunny’s director of communications, Elizabeth Rosenberg, blanched when a shepherd-husky mix named Stella closed in for a friendly nuzzle.
“I am allergic to dogs,” she said, even though she likes them. “I have days when my allergies are bad and I have to go outside and take a walk. You just have to roll with the punches.”
Also annoying were people at her last place of employment who let their dogs lounge on office furniture, Rosenberg said. “You sit down and get dog hair all over you. It’s frustrating.”
Still, she accepts that dogs are part of the company culture, which she likes.
Among its creative hallmarks are a “Mad Men”-style cocktail cart in an office once occupied by aviation mogul Howard Hughes, an amphitheater made of wood from the basketball court in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion and an in-house bar named the “Loose Goose” after Hughes’ fabled airplane the Spruce Goose that was built nearby.
On a recent morning, Peanut roused herself from her dollhouse-like bedroom under her owner’s desk to greet Madeleine, a stocky French bulldog with a flat face and warm eyes walking on a leash held by technology manager Aaron Myers. The dogs touched noses and sniffed each other but did not bark, in keeping with the office “pet-iquette” required of canines.
A few steps away, a 13-pound Jack Russell terrier-Shih Tzu mix named Woody jumped out of his owner’s lap to greet visitors with enthusiastic wags of his coiled tail.
“He loves the attention,” owner Whitney Fromholtz said.
Woody accompanies her to work every day, providing emotional support and keeping her from sitting still too long.
“He makes me get away from my desk for a 10-minute walk” now and then, Fromholtz said. “It’s like a healthy cigarette break.”