28 August 2020

Best friends at work: the rise of Canberra's office dogs

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Mr Smiggle

Mr Smiggle’s Region Media career is progressing rapidly. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A couple of months ago, Region Media made a real “hero hire”. He’s already had a major impact on morale, and his input was ranked highly by staff in our annual performance review cycle. Those achievements have been recognised with a plum HR role and a headshot in our media kit.

His name? Mr Smiggle.

Mr Smiggle

Mr Smiggle – Head of HR – as he appears in the Region Media media kit.

Sure, he spends much of his workday sleeping at the foot of my desk, but when not wrestling fluffy toys on the sofa or coating staff in lavish layers of dog hair, Mr Smiggle also offers cuddles, a reason to leave the office for walks and stress-busting relief for everyone.

READ ALSO Meet Mr Smiggle, Region Media’s latest staff recruit

And the RSPCA adoptee isn’t alone in his role: the office dog trend is growing, much to the delight of the RSPCA’s Michelle Robertson, who is a staunch advocate of bringing your pets to work. We set out to meet the dogs building impressive CVs across Canberra.

Sambucca at Agency9

Sambucca oversees operations at Agency9 from his desktop perch. Photo: Supplied.

Claudia Vannithone runs Agency9, a boutique communications agency specialising in public relations, marketing, social media and activations. Their Director of Pats is Sambucca the Pomeranian, who attends site inspections, functions as a desk ornament and recently met Mr Smiggle for networking opportunities.

Claudia says Sambucca became a team member by accident when she moved house and needed a safe place for him while her new fence was being installed. But the Agency9 staff liked him so much that he’s become a permanent fixture. He attends most of Claudia’s meetings, joining her in boardrooms across town.

“He got his job title because he greets everyone in the morning for a pat,” Claudia says. “He runs to the car when it’s time for work, and he brightens the mood for everyone in the office by being there.”


Michael Liu and his PA, Frida the caboodle. Photo: Supplied.

At cultural development agency Dionysus, Michael Liu and business partner Dave Caffery are assisted by Frida the cavoodle, who has her own Instagram account (@fridathecavoodle) and is the office PA (puppy assistant), tasked with ensuring that Dionysus only works with people who like dogs.

“I think it brings a sense of humanity to the office,” Michael says. “It’s good for diplomatic relations when we’re having tough meetings. It’s a vetting process. It’s therapeutic. And, as a bonus, we get her secretarial services.”


Karen advocates yoga as a workplace stress-buster. Photo: Supplied.

Greyhound Karen doesn’t ask to see the manager at Canberra-based visual branding agency SMACK Design. She is the manager!

In addition to raising the bar when it comes to designer work collars, Karen keeps the team fit and healthy with her regular yoga classes. Her favourite pose? Downward dog, of course.

Bella and Coco

Bella and Coco put in the hard yards for Rowdy Digital and BDW Special Events. Photo: Supplied.

Coco is the official concierge at Canberra digital marketing agency Rowdy Digital, co-owned by Coco’s mum Judy Waters and Llewella Jago.

She is a shih tzu-poodle cross and her responsibilities are personally greeting every guest (clients, visitors, delivery, tradies and plant-watering people) and making them feel special. She also manages catering (the watching of it, not the preparation).

Coco also has an assistant, Bella, who operates mostly in the literary sphere. Bella is a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and is owned by Paul Donohoe, director of BDW Special Events and Canberra Writers Festival board member and public officer.

Holly, Griffin and Tully

The Cox Architecture canine team: Holly, Griffin and Tully. Photo: Supplied.

Cox Architecture in Kingston might well top the list of Canberra’s dog-friendly workplaces with no less than three full-time canine employees and several regular visitors, says office manager Victoria Cotton.

Architect Chris Millman’s labrador cross, Holly, and Griffin, the mini-groodle, joined the team about five years ago, followed by Tully, the freckle-faced border collie (recently adopted by Victoria from the RSPCA).

“They lighten the mood a lot. People love patting them,” Victoria says. “It’s a nice reminder that everything is not 100 per cent about work and you bond with people over the dogs. It’s like having an extra friend.”

All of this gladdens Michelle Robertson’s heart in these stressful times. She’s a firm believer that offices are better when they’re shared with animals if at all possible.

“Pets are really good for mental health and wellbeing,” she says. “There’s a good case for more businesses to become pet friendly because happier and healthier employees are more productive and the animals are going to win too.”

Do you have an office dog? Post a photo of your workplace’s four-legged friends.

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Now I understand the benefits of pets in the workplace and I am a dog person but I don’t think they belong in an office environment. In a small office with all staff in agreement sure. But there are other things to consider. My partner has a real genuine fear of dogs from an incident when she was child. Being close to them can bring on anxiety and panic attacks. She realises this is HER fear and not the responsibility of the dog or owner so she takes steps to avoid them. However in an office environment this is not always possible. You also need to consider people with allergies. I work in a public service building with several hundred people. A senior manager brings in her dog every other week. I have no issues with it but I know if my wife worked here she would be in a constant state of anxiety. I also know she wouldn’t say anything about it either in fear of being judged a hater or troublemaker. This is difficult for people to come forward about and admit it, so they will often stay silent if asked about it.

All I say is consider your environment and fellow employees. Just because you like a dog in your workplace doesn’t mean others feel the same. And it’s not necessarily because they are a dog hater.

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