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Maggie is a favorite with customers at Palmetto Ace.
Tanya Ackerman/Coastal Observer

Working like a dog

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Watson doesn’t exactly work like a dog when he comes to the Coastal Observer office.

The Boykin spaniel keeps an eye out for cats in the yard but often settles for barking at butterflies through the windows facing the wooded lot off Commerce Drive.

In truth, Watson is still learning the ropes of being an office dog. He’s taught us to close the bathroom door to keep him from grabbing a roll of toilet paper as a chew toy. He eats socks and paper towels and sometimes barks at visitors. We even caught him with a mouthful of cash from the till one day. There’s a lot to learn for a pup.

When the days get long, Watson goes to his bed in the publisher’s office and takes a nap. Oh, for a dog’s life.

Studies show that stress declines for people who bring their dogs to work. “When you are heavily working and frustrated,” said Shannon Prouty, director of All 4 Paws Animal Rescue at Pawleys Island, “having that zen moment when you can pet your dog brings you into a different state of mind. It’s also really good for socialization in the workplace because more people are apt to talk to you, be social or buy things from your store because animals automatically give them good feelings.

“A theory of having a behind-the-counter dog is that it creates a sense of community and family. When you walk in, you feel more comfortable. It’s not all human-to-human contact. You can’t help but be happy when you see a dog wagging his tail.”

There are three dogs at the S.C. Environmental Law Project in Georgetown. “It’s calming for us,” said director and chief counsel Amy Armstrong. “We live in a stressful environment of deadlines, court filings, trials, appellate briefs,” she said. “There’s always a lot going on, and a dog brings a calming presence.”

She said the project’s three lawyers were stressing over a judge’s decision just this week when her dog, Roxanne, and Amelia Thompson’s dog, Addie, joined the conversation. “I just started talking to the dog,” Armstrong said. “You’re smarter than that judge.”

Armstrong said the law project was not dog-friendly when she started working there, but her 10- to 12-hour workdays were too long to leave her big English mastiff at home. “To me,” she said, “it’s calming to have your dog there. No matter what chaos or stress is going on in the office, they are constant, unflappable. Thank goodness we’ve got our puppies for humanity.”

Roxanne, Addie and Jessie White’s cocker spaniel, Huckleberry, come running for staff meetings. The dogs are such a part of the office now that potential employees are asked if they like dogs right off the bat.

Maggie, a Corgi-golden retriever mix who spends days at Palmetto Ace Hardware with owner Jim Strope, is a community favorite. Strope said people call ahead to see if Maggie is working before they come to the store. “If she’s off,” Strope said, “they come another day. They want to bring their dogs in. We get people coming in just to give her a treat.”

Maggie’s owner says she is not real ambitious. Customers find her sleeping on sacks of bird seed or lawn fertilizer in an aisle near the front most days. “The higher the better,” Strope said. Maggie will get up on her hind legs when Ace employee Dalton Bryant offers a dog biscuit. She occasionally walks upstairs to hang out with owner Charles Biddix in his office, but her customer service duties come first.

“Someone made a video and put a voice to it,” Strope said, “how she was protecting the bird feed.”

Strope adopted Maggie from All 4 Paws a few years ago. “She’s a great dog,” he said, “very well-disciplined, very well-mannered, intelligent. She loves coming to work. As soon as I get up in the morning, she’s ready to go. She jumps right in the car.”

Kim Stewart, an Ace Hardware employee, wanted to know about Maggie’s sick days. “If Jim is sick,” she said, “Maggie stays home. We are waiting to find out if Maggie is sick, does Jim stay home.”

Strope said Maggie has some vacation days coming. “I’m looking forward to that,” he said.

There’s another Maggie just down the road at DuMont Brothers construction company. The teacup Maltese is a princess, said owner Greg DuMont. He’s had Maggie since she was a puppy that fit in the palm of his hand. She’s in charge of morale at the DeMont office, said employee Elane McCaskill. Guard dog, supervisor and greeter are some of her jobs. There’s no limit on the adorable factor either. She crawled in a woman’s purse once.

Carla Minervini brings her Yorkshire terrier Remy to All Fired Up, a pottery studio in the Island Shops. Customers start playing with the dog and forget about the pottery, Minervini said. “They love him,” she said. “They instantly drop to their knees and want to pet him and pick him up. He looks like a toy.”

There’s nowhere more dog-centric than the Hammock Shops, beginning with LuLu’s Paw Boutique, a doggy accessory shop. “She’s the proprietor,” said Nancy Schrum. “I just work for her.” Lulu, a miniature Schnauzer, reclines on a shelf in the store’s reception room. “She greets literally everybody at the door,” Schrum said, “and all she wants is to be petted.”

Lulu has some help at the shop. Rita Roper’s dog, Fritz, and Sande Purcell’s dog, Gracie, share the workload. Lulu, however, is the main attraction, and it’s a disappointment for some if she’s not there. Customers come back year after year just to see her.

“She walks around and shows them her new dress,” Schrum said. “She’s a good little model. She tries things on so they can see how they fit.”

One little girl pointed to the shop and told her mother, “Look, there’s Lulu’s house.”

Even other shop dogs enjoy a visit to Lulu’s. Rascal, a 110-pound black Lab, who stays with owner Sally Egan at Barefoot Elegance, heads for the boutique when he gets out. “He doesn’t run away,” Egan said. “He just runs over to Nancy’s.” Rascal’s swishing tail makes him a bit of a bull in the china shop, so he stays in back of the beach boutique most of the time.

Chelsea, a Shih Tzu, is front and center at the Freckled Frog, a shop that sells books, games and toys. Owner Barbara Foy said children are fascinated with the dog’s blue eyes. Some even ask if she has contact lenses. “No,” she explains, “God gave them to her.”

Foy said Chelsea loves to dress up and show off for people. “She was a little witch at Halloween,” she said.

Kristina Averett brings Rosie, her miniature Dachshund, to work at Details by Three Sisters, a shop selling accessories and handbags. Rosie stays in back because Averett worries that customers will trip over her. Over time, she’s become the face of Details, Averett said. “When they first started letting me bring the dog, it was them doing me a favor,” she said. “The more time has gone on, owner Peggy Altman said we miss her when you don’t work.”

Averett said customers like discovering Rosie in the shop. Everybody got a chuckle when a woman had a dog barking as a ring tone on her phone. “When it happened,” she said, “it startled me, and Rosie heard it in back and started barking. The customer heard the little dog barking and we both said, ‘Huh?’”

Prouty said All 4 Paws Animal Rescue encourages people to bring their dogs to work. “We’ve seen a huge increase of people saying my job lets me bring my dog to work. We have an automatic instinct when we see a dog to de-stress.”

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