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Cats in the Workplace

By: Susan Bard Hall

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Taking your pet to work is one of the perks that employers are offering to attract and retain employees. But if that doesn't work for you, maybe you can work at one of the growing number of businesses - retail, government, lodging and service - where cats have proven to be business boosters and stress reducers.

All in the Family

When Tom and Barbara Barry exchange stories about their work day, cats often are part of the conversation. Bear and Big Cat, both mixed breeds, have been purring along with the cars that Tom repairs at North Chicago Import Autos in North Chicago, Ill., for several years. Heidi has been a fixture for nearly 14 years where Barbara works part-time, Herrold Kitchen and Baths in Wheeling, Ill.

Tom adopted Bear and Big Cat from a sailor who was about to ship out from nearby Great Lakes Naval Base. Initially, he wanted just one cat to keep an occasional field mouse at bay, but was told "they came as a package." He describes Bear as the "lover" because she craves affection and loves to explore the shopping bags often carried by his lady customers. But that's not to imply that these cats are partial to women; men attired in dark business suits will need to locate a clothes brush to remove the telltale signs of their impartiality. Tom said it's not unusual for customers to stop by just to visit with Bear and Big Cat, even when their cars are running perfectly.

According to Barry Barickman of Herrold Kitchen, the restaurant next door was Heidi's first home when she was a mere kitten. She was supposed to keep the night watchman company. However, when they found her shivering outside one morning, it was painfully obvious that her caretaker didn't care for her, so they took her in. "Our customers love her to pieces and several have wanted to adopt her," Barry said.

Sophie found a home at the Lake Forest Animal Clinic in Lake Forest, Ill., when her previous owner could no longer care for her. According to Dr. Margaret Timm, Sophie makes an excellent "hospital cat" because she knows when to stay out of the way of patients who aren't feeling well and not on their best behavior, not to mention those who aren't cat lovers under the best of circumstances. But her friendly persuasion has been known to convert more than one individual into an ailurophile. In emergent situations, Sophie can serve as a blood donor for other pets, though her passion for eating kibble doesn't make her the ideal candidate. In addition to nibbling, another favorite pastime is being petted.

Day and Night

While cats in the workplace are lavished with affection and attention during traditional business hours, they often lack company at night. But that isn't the case for resident cats at lodging properties like The North House in Vassar, Mich. During the day, B & B hosts Pat and Roger Goggans are great company for Harley Davidson, an 8-year-old domestic shorthair with obvious Maine Coon heritage found abandoned at a wildlife refuge; 2-year-old B.B., discovered as a kitten under a parked car and named Black Beauty because she was expected to grow into a true beauty; and Fusse, a domestic shorthair with tortoise shell coloring who was discovered on their property last November. The Goggans also extended their heart and home to Flower, a dog they rescued from an animal shelter.

It's during the afternoon and evening hours when these workplace kitties get the lion's share of attention and affection. Not only do they make the lodging experience feel more home-like, they are the cat's meow for traveling cat lovers who experience withdrawal pangs when separated from their own feline companion.

If it can be said that inn cats are on duty 24/7 just like their innkeepers, so too is the best buddy of a doctor on call 24-hours-a-day.

Tivol started accompanying Dr. Linda Dorzab to work when she moved her practice into her home in Stilwell, Kan., about four years ago. One day Tivol, an Abyssinian, meandered into her office while she was consoling a recently widowed patient. When Tivol's presence brought a smile to her patient's pained face, Dorzab felt he'd have a calming affect on others. A cat door allows Tivol to wander between Dorzab's residence and place of business, but he is restricted to Dorzab's private office and waiting room. There, Tivol helps patients pass the time when the doctor is running a few minutes late.

"Tivol's presence is very calming," Dorzab said. "He takes your mind off things."

Another cat who goes to work is Ruby Archuleta, adopted by Susan and Art Bachrach, owners of Moby Dickins Bookshop of Taos, N.M. Named for a character in the New Mexico-based novel "The Milagro Beanfield War," Ruby is a 5-year-old Maine Coon that Art adopted from the Humane Society, where he serves on the board. The bookshop also underwrites a newspaper ad for the local animal shelter where residents and tourists alike have adopted pets.

Ruby Archuleta particularly has a favorite spot atop a computer printer and likes to lay on the cash register as well. Art said patrons respond favorably to Ruby, especially those on vacation who want a cat fix to tide them over until they're reunited with their cat(s). In the 15 years that the Bachrachs have been in business, they have never been without a cat. "Cats in the workplace are essential," Art said.

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