Pets Score Company Perks As The ‘New Dependents’

Benefits for household animals are on the rise during surge in pandemic puppy adoptions. Pets Score Company Perks As The ‘New Dependents’


Pets Score Company Perks as the ‘New Dependents’

Maribeliz Oritz, Who Got Her Puppy, Niko, In June, Works For A Company That Offers A $300 Annual Pet-Adoption


After earning a promotion in May, 27-year-old Maribeliz Ortiz felt ready for the next step in life, and young Niko was definitely her type: brown-eyed and handsome, with a long torso and short legs.

“I’ve always loved Dachshunds,” Ms. Ortiz said. Now that the pandemic has her working from home, she felt confident enough to take on a new puppy.

She brought Niko home to Austin, Texas, in June, where they have already made friends with neighborhood Dachshunds.

“We get together for puppy dates,” Ms. Ortiz said.

It also helped that her employer, insurance comparison website the Zebra, recently began offering an annual pet-adoption stipend of up to $300 to encourage dog and cat ownership. CEO Keith Melnick instituted the stipend as part of expanded family-leave benefits for new parents. At least six of the company’s 250 employees have taken advantage of the perk to adopt a dog in recent months, according to the company.

The policy took effect in January, pre-Covid times, but Mr. Melnick says the pet benefit is “even more important now because our employees are stuck at home.” His yellow lab, Zuma, used to accompany him to the office—back when people went into the office.

In the past few years, more companies have been adopting pet-friendly workplace policies to attract younger workers. Millennials have overtaken baby boomers as the country’s largest pet-owning demographic, making up 35% of all pet owners in the U.S. in 2017, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Companies such as Amazon, Uber, Salesforce and Airbnb regularly rank among the most pet-friendly workplaces, welcoming hundreds of dogs in their offices daily and offering services like dog-walking, play areas and pawternity leave for new pet owners.

But how does a company display its pet-friendly bona fides when most employees are working from home? Pet perks that go beyond the workplace are becoming more important, especially given the recent surge in pandemic-puppy adoptions.


Pets Score Company Perks as the ‘New Dependents’

Samantha Burdick Adopted Her Puppy, Sadie, A Few Weeks Before Starting A New Job That Offered Pet Benefits.


“For those of us who can work from home, it was Covid that forced us to do so, but it’s our pets that made us like it,” says Steve Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. His 10-year-old rescue dog, Scout, spends most of the day under his office chair, he says.

“Companies are starting to realize that it’s one thing to say you can bring your pet to work every Friday, but it’s another to think of your employees’ pets as members of the family,” he says.

In May, Samantha Burdick, 27, began working at Zogics, a cleaning-supply company in Lenox, Mass. She chose the company in part, she says, because “it’s well known for its canine culture.” She had just adopted a German shepherd puppy, Sadie, and Zogics offers new pet owners an extra week of paid leave, a $200 pet store gift card, discounted pet insurance and a lifetime supply of pet shampoo. The company added pet-cleaning products to its line in 2018.

Cloud-based design platform Ceros used to host about 12 dogs a day in its New York offices, and would set up photo shoots for its “Dogs of Ceros” annual calendar. Since shifting to working from home in March, the company has been looking for new ways to maintain its pet-friendly ethos.

“We started by doing virtual dog Zoom meetings,” says Zarina Stanik, the company’s director of community. “Then we started a Slack channel called Animals Working From Home, where people can post pictures of their pets throughout the day.”

About 10 more employees have gotten pets so far this year, and the Slack channel has become a support network and chat room for new pet owners, Ms. Stanik says.

Increasingly companies are looking to extend traditional benefits, like medical insurance, to employees’ furry family members. WhiskerDocs, a pet telehealth provider based in Chicago, has added 20 employees over the past three months—a staff increase of 40%—to handle the surge in demand.

The company has been around since 2013, “but suddenly this year we’ve had every major employee-benefits broker and consultant in the country contact us to put together a program for them,” says CEO Deb Leon.


Pets Score Company Perks as the ‘New Dependents’

Paul LeBlanc, CEO Of Zogics, With His Dog Thabo.


She said she recently worked with a major insurer to add whiskerDocs to its offerings. “The company wanted its members to know that they viewed a pet as another dependent, and that’s never happened before,” Ms. Leon said. “Most people don’t have pet insurance, so everything is out of pocket. So this is a big deal.”

A large financial-services company contacted her last week about setting up pet-care to match its child-care offerings, from telehealth appointments to pet-sitting.

“What’s interesting is that some companies are finding that 70% of their employees have pets and only 44% have children, so the benefits balance is way off,” she says. “Pets are the new dependents that employers are recognizing.”

Most of the benefits are skewed toward dogs and cats, but some employers may be more flexible. “Nobody’s come to me yet to adopt a rabbit, but I’d probably approve it,” says the Zebra’s Mr. Melnick.

Chickens would be fair game, he adds, “considering that I have five in my backyard right now.” And even guinea pigs. “I’m personally not a fan of rodents,” he says, “but I wouldn’t hold that against anyone.”



 

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