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Animals Go to Work : A relaxed atmosphere can result when employees bring cats, dogs, birds, iguanas and scorpions along to the office.

March 05, 1993|JULIE RUBIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Julie Rubin is a Los Angeles writer.

Mr. Iguana knows what it's like to put in an eight-hour day at the office. But unlike the others at Warner Bros. Animation in Sherman Oaks, he doesn't get paid, has no title and does no work.

That's because Mr. Iguana, as he is called, isn't a company employee, he's production assistant Tammy List's 5-month-old pet.

Not only do employees not seem to mind having the Day-Glo-green iguana around, he's actually developed quite a following.

"A few of the people don't like reptiles," said List, 24. "But most of the people want to hold him and pick him up. He's sort of become the office mascot."

Although you might not find many offices that allow iguanas, there are many businesses throughout the San Fernando Valley where dogs and other pets have become as much a workplace fixture as phones or faxes. Pet owners contend that animals not only provide good companionship but also make for a more pleasant, less stressful work environment.

"We live in a world where it's hard to trust," said Charles Kuell, a Van Nuys licensed family counselor. "We've been cheated by corporations. Lied to by politicians. It's different with an animal, there's nothing to distrust. It's not going to fire you or talk behind your back."

Studies have shown that being around animals helps lower blood pressure and combat depression, Kuell said.

"Oftentimes people need an extra lift to get through the day. If you don't have a stroking boss, an animal can be a great source of comfort."

List, who keeps Mr. Iguana in a cage near her desk when she's not holding him, got the idea of bringing her pet to work after seeing a rabbit in a co-worker's cubicle. Another employee occasionally brings in his Siberian husky, and a third worker sometimes brings in his scorpion.

"We run a pretty loose ship here, and that adds to the creativity," said Jean MacCurdy, president of Warner Bros. Animation. "In order to have that type of atmosphere you need some flexibility."

At Sheridan Gardens Nursery, a family-run business in Burbank, Sterling L. Waldron may be the nursery's official owner, but an 8-year-old long-haired black cat named Carol is the one who holds court.

"It really is her store," says longtime saleswoman Ellen Allton. Carol certainly does her part for business, she adds.

"She's definitely an attraction," she said. "It's fun to be able to bring a pet to work."

And Waldron isn't the only boss who enjoys having an animal at work.

Michael and Robyne Leif bring their three pets to work: a Great Dane named Jaco; a Lhasa Apso, Muffy, and a cockatoo called Gabby. The Leifs' business, The Main Source Electronics Co. in Chatsworth, an electronics servicing and sales company, has a clean room that must remain dust-free, and a lab, but otherwise the animals have free rein.

Of the company's nearly 100 employees, Leif says only a few are uneasy around the animals and keep their distance. The others, he said, love having the pets around and take turns walking them during their lunch hour.

As for his clients, many of which are Fortune 500 companies, Leif recalls only one occasion when there was a problem. An executive sitting in Leif's office was unaware that there were animals present. Then suddenly the Great Dane came up and put his head in the man's lap. Leif describes the look on the man's face as one of absolute terror.

"But after a few minutes, he realized Jaco was friendly and everything was OK," Leif said. "In fact, we got the account."

Although there is no county ordinance that prohibits people from bringing pets to work, the Department of Health Services and Environmental Health requires that "any building premises be kept clean and in a sanitary condition," said Tom West, environmental health staff specialist.

Employers may legally have the right to bring animals to work, but what about the rights of employees who are phobic or allergic to animals?

"There is no specific standard governing pets in the workplace," said Rick Rice, public information officer with the state Department of Industrial Relations. "But every employer must provide a workplace that is safe and healthful. If the animal disrupts that standard, it could be a citable situation."

An employer and employee should talk things out and reach an agreement before it ever got to that point, Rice added.

Despite such concerns, others such as Charles Kuell, who often uses a pet to help a patient relax, think there is merit in the practice.

"People are beginning to realize the benefits of having pets at work. It's becoming more and more acceptable. I hope we see much more of it."

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