Silicon Valley startups have long touted pet-friendly workplaces, but PetFirst Pet Insurance has been pet-friendly long before most startups were even sketches on a napkin. Over the years, we’ve come to recognize that a pet-friendly workplace is valuable for morale and a favorite perk for new hires – but it also takes good planning and policies.

When we were founded in 2004 as a small team, bringing pets to the office was pretty easy. But now we have more than 60 employees at our Jeffersonville, IN headquarters – and that means dozens of cats and dogs with different styles, personalities, comfort levels, house-training challenges and allergens.

If a pet-friendly policy is going to work, it has to be friendly for everyone. In 2012, we spent a significant amount of time honing and formalizing our pet policy to ensure that the needs of all our employees – and their pet companions – were considered. As the company has grown and evolved, so has our policy.

Katie Blakeley, our CEO, understood that it was easy for her to bring her dog Franklin into her office space, but she wanted the pet policy to work for everyone in the company, including those taking customer calls on the floor. Can cats, dogs, and fish all live harmoniously in an office space? Yes, with some good rules in place.

You can sort our pet guidelines into a few key categories.

Canine Code: We love every dog, but they do have to be able to work around other people and pets without excessive barking, growling, or overall disruption. Additional safeguards require that they always be with their human companion and remain tethered or behind a pet gate at all times.

Code Brown: This one is self-explanatory and means each pet parent cleans up accidents – and is responsible for any pet damage.

Vaccinations and other healthcare requirements: Pets must be up-to-date on shots and be spayed/neutered before joining the PetFirst workforce. A collar with identification tags also must be warn.

Be Super Scoopers:  Designated areas outside are for pets to do their business, but even there – clean up waste.

What about allergies? Human allergies mean that not every PetFirst employee can hang out with every kind of pet.  We offer separate work spaces for those with allergies and they are (of course!) free to love from distance and pet as they want.

Our business focuses on animal health and wellness and we want employees’ pets and their owners to be comfortable, safe and healthy. We’ve discovered that a pet-friendly workplace is a big part of that.  We also offer employees $250 to offset adoption costs for pets rescued from shelters and annual employee pet insurance discounts that increase with tenure.

Some of our employees say that a difficult day at work is eased when their cat can jump up in their lap. And others say their dogs are less anxious now, since they don’t spend as much time alone.

On any given day there are between 10 and 15 furry friends and even the occasional reptile or amphibian in our office. This pet-forward atmosphere suits us, helps us attract and retain top talent, and sends the message that is core to our company’s values. We love pets!

Taryn Pearson is director of human resources at PetFirst.

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