Is it time to admit that dog-friendly offices are more exclusive than health-friendly?
Illustration by Brittany England
Names have been changed at request of interviewees.
It builds slowly. I start coughing — one of those annoying, tickly coughs that’s hard to listen to. My eyes itch, and the tip of my nose starts to twitch. Soon, my eyes are red and puffy, and my nose is streaming.
The cough gets louder and more barking. It becomes harder to swallow, and my chest feels like it’s in a vise. I can’t take a full breath in, and breathing out is even harder. It’s difficult to focus, and brain fog sets in. I feel like I have a virus and just want to lie down with a box of tissues in hand.
But I can’t. Because I’m at work.
I should speak up. But it’s hard — these symptoms are tied to what’s considered an office perk: dogs at the workplace.
The times I’ve spoken up, some colleagues have been personally offended I’ve shunned their fur baby. People have said a few times that I should get therapy to resolve my “dog issue” and that maybe I’m not allergic at all, just think I am. This makes it challenging to fight against the rising tide of dog-friendly office spaces when so many people love having their pets at work. But the presence of a pooch in the office can make people physically sick.
According to a 2011 allergy report by Quest Diagnostics, people with allergies need to take 1.7 more days off work than their peers without allergies, resulting in almost 4 million missed workdays in the United States every year and over $700 million in lost productivity.
Jessica tried to stick it out at her dog-friendly office at a digital marketing company. “My boss was really sympathetic towards people with pet allergies and did try to keep her dog in her office, but it always escaped and inevitably would end up at my desk,” she says.
People loved having a dog in the office, so I felt bad, almost ashamed, when I’d have an [allergy] attack. People don’t always have the patience for allergy sufferers, so it makes it difficult. I often felt sick but didn’t want to say it was probably the dog that was the problem, as I knew my boss would be terribly upset,” she says.
Jessica left her position after six months, largely due to the presence of the dog.
There’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog
It’s not something that can be fixed by simply removing the animal once they’ve been in the office for a period of time. Nor does it make any difference if you’ve been told your pet is hypoallergenic.
There’s no such thing.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, it’s a protein in the pet’s dander (dead skin flakes), saliva, and urine that causes a reaction. And it doesn’t matter what length the animal’s hair is or how much it sheds. These allergens can stay airborne for months and cling to walls, carpets, furniture, clothing, and other surfaces long after the animal is gone.
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