Minding the store: Pets at the workplace

Local dogs, cats and fish supporting the local workforce

by Dawne Belloise

This year, June 19 through June 23 is national Take Your Pet To Work Week, but in Crested Butte, our pets have been helping us mind the store every day for decades.

Studies have shown that having your pet at work reduces stress, can alleviate depression, and makes employees more productive. Cuddling your fur baby for just 10 minutes a day not only lowers your blood pressure but lowers your pet’s as well. With your pet by your side at work, you feel better knowing that your best friend is not sitting at home alone—even though Crested Butte has excellent dog and cat day care at Oh Be Dogful, just in case you have a pet-less board meeting to attend.

Pets help forge social connections between workers and clients. At the Old Town Inn, Luke, the miracle dog, who just survived getting run over 10 days after being adopted, works the front desk with Caroline Czenkusch.

“Barley, the golden retriever, works there sometimes, but very quickly learned to open the doors to go mobile at unhandy times. Sometimes people come in and don’t remember the human names but ask about the front-desk dogs by name,” says owner Sandy Fails.

Meanwhile, over at the Cristiana, Rosemary Catmur’s two cats would hang out in the lobby and her guests loved it. “My remaining cat still knows to hang out by the hotel front door in the summer so the guests will let him inside! Sometimes our dog, Ginger, comes out to see our repeat guests who ask for her,” she tells.

Baxter, large as a horse and dark as night, will pony up to you at the bar at the Talk of the Town, his huge paws resting on the counter. He’ll listen intently and discreetly to your tall tales and barroom whining. The seemingly empty picture frames facing the street from the front window is where he usually presses his face up against the glass and looks out at passersby.

ABG Gellert is on the road quite a bit of the time as the senior vice president of production and resources at the Civic Entertainment Group, an experiential marketing agency. Her black cat, Harley, is a seasoned world traveler. “I take Harley everywhere with me—he’s a working animal of this valley and beyond. My travels take me to a wide variety of places and Harley has flown with me to Florida, Arizona, New York, Massachusetts, Colorado and even Paris. I only bring him to work on weekends or if there’s a mouse in the office. Now that he’s older, he only comes to the job site if I’m there a week or longer because he’s too old to fly for just a day,” she says of her jet-setter cat.

Amused people often stop and ask ABG, “Is that a cat?” and she usually answers, “No, he’s an ugly dog.” Harley gets tucked into the top of ABG’s jean overalls or into his very own travel bag, a front-carrier pouch. Once at work, he’s free to walk around because he doesn’t go very far. ABG recalls how she reluctantly took on the job of fostering Harley as a three-day-old abandoned kitten who was rescued by her then boss.

“He was feral, born in a storm, and my boss had found the litter of kittens on the street in Jersey City,” she sadly tells. When two of the three kittens died, ABG’s boss begged her to try to save the last. “I worked at New York Theatre Workshop and I brought him to work with me and took him out every few hours to bottle-feed him. He survived and then he was spoiled and had to go with me to work all the time. He’d stand at the door and rattle his leash to go with me. When I take my suitcase out, he climbs in.”

Now that Harley is 15 years old, ABG says that although he’s not a hugely social animal, he’s totally fine at work and tolerant of his admirers. “He loves to be talked to and looked at but he’s not really big on being touched. It’s absolutely beneficial to have him with me because I live in this gypsy whirlwind world where I’m one third of the time in New York, Colorado and on the road and the only thing that makes this tolerable is that Harley makes the hotel room a home, because home is where the Harley is. Having him around makes me calm and makes others happier and calmer. It’s impossible to be that stressed when there’s a cat wearing pajamas,” she laughs.

At KBUT, there’s Reverb, the radio station’s unassuming beta fish, in a small bowl on the counter next to the paper cutter and other implements. “Fish can be very soothing,” says Reverb’s feeder, Laura Anderson, membership director for the station. “It provides good alternative entertainment,” she feels, because people who come in are immediately greeted by the friendly, smiling dog duo of Sage (owner Tyler Lucas) and Axe (Chad Reich), but they have to go seek out the fish, who everyone assumes is dead because he’s either hiding in a rock tower or floating at the top of the tank.

“He’s not dead, he’s just in stasis,” says Laura. Occasionally, Brian will show up, Jackson Petito’s blind beagle, which possesses a remarkable spatial memory and can navigate a room like a blind blues guitar player can find the way on his instrument. Brian certainly seems appropriate for KBUT.

Lying on a massage table, you’re likely to hear the sounds of ethereal music, a babbling brook or Native American flutes to help sooth your stress while the masseuse works the tensions out of your overworked muscles, but in Lyn Maresca’s office at Advanced Bodywork and Therapeutic Massage, you’ll also get Brit, the resident Jack Russell terrier. Unlike many Jack Russells, whose high energy is well-known, Brit (short for Little Britches) quietly sleeps under the massage table, only emerging when called by adoring clients. Lyn became Brit’s owner in 2003, when he was only eight weeks old, and he’s been assisting her with massage therapy ever since. From the beginning, Brit quickly transitioned into greeting people. He learned to recognize the sound of the outside door opening and would run to greet the client and lead them to the office. Lyn says as soon as her clients catch sight of the effervescent little pup, their stress levels visibly lessen.

“Some clients sit on the floor with him. People expect him to be there and they miss him if he’s not there. I have a couple of clients who arrange their clothes on the chair so he can sleep on them. Others reach down and scratch him when they’re getting massaged. He’s a total part of the package. And people have known him since he was eight weeks and now he’s almost 14. For me, I don’t have to worry about him being alone and he helps my stress levels, too. We go for walks at lunch or we’ll go to Camp 4 Coffee and sit outside. I feel like he’s part of my practice. He’s truly the official greeter and he has so many fans. He gets more Christmas presents than I do.”

Across town at Patti Gast’s Massage and Ortho-Bionomy clinic, her late dog, Bodhi, a golden retriever, would lie under the massage table every day and, Patti smiles, most people never knew he was there. “Halfway through the massage, they’d hear this big sigh. Bodhi was very regal and not needy; rarely would he go up to a client,” Patti says, noting that although Bodhi preferred to survey his domain from the top of the reception hallway stairs, he still exuded a healing presence and calmness. Bodhi passed over the Rainbow Bridge a couple of years ago and she remembers the void that he left. “I can only describe when he wasn’t there, when I lost him. It felt empty.”

It was two years before Patti found Tyler, another golden retriever, who, now eight months old, is, according to Patti, “A goofball knucklehead,” still learning a bit of etiquette. “He’s extremely different from Bodhi. He’s a total greeter and he doesn’t really like to lie in my office. He’s more a reception area dog during the session. He’s very good for a puppy. All my clients always loved Bodhi.

“If Tyler isn’t there, clients ask where he is. Tyler loves going into the health food store office across the hall for a visit and greeting their staff. He’ll literally go push their door open,” she smiles of the socializing pup. “I have found my dogs to be a great icebreaker, both on the job and around town. They act as a social lubricant.”

Fame has followed the celebrity cat, Mr. Jingles, who runs the True Value store and is the real mayor of Crested Butte, according to numerous TV news programs and magazines the cat has been featured in. Jingles has his own costumes, in true Buttian form, and the entire town celebrates his Cinco de Mayo birthday with a shindig of piñatas, beer, food and live music that closes off the store’s parking lot for the hundreds who show up. Just over a decade old, most winter days Señor Jingles spends time sleeping in his window hammock, on a shelf next to some hardware, or on top of the cash register. In the summer, he’s out and about, visiting other establishments as a true ambassador of town. He is undeniably a beloved icon, with many followers on his Facebook page, Jingles El GatoPerro.

Crested Butte Center for the Arts technical engineer Deadhead Ed can be found running cables, sound and lights, setting up and breaking down stage equipment for the musicians, during which time Rita and Sarita, his two Chihuahuas, are wandering around the stage and building and hanging out in the green room with the celebrities.

Ed also delivers Brick Oven Pizza on Tuesdays and he says of his co-pilots, “That’s when they really earn their keep. If I deliver to a hotel, people go crazy if I ‘accidentally’ let the dogs run into the room, because no one ever brings their dogs on vacation and my two are cute as heck.”

Once while delivering to Three Seasons Ed let friendly little Rita run into the condo and he chuckles, “The wives went nuts, they were so happy. They were taking photos of Rita and me and they were having a good time. One of the hubbies slipped $20 into my pocket and says, ‘Thanks for making the wives happy,’ and my question was, just what was going on before we got there? How miserable were those three husbands?” he laughs. “Whatever was going on before we got there, Rita made it right.”

Rita came to Ed from a dying owner who was homeless and living in a tent in New Mexico. Now she lives in Crested Butte’s upper west side in a 53-year-old pink trailer that Ed jokes, “is two years younger than I am and it isn’t much better than a tent, but it is a little better.”

And Rita has lots of love. Sarita is new to the family, adopted after Ed saw her photo on the Gunnison Underdog Rescue Facebook page and thought, “Why wouldn’t I have Rita and Sarita both? So I went down and met her and then we had a sleep-over. Sarita kept biting me but by the next day we started getting along. My dogs,” he jests, “keep me from killing everyone around me.”

Of course, the Crested Butte News office is no exception, with three full-time greeters, Mojo, Linus, and Mazie, along with several visiting dogs, most notably Lulu, Mojo’s girlfriend. On a personal note, I once had an animal whisperer explain to me that my tuxedo cat, Mr. Gizmo, was actually helping me write my stories, psychically sending ideas and words. He does tend to hover over me when I’m working, but I didn’t believe for a moment that he was feeding my writings, because I know he’s slyly trying take credit for my work and it’s just a ploy to get extra helpings of food. He takes up a full third of the space on my leather chair while I’m working and I’m delighted to have him there just to hear his motoring, soothing purr.

We love our furry, scaly, feathered and fuzzy friends, and most of them have learned the proper etiquette of interacting in this town. Tourists love the local store pets who greet them because it’s something that doesn’t commonly happen in their cities and towns. Locals are thrilled to have their pets accompany them to work to help them mind the store, pass the time, creatively inspire, and get them outdoors for exercise daily. Our pets give unconditional love and understanding when we’ve had that tough day at the job. Pets in the workplace, wherever or whatever that may be, make us healthier and happier, and that’s a fact.

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