Working like dogs in a china shop at Replacements Ltd.

by Brian Clarey

Every job has its perks. Airline pilots get free flights. Barbers get free haircuts. Cops get free doughnuts — at least, I think they do. But you know what I mean.

But employees of Replacements Ltd., a Greensboro company specializing in obscure china patterns and hard-to-find pieces, enjoy a benefit that has nothing to do with table service. All employees at Replacements are allowed to bring their dogs to work. Every day.

There are about 30 dogs here on any given workday, and sometimes the number swells to 70.

Amy Fisher, who is copy editor for Replacements’ magazine, called Silver, has her dog with her in the cubicle right now, a Westiepoo named Callie, who is standing on two legs and begging for attention at the gate that defines her space.

“Callie likes to walk on her hind legs,” her owner explains. Fisher says she’s been bringing Callie to work just about every day since the dog was eight weeks old.

“She’s kind of been summering at home because my kids are there, but she’s usually here every day. She thinks she works here,” Fisher says. “This is the only life Callie has ever known. If we left her out all day I don’t know what kind of trouble she’d get into.”

Jeanine Falcon, vice-president for human resources at Replacements, says it all began more than 15 years ago, when the company was still new. Owner Bob Page was putting in long hours and he felt guilty coming home to his two attentionstarved dogs, so he just started taking them to work with him.

“Bob figured, if he can do it, why not other people?” Falcon says. And company policy was born.

Steve Hyatt has two dogs with him in his cubicle, Mitzi and Charlee. “Very rarely do they stay home,” he says.

Hyatt is one who has forged deep relationships with his dogs.

He recalls Duchess, a beagle who died too young, and shows a picture on his desk of the two of them together.

Mitzi, he says, “was a surrender, because they said she couldn’t be trained. She came from a home with dogs and cats and children, and I guess she didn’t get enough attention.”

Now Mitzi wags and frolics with Charlee from behind the gate.

“You don’t have to worry about them being home,” Hyatt says, crouched down with his pets. “It’s great for them — I think it relieves a lot of stress. Of course Charlee causes some stress because he’s such a treat-hound.”

Hyatt says he left Replacements for a time, and folks at the new job did not feel the same when he brought Charlee, whom he describes as “co-dependent,” in to work with him.

“They thought it was the strangest thing,” he recalls. “Someone called the home office. I had to make up a story that I had to take her to the vet. I came back here [to work] mainly because of that.”

Kevin Bond has his pit bull, Charger, kenneled into his cubicle with a portable gate, but he lets him out to visit with his son, Teddy, a larger pit — one of the only office dogs Charger is social with. Charger was a rescue, his owner explains, and the effects of his abuse still linger. The office, his owner says, is one of his favorite places.

“He loves it,” Bond says. “The only other option is [for him] to stay at home alone all day. [Coming here] is a great relief for him.”

So there are dogs in the china shop, romping on the campus lawns, sniffing each other, accepting treats from warehouse employees who carry them in their pockets. They get walks at lunchtime and fresh water all day.

Falcon the HR VP describes it as a “benefit.”

“A lot of folks here work a lot of hours,” she says, “and they don’t have to worry about getting back to the dog. You’ve got that fuzzy face right here.”

There are policies for pets in the employee handbook, she says, social codes for the owners, a few safety rules. And there has never been a serious problem with the dogs, she says. Quite the contrary.

“I think it has a great impact on our workforce and the way people connect,” she says.

“It really creates connections. Customers love it, too. They’ll see a Jack Russell on top of a cart — how can you not be delighted?”

Replacements employee Steve Hyatt with Mitzi and Charlee. (photo by Brian Clarey)