People who take their dog to work are my pet hate (Unless it's me – and MY dog)
04:49 GMT, 21 May 2012
Pet-lover: Civil servants' hackles have risen because energy minister Greg Barker, pictured, regularly takes his dog into work
Former American president Harry Truman once said: ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.’
But this adage does not appear to apply in today’s Whitehall.
For civil servants’ hackles have risen because an energy minister — a Tory who rejoices in the very apt name of Greg Barker — regularly takes his dog into work.
What’s more, they have complained that he uses the microwave in the kitchenette at the Department of Energy and Climate Change to warm up Otto’s bean-bag cushion.
This is the toasty doggie-woggie bed upon which Mr Barker’s beloved pooch rests his weary paws between interrupting ministerial meetings with what have been described as ‘unscheduled toilet breaks’ and tripping up mandarins.
‘When Mr Barker first arrived, we had to watch our step, as the dog wandered around the office,’ a civil servant has complained. ‘We put up with that. But when he started using our microwave to keep the dog nice and snug with a heated cushion, it proved the minister thinks more of the dog than us. Some refused to use [the microwave] because of hygiene worries.’
Mr Barker has since apologised for abusing the office microwave in such a manner, but has insisted that Otto will continue to accompany him into the office as he ‘lightens the atmosphere in a stressful world’.
I read this with mixed feelings. When I was appointed editor of The Lady magazine, I didn’t worry how I might be able to raise the magazine’s circulation in a declining market, or how to persuade my friends to write for no fee.
No. The only thing I was concerned about was what I should do about Coco — not, naturally, one of my three teenagers, but my ten-year-old collie-cross.
So I asked whether Coco could accompany me every day into the office in Covent Garden. Luckily, Ben Budworth, The Lady’s publisher, rolled over, let me tickle his tummy and agreed to my demand.
After all, although dogs — apart from guide and police dogs — have been banned from the Palace of Westminster since 1990, the only place where dogs are legally not allowed is in the kitchen of a restaurant.
At first, Coco’s presence at The Lady was warmly received — as I’m sure Otto’s was at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Indeed, the Mail reported this week that a source close to both sausage dog and minister has insisted Otto was ‘brilliant for bringing people together — essential when you are working in a coalition’.
But I can understand why many people think that dogs and offices don’t mix, like breast-feeding and boardrooms.
It always seems to be bosses who have the cheek to inflict their slobbering and halitosis-ridden animals on junior colleagues. Anyone else who tries to do the same would have their dog quickly ushered out of the back door.
As for my own Coco, she soon muscled her way into having her own column in The Lady. Indeed, ‘Coco’s Corner’ has been hailed as one of the few improvements I have made to the venerable title.
Problems: There have been complaints that Mr Barker uses the microwave in the kitchenette at the Department of Energy and Climate Change to warm up Otto's bean-bag cushion. His much-loved dog is pictured
When the writer Lady Antonia Fraser made what seemed like a papal visit to our office, I introduced Coco as ‘the office bitch’.
Quick as a flash, Lady A said to my team: ‘She’s not the only one, I’m sure.’
And when I had a major falling-out with my boss’s mother, Julia Budworth (whose family owns the magazine), Coco came to my rescue.Mrs Budworth recalled later: ‘I went into Miss Johnson’s office to murder her but she introduced me to her darling dog, Coco.’
In theory, everyone should love dogs in offices as much as the Queen loves her corgis in her palaces.
First, the owner isn’t stressed worrying about Fido. According to a survey by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, people who take their dogs to work report lower stress levels than employees without pets, or those who leave their pets at home.
At the glossy Vogue House HQ of Conde Nast magazines, managing director Nicholas Coleridge says he ‘neither encourages nor discourages dogs’. As a result, there are currently six in the building.
‘As long as they sit quietly in their baskets, it is tolerated,’ he says. But at the BBC, there is a blanket ban. Not even Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray is allowed in the studio with her chihuahuas.
Companion: Rachel Johnson, pictured, says that when she was appointed editor of The Lady magazine, she was concerned about what to do about her ten-year-old collie-cross Coco
There is one exception. Anna Webb has a two-hour show on BBC Radio London, called Barking At The Moon, devoted entirely to all things doggy. She co-presents the programme with Matilda and Molly — a miniature bull terrier and a British bulldog.
‘They’re the only dogs allowed into Broadcasting House,’ says Anna Webb. ‘My dogs are universally popular.’ Yet she admits a studio technician developed such an allergy that she had to take two weeks off, that Molly once wolfed fellow presenter Danny Baker’s lunch and Matilda once ate a microphone.
Not surprisingly, therefore, even I don’t agree with those who say every day should be a ‘bring your dog to work’ day. We Britons may love animals more than people but not everyone can co-habit with dogs.
When my brother, Boris, edited the Spectator, he asked the Agony Aunt Mary Killen for advice on a delicate matter.
The magazine’s then publisher, Kimberly Fortier, brought her Dandie Dinmont, Laszlo, to the office and it would constantly bark at him.
Mary came up with a subtle solution. She used Boris’s problem as a dilemma in her column and proffered the advice that anyone suffering with this issue should collect dog mess from the street and place it strategically around the office. She ended by saying this would ‘soon sort the problem out’.
However, when the article was published, Kimberly recognised it had been directed at Lazlo. Revenge on Mary was swift.
Soon afterwards, a delivery van arrived with an enormous box addressed to Mary. Inside she found a tiny box containing a fake plastic piece of dog mess. It had been sent by Kimberly.
This story shows the pitfalls of bringing your dog to work. Apart from the obvious dangers, your colleagues will rightly suspect you care more about a dog than about them.
This was the case with me and Coco. A few weeks after we started work together — during which Coco padded around the office begging people to give her their Hob Nob biscuits — I found the picture editor crying in the ladies.
‘What’s the matter, Tammy’ I asked gently. Tammy looked up with streaming, red-rimmed eyes. ‘I’m allergic to Coco,’ she said.
I still feel guilty. But that wasn’t the worst thing. This was when someone else wanted to bring their dog to work.
Our head of sales started bringing Arthur, her two-year-old chocolate lab. Arthur was in the boardroom when I went into a meeting with our biggest advertiser, a nice man called Chris Nieper.
I said ‘hello’, then leaned over to pat Arthur — but the dog jumped up and bit me below the eye. ‘He’s never done that before!’ remarked his owner as blood trickled down my face. ‘I wonder why he bit you’ she went on, as if it was my fault.
Later, an email from Chris ended: ‘PS, Helen’s dog is a bit of a liability. I do hope you’re OK and she leaves it at home from now on.’ She did, thank God.
So allow me to make my position clear. Like any Englishwoman, I am all in favour of dogs, both in and outside the workplace.
So long as it’s my workplace, and my dog.