There are dogs in people's laps, dogs under people's desks, even dogs sitting at desks. There are so many animals in this office, you might be tempted to describe it as a zoo.
But the animal-to-human ratio at Trupanion, the pet-insurance company in Seattle, is higher than at most zoos: On any given day, there might be 300 dogs and 600 employees.
What is it like to work in an office like that? It's like living in a world where your dog is part of your identity, where everything is built around you being a dog person, and where everyone around you is also a dog person. People learn your dog's name before they learn your name. Walking around the office reminded me of Philip Pullman's fantasy series His Dark Materials, where every human has their own animal "daemon" that follows them around and acts as an external representation of their character.
"We are pet people. It's just what we do," Steve Weinrauch, the chief product officer at Trupanion, told me during a recent tour. "I don't think there are many people who aren't pet people who would work here."
From the outside, the Georgetown building looks nondescript. Inside are many of the perks commonplace for tech companies: free food, people riding around on hoverboards, a keg of beer everyone seems too busy to enjoy. Once you start walking around, you realize that this office also has an entire infrastructure built to serve the pets.
The floors are a composite material that is both comfortable for dogs to walk on and easy for humans to clean. How often do dogs pee inside? "It's not something that I ever notice, but it happens," Weinrauch said. Trupanion employs a staff of four dog walkers, a pet program manager, and a pet emergency team staffed with veterinarians. Every dog here undergoes fecal testing to make sure it won't spread parasites. "As a veterinarian myself, I wouldn't want it any other way," Weinrauch said.
Perhaps the most noticeable doggie infrastructure at Trupanion is the network of dog gate upon dog gate. To make sure that dogs stay near their owners and away from other dogs they might have problems with, Trupanion has constructed a maze of gates around every set of office cubicles, sometimes giving employees only a foot of space behind their office chair.
Claustrophobic dog gates aside, pet- friendly workplaces do appear to provide some benefits to employers. A 2017 review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that "the benefits of dog-friendly workplaces may manifest as lower rates of absenteeism and higher worker morale and productivity."
Pet-friendly companies argue that having dogs around keeps people relaxed, encourages conversation between employees, and increases morale. Trupanion's pet-friendly policy makes even more sense when you consider what the company sells: pet insurance. When you call to find out if your pet-insurance policy covers an emergency surgery to remove the phone charger stuck in your dog's stomach, wouldn't you rather the person on the line also had a much-loved mutt at their feet?
"To look at the dog on your lap or the dog sitting in that chair—it grounds you and reminds you why you are here and what you are passionate about," Weinrauch said. "The reality is, you can put yourself in their shoes and say, 'How would I feel if my dog was going through that?'"
As I was leaving, I asked Weinrauch if he could imagine the office without any pets inside of it. "No. It wouldn't be Trupanion," he said. "This is what we do. It's all of our passions. It's why we exist."