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Home Back Issues No. 5: LABORATORY PROTOCOL: Any problem bringing a pet dog to the lab?

Apr 26

No. 5: LABORATORY PROTOCOL: Any problem bringing a pet dog to the lab?

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Any problem bringing a pet dog to the lab?

Potential threat to clean-health status of animal subjects

Reader Question: One of my new lab employees wants to bring her dog to work. She says her spouse is allowed to do so at his work. Are outside animals harmful in a lab? What about seeing-eye dogs?

Expert Comments:

In the past few years, more companies have created policies allowing workers to bring dogs and other pets to work. These employers tend to be small companies — many of them in the creative arts, computer or human services fields. But in the world of science, biomedical research, pharmaceutical companies, universities, contract research organizations and the like, such policies are rare to nonexistent.

Most larger research institutions have general rules regarding visitors, photography, pets, and children that may be more stringent than smaller companies. In a research facility that contains laboratory animals, any type of outside animal can be a threat to the clean health status of the research animals.

Although most pet dogs are vaccinated and de-wormed and may pose a lesser threat for disease spread, the potential always exists. Some institutions require anyone who handles specific clean laboratory animals to stay away from outside species when they are not on the job — for example, no visits to the local pet store.

Other concerns from the employers' perspective are liability for potential dog bites, co-workers’ allergies, as well as some co-workers’ fear of dogs or other pets. So in a research setting with laboratory animals it is unlikely that a pet dog would be allowed, although there may be some environments where dogs could be allowed to come to work if strictly confined to the office of a research lab.

Rules regarding service animals fall under a different category. Usually human resources departments determine what, if any, accommodations might be made for laboratory personnel requiring the assistance of a service animal.

Comments by Mary B. Sauer, VMD, Dipl. ACLAM, Attending Veterinarian, Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

Do you have a question or challenge that you would like an expert to comment? Submit your own reader question.

Comments (14)
written by Valley Gal, April 25, 2010
A serious lab is no place for pets adding to the animal burden. What about time lost when the dog has to be "walked" outside for his urine and stool evacuations? How about bugs being attracted to his bowl of dog chow. I don't care if a few computer companies in Silicon Valley try to artificially boost comraderie (and supposedly productivity) by tolerating pets, beer and massages, this nonsense does not belong where dedicated researchers are trying to figure out cancer or Alzheimer's.
written by Anonymous, April 28, 2010
I think if a pet is confined to an area where laboratory experiments are not performed, it's okay. And lost productivity? Maybe the pee break is done during a 15-minute break or a lunch break. Also, no need to knock Silicon Valley- that place is the reason that you're able to do many things on your computer... and maybe even use some of the software that is necessary in your lab. People make different choices about where they want to work, and whether someone chooses to research cancer or draw the cutesy little google homepage images is their own deal. Be a little open-minded, will you!?
written by Seattle lab head, April 28, 2010
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, one of the largest and prestigious research institutions in the country, actually allows dogs in the offices (not the labs). Most of the people love this liberty... but it is clearly an exception.
written by Pet friend, April 28, 2010
There is an issue of safety for the pet as well as for the lab. He could be exposed to hazardous chemicals, radioactive materials, or biohazards. We would never think of touching the lab floor with bare hands without immediately washing up with soap and water, yet the dog can only lick his paws to clean them. Also, a casual sweep of the tail could easily knock something over or otherwise damage equipment of materials. If the pet does not need to enter a lab to get to a "safe" office space, then I don't see that there is quite as big an issue.
written by Anonymous, April 28, 2010
Its like bringing children to work. Most research institutions do not allow that and so must pets be confined to their homes. Work place, either research labs or office space should not considered as "pet friendly" areas.
written by research VP, April 28, 2010
Pets have no place whatsoever in a research laboratory. They carry potential pathogens which could damage and completely negate costly and valuable experiments, and in turn, the dog could inadvertently get into something potentially harmful. A research laboratory and a university/hospital research setting is not a place for pets, period.
written by Alert Scientist, April 28, 2010
I have worked at two Universities where dogs were allowed. They are well behaved and usually lie quietly next to their human companions outside the laboratory areas. They actually contribute to creating a more congenial and relaxed atmosphere and do not detract from the research mission. Productivity is not hampered.
written by AK, April 28, 2010
Absolutely NOT! keep your friggin pets at home. I agree with Valley gal, although she may have been a bit harse on Silicon Valley. The point is pets do not belong in the lab because aside from the many things they can do to cause harm to themselves and others, ultimately their presence will affect the behavior of the subjects being studied (stress, behavior, etc). Work and work and play at home.
written by ripast, April 28, 2010
This is absurd. What about other employees who do not like dogs. Why not bring children, friends and unemployed spouses to dress up the lab. If you can't find care for the dog during the day you can give up the dog or the job. There are plenty of unemployed scientists out there who understand that a workplace is just that-a place to work. Dog owners think everyone loves their animal. I have news for you, I don't love your animal or your kids so leave them at home.
written by Reasonable but safe, April 28, 2010
Each workplace is different. The safety issues for people, experiments, and pets should all be taken into consideration first. But, once that is done, it is truly a judgment call based on the specifics of the workplace. Pets that are well-behaved, in an appropriate environment, can either enhance or detract from success in a research setting. It is the call of on-site leadership as to whether it could help or hurt. There is no reason for a blanket policy beyond the safety concerns.
written by Anonymous, April 28, 2010
Any laboratory where any chemistry or biological experimentation is being performed is no place for an animal. However, the office or a ""common"" area is ok. As to lost time, my lab workers who have to go home to walk their dog (or their children's dog) loses more time, than the one in the office. Morale boost and enhanced productivity is not a ""supposed"" effect of the flexible schedules. It is unfortunate that those working to find cures for dreadful diseases, sometimes forget about the undeniable and demonstrated effects of having a ""heart"".
written by IACUC, April 28, 2010
If you have a pet animal in the lab, at my institution you must have an IACUC protocol for pets in the laboratory. That means the PI is now responsible for *your* pet. Forget it. Keep them at home where they belong or hire someone to take care of the animal.
written by a really bad idea, April 28, 2010
While bringing a pet to work might boost moral of the owner, it can cause an asthma attack in your office neighbor who may be very allergic to dogs, be they well behaved or not. Even if the dog is restricted to one office many of the offices in research buildings have recirculated air, unlike lab space which is vented outside the building. Leave the animals at home for every one's well being.
written by anonymous, April 28, 2010
It is true that a lab may not be a place for a pet, but sometimes if the researcher needs to spend a lot of time in the lab it would be easier if the pet could come along and stay in the office. It depends on the pet, but this could increase productivity rather than decrease it. For those of you that do not like animals... Well.. some people are not likable either and we have to put up with you in the workplace too.

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