photos courtesy Williamson County Attorney’s Office
In 1999, Pet Sitters International created Take Your Dog to Work day to encourage businesses to allow dogs in the workplace. It was intended to celebrate dogs as companions and promote their adoptions from local shelters, rescue groups, and humane societies. One Williamson County office not only took the holiday to heart, but has turned it into a signature workplace program.
Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs participated in the national event for the first time in 2019. Mr. Hobbs says it was popular with the staff and everyone enjoyed it; “We didn’t do it in 2020 because people were at home. But, in 2021, we have been running minimal staff in the office so we allowed all the people who had to be there to bring a comfort animal while they worked. We started out doing it periodically for those who needed it and, across the board, it has been great for morale.”
Inspired by the results, Mr. Hobbs and his Chief of Staff Peggy Vasquez are personally investing in formal training for their own dogs to be certified service dogs. He says, “We’ve all been through the wringer and it is comforting, when you’re the only person in a big office, to have your best friend as a co-worker.”
Office companions, however, only need to be house-trained and social, but everyone agrees that it’s a treat to walk through the halls and see baby gates on the doors. Mr. Hobbs adds, “It’s also a great humanizer for guests to see that we’re just people too, and we love dogs.”
Beyond that, his Great Dane and Peggy’s Havanese are being trained and certified to be in the office regularly to provide support for victims and witnesses. Mr. Hobbs says, “Being in the justice system can cause a lot of anxiety for children or families. We have both dogs to cover the spectrum; some people love and feel safer around big dogs, others prefer a small dog for comfort. The dogs are here to help ease the process for anyone who has been through a trauma.” He adds that it is also helpful to have animals present as a distraction because there are often long waits in the office, or outside courtrooms. Studies have shown service animals lower blood pressure and anxiety responses, and “people who are waiting to testify can spend their time petting the animals rather than thinking about their concerns.”
Mr. Hobbs says he will continue with the national awareness event and allow employees to bring a personal dog for support every now and then, if just to break up the monotony. “When we did it in 2019, we had no idea how much it was going to pay off during a time no one saw coming. But necessity is the mother of invention and, really, it’s just hard to be in a bad mood when there’s a puppy around.”
Contributed by Peggy Vasquez
Pepper is my 3-year-old Havanese and she serves in the Williamson County Attorney’s office as a Service Dog working with Victims of Crime.
After losing my beloved 18-year-old Havanese boy, Bogey, who had filled my life with so much joy, I longed for a new fur baby. When I mentioned it to my boss, County Attorney Dee Hobbs, he suggested that if I would be interested in getting a new puppy and would commit to training the puppy to work as a Service Dog to help victims of crime, it would be beneficial to our office as well as our own staff and visitors to the building.
I wanted to adopt and re-home an adult Havanese and began my search online. Several months had passed when I received the call about Pepper. Her previous owner could not keep her due to an illness so it was decided that this beautiful, Havanese girl from a champion blood line would be mine. My daughter picked her up in California and flew her home to me.
Pepper’s quiet and reserved nature is perfect for the job. Her training went very well and she has been an amazing addition to my life and to the office. She is the official office mascot, and attends all meetings. She also assists in drawing attention to important issues like domestic violence awareness, teen dating violence, the Pandemic, and many others.
She has worked with victims of domestic violence, applicants for protective orders, witnesses who were nervous about their participation in trial, and children who were present in our office while their parent met with Prosecutors.
She is always a welcome sight for our own staff members when they need a little “Pepper Time”, and as a greeter in the Justice Center for those in the building attending to difficult matters.
Pepper loves her job and every morning finds her waiting eagerly to go to work to bring a little comfort, spread a little joy—and sometimes comic relief—wherever she goes.