Fur may fly over proposed no-pet policy at City of Hamilton offices

 

The claws may soon be out after a motion to ban pets form City of Hamilton offices was introduced at Thursday's (Nov. 21) Audit, Finance and Administration Committee meeting.

A report outlining a potential workplace pet policy and procedure for the city to adopt was presented by staff and ignited a rather lively debate around adopting such a policy.

Councillor Brad Clark, who prefaced his remarks by pointing out that he is a dog owner and has experience in training dogs, was the first to voice his vehement opposition to having pets in the workplace.

"No one can predict the behaviour of a dog," he said, pointing out that even the most "tame" dog could have moments of unpredictability.

Clark worried that children, members of the public or staff who harbour a fear of dogs will not feel welcome or supported in city spaces if there's a policy that allows pets. He also said for people with allergies, this is an untenable scenario.

Most councillors on the committee were of the same mind and echoed Clark's concerns.

Councillor Maria Pearson put her opposition simply: "Pets belong in the home."

The policy report was an effort by staff to formalize a situation that already exists at offices in the Lister Block and elsewhere. The policy would provide guidelines for allowing either dogs or cats — no other animals — into a set of pre-approved workspaces across the city.

In 2017, the report says, "a Bring Your Dog to Work Program was launched at the Lister Block as a workplace wellness initiative and pilot project for staff working out of that building."

Response to the program by dog owners and non-dog owners has been "overwhelmingly positive," the report says.

While Clark said he appreciates the benefits of having animals around, he said that not all people feel the same and if someone has a deep-rooted fear of dogs, in an environment where their presence is officially sanctioned and enjoyed by other members of staff and management, they'd be in a position where they'd have no recourse to deal with the problem.

"It boxes them in a corner," Clark said.

He said there's a "power imbalance" in this scenario and it's unfair to put the onus on the fearful employee to report their discomfort and ultimately deal with the potential repercussions from disappointed colleagues or employers.

The question of how dogs were allowed into the workspace without the input of council in the first place was raised at the meeting as well.

Staff pointed out that the situation arose informally and was well received so bringing the report to the committee was an attempt to formalize the situation and provide an opportunity for checks and balances.

A motion to have staff look into establishing a no-pet policy in all city offices was ultimately brought forward by Councillor Clark and passed by the committee.

Undoubtedly, the coming weeks will see the fur fly over this policy.

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