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Managing Pets in the Home Office

A home office pet can lower stress and improve health -- if you plan ahead.

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Managing Pets in the Home Office

A little exercise can go a long way toward easing a pet into your home office routine.

Michael Desmond

Working from home affords many luxuries, with one of the less appreciated ones being that you can keep your pets with you in your workspace. Medical studies have shown that dogs can have a palliative effect on their owners, with dog owners recording lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than their non-dog owning counterparts. Other studies have found that contact with pets can help ease symptoms of stress, including heightened blood pressure.

What's more, pet ownership has been shown to reduce the likelihood that children will develop asthma and animal dander allergies. And of course, there are the physical and social benefits that come with pet ownership, in the form of daily walks and meeting other pet owners.

The point is, there are a lot of good reasons to welcome your dog or cat into your office. But sharing space with a furry friend can pose challenges. Within weeks of setting up shop with my yellow lab Finnigan (since deceased), I discovered that my floor-mounted computer was getting jammed up with fur. Frequent vacuuming and moving the PC off the floor and onto a pedestal helped solve the problem. I also had to crack open my PC case and vacuum out all the hair that found its way inside.

Cats pose their own risks. David Platt is a legendary software programmer and columnist at MSDN Magazine (where I work during the day). He recently wrote a column titled The Cat Butt Factor that revealed how his cat Simba had, on multiple occasions, wreaked computer havoc by walking or sleeping on his notebook PC's keyboard. On more than one occasion, Dave had to wipe his hard drive clean and reinstall everything.

Solutions to Pet Shenanigans
Believe it or not (actually, believe it), there's a software program that protects you from feline keyboard vandalism. Called Pawsense, the software automatically detects nonsense typing and immediately disables keyboard input. It even plays an irritating sound to chase the cat away.

Looking for a hardware solution? Consider the Kitty Keyboard Kover, a simple acrylic enclosure that you place over your keyboard to keep the cat physically off your stuff. Able to bear up to 16 pounds of weight, the Kover adds the benefit of helping keep your keyboard clear of cat fur.

There are other hazards, of course. Pets are prone to get tangled in the inevitable rat's nest of cables and wires in a typical home office, so it's a good idea to practice sound cable management. And dogs can cause moments of embarrassment when they suddenly start barking in the middle of an important conference call.

For dog owners, it's a good idea during conference calls to keep the phone on mute as much as possible, so when the dog does decide to go off, you are less likely to broadcast his or her bellowing to your colleagues. It's the same principal that applies to keeping your seat belt fastened during a flight. You never know when you might hit some chop.

As with anything, a little planning can go a long way. Dog owners should make time to exercise their pets in the morning, to prevent having a hyped up canine pacing frantically all day. It's also a good idea to set up a comfortable space for the animal that is clear of cords and equipment. Dogs like enclosed spaces, so it might make sense to make room under your desk, which could mean moving your PC and other gear and furniture.

Do you share your home office with a beloved pet? I would love to hear your stories. Email me at siteguide@homeoffice.about.com.

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