Every morning, Geraldine Goldberg walks a mile from her home in Arcata, CA, to the self-storage facility she has owned and operated for eight years. But she doesn’t walk alone. For the past seven years, Goldberg has brought a companion with her. The companion’s name is Poppy, and she’s a 7-year-old Border Collie mix.
“She’s been coming to work with me every day from the moment I adopted her at 1 year old,” said Goldberg, owner of Arcata Bay Self Storage. “She’s my best friend, my protector, and really good company.”
Goldberg certainly isn’t the only self-storage professional who delights in bringing his or her dog to work. Yet facility owners and managers should practice canine caution, as one legal expert says that just one wrong move by Max or Molly could spell disaster for your business.
Playing With Poppy
Over the years, Poppy has become a staple at Arcata Bay, not only providing company for her owner but also delighting Goldberg’s tenants.
“We have a lot of college students who store things here, and they just love seeing her. They’ll often come in just to visit Poppy, because they miss their own dogs at home so much,” Goldberg said. “A lot of my tenants will also bring treats for her and just spend some time in the office so they can play with Poppy.”
While Poppy spends most of her time lounging in a fluffy dog bed behind the office desk, Goldberg also takes her out several times a day to walk the property or play ball in a large yard where tenants store boats and RVs. And even though Goldberg describes her dog as “very sweet,” she also relies on Poppy for a bit of security—if only on a psychological level.
“It’s mostly a mental thing, but I think that if some bad guy were to open the door, she’d bark intensely,” Goldberg said. “And if you’re out to do no good, the last thing you want to hear is a barking dog.”
‘A Real Sense of Safety’
Lisa Bakken, owner of A-Rite Place Self Storage in Colorado Springs, CO, has been bringing her 4-year-old Irish Wolfhound, Ozzie, to work since November.
“At first it was hard, because he had free range at home, but here he needed to be walked by one of us,” Bakken said. “He soon figured it out, though, and quickly adopted the routine of going to work. Now, he splits his time between laying in the office waiting for someone to come in and pet him, and going out on the property to do maintenance with us.”
While an incredibly docile breed, Irish Wolfhounds also are immense, sometimes standing as tall as 7 feet on their hind legs. Bakken knows this can be intimidating for some of her tenants, so Ozzie often lounges behind the counter while Bakken takes care of business.
“We do understand some folks aren’t in love with dogs, especially huge ones, so we put him behind the counter or in the apartment for those people,” Bakken said. “The majority of our customers love him, though, and look forward to a hug from Ozzie. Many of them even take pictures with him, so I’m sure he’s on many Facebook walls.”
What’s more, Ozzie not only provides Bakken an added sense of security but also comfort for tenants.
“Having Ozzie trotting around the property is reassuring to our customers,” Bakken said. “There is a real sense of safety when you’re in his presence. He is not at all aggressive, but just the sight of him would make no-good-doers think twice.”
While the majority of their experiences have been nothing but positive, both Goldberg and Bakken acknowledge that bringing their dogs to work does pose some challenges. For instance, Goldberg said, tenants sometimes assume that just because Poppy is allowed on the property that their dogs can roam the grounds as well. But this is not the case.
“The biggest challenge is when customers see Poppy and think their dogs are allowed to run around,” Goldberg said. “But Poppy is very territorial and will go after other dogs, so we always tell people that this is a dog-friendly place—as long as their dogs stay inside the vehicle.”
For Bakken, the greatest challenge is dealing with customers who want nothing to do with Ozzie.
“The only drawback would be his presence with people who may have had a bad experience with a dog or are just plain afraid of them altogether,” Bakken said. “But I’m very tuned into people and the vibe they put out. Ozzie is, too. He and I can tell if you like him or not right away. And then we take it from there.”
Liability Really Bites
For Goldberg and Bakken, dogs and self-storage may be a perfect match. But this is by no means a unanimous sentiment throughout the industry.
“A previous manager at our facility used to bring his dog to work—until one day the dog jumped on a female customer and bit her on the face,” one facility owner wrote on a Self-Storage Talk forum. “I wouldn’t have animals at a storage facility … too many people are allergic or scared of them. There’s just too much potential for something to go wrong.”
Another self-storage owner wrote: “I would not have dogs for security. I think that they are more of a liability because they could bite someone … . A person could also just be startled by a dog and fall down, causing him injury.”
A ‘Wonderful, Cute Experience’?
Self-storage legal expert Jeffrey Greenberger, a partner at Cincinnati law firm Katz Greenberger & Norton LLP, said self-storage owners are right to think twice about bringing their dogs to work.
“You can’t assume that bringing a dog to your property is just going to be this wonderful, cute experience,” Greenberger said. “If someone walks into your office and the dog bites that person, you’ve got a possible insurance and liability nightmare on your hands.”
What’s more, Greenberger said, buying the right type of insurance to protect owners against dog mishaps is incredibly difficult. Most self-storage facilities carry commercial insurance, and unless you run a grooming service or a pet store, obtaining commercial coverage that protects against dog bites is next to impossible.
“Generally speaking, there isn’t really coverage in commercial policies for animal claims because it’s not expected that there will be animals at your place of business,” Greenberger said. “This doesn’t mean you absolutely can’t bring Fido to your facility. But if you do, you better make sure you are covered if something goes wrong. Otherwise, you might be setting yourself up for disaster.”
Photo of Geraldine Goldberg and Poppy courtesy of The Arcata Eye; photos of Ozzie courtesy of A-1 Rite Place Self Storage