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5 Reasons Pets are Great for the Workplace

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By Carmel Lobello

The idea that pets are good for workplace productivity is counterintuitive: Pets are noisy and rambunctious, and they need to be fed, walked, and cuddled throughout the day. If anything, they sound like they would distract from work.

Yet a growing number of companies, from Ben & Jerry's to Google, are allowing employees to bring their pets to work. Some, like Village Green, a Detroit-based property management company, actually pay workers to bring their pets to work.

Here, five ways pets can improve the workplace:

1. They lower stress levels

Many work environments are inherently stressful: There are deadlines and quotas to meet, bosses and coworkers to please, and often very little sunlight and opportunity to get out from behind the computer screen. All these factors can elevate stress and lower workplace satisfaction, taking a bite out of worker productivity.

The antidote to all that stress? Research shows that four-legged furry friends can be of great help.

Recent studies in hospitals and nursing homes have shown the powerful effect animals can have on human health. Interspecies interaction can contribute to lower blood pressure, relief from depression and anxiety, and even faster recovery after surgeries. Similar benefits have been proven in the office setting, too.

In 2012, a Virginia Commonwealth University study took a look at a 550-person manufacturing-retail office in Greensboro, N.C., where about 20 to 30 dogs came to work each day, says Science Daily. Using surveys and saliva samples to evaluate stress levels, researchers found that self-reported stress declined throughout the day for employees who brought their pets to the office.

Meanwhile, those who left their dogs at home experienced an increase of self-reported stress throughout the day. By the end of the day, the group had "significantly higher stress" than the group with dogs.

2. They help break the ice

Like a cute baby or an offensive T-shirt, pets have a way of instigating conversation among humans. This can be clutch in the modern workplace, where many employees interact only through screens, and offices can be quiet, except for the noisy typers.

Pets pull people away from their screens long enough to answer questions about, well, their pets—the breed, the story behind the name, etc. These face-to-face conversations can help team members bond and boost morale.

A 2010 study out of the University of Central Michigan showed how pets can foster bonding in the workplace:

The CMU study involved several experiments; one involving groups of four individuals, some with or without dogs. Each group member was charged with a fake crime, and surveyed to see if they would report their fellow group members. Groups with dogs present made employees 30 percent less likely to report each other, showing that canine co-workers make for a more cohesive and trustworthy workplace environment. [The Humane Society]

3. They force breaks

Most jobs don't require workers to take breaks, and in a competitive, fast-paced environment, that can mean full days where workers don't leave their desks for more than the occasional trip to the water cooler.

Having a dog in the office requires the owner to occasionally peel herself away from her computer and take the dog for a walk, essentially forcing a break.

Though it sounds counterintuitive, these breaks can boost productivity. Studies show that sustained mental effort over multiple hours, like the kind required for data entry jobs, for example, can cause mental fatigue and stress, resulting in more mistakes and lower productivity. Occasionally breaking away, however, can boost focus and creativity, and lower mistakes.

It also helps that the dog owners are taking the breaks outside and moving around—also good for mental clarity.

4. They remove pests for free

At Civitas, an urban design, planning, and landscape architecture firm in Denver, a gray and white cat named Gonzo performs a vital task: Mice removal.

"The mice came back when the cat before him died, but disappeared again when Gonzo showed up," says Amirah Shahid, a landscape architect at the firm. "He recently left a dead mouse carcass as a present at someone's desk."

Beyond the free gifts, the cat means not having to hire an exterminator to spray chemicals around the office.

5. The decor

Another benefit: Some cats and dogs can make the space more attractive. "[Gonzo's] very handsome to look at," says Shahid. "And he makes us take much needed breaks to acknowledge his presence when he's making his rounds around the studio."

"Clients, consultants, and other office visitors think we're super cool because we have him roaming around."

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Animals
Scientists Discover 'Octlantis,' a Bustling Octopus City
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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Octopuses are insanely talented: They’ve been observed building forts, playing games, and even walking on dry land. But one area where the cephalopods come up short is in the social department. At least that’s what marine biologists used to believe. Now a newly discovered underwater community, dubbed Octlantis, is prompting scientists to call their characterization of octopuses as loners into question.

As Quartz reports, the so-called octopus city is located in Jervis Bay off Australia’s east coast. The patch of seafloor is populated by as many as 15 gloomy octopuses, a.k.a. common Sydney octopuses (octopus tetricus). Previous observations of the creatures led scientists to think they were strictly solitary, not counting their yearly mating rituals. But in Octlantis, octopuses communicate by changing colors, evict each other from dens, and live side by side. In addition to interacting with their neighbors, the gloomy octopuses have helped build the infrastructure of the city itself. On top of the rock formation they call home, they’ve stored mounds of clam and scallop shells and shaped them into shelters.

There is one other known gloomy octopus community similar to this one, and it may help scientists understand how and why they form. The original site, called Octopolis, was discovered in the same bay in 2009. Unlike Octlantis, Octopolis was centered around a manmade object that had sunk to the seabed and provided dens for up to 16 octopuses at a time. The researchers studying it had assumed it was a freak occurrence. But this new city, built around a natural habitat, shows that gloomy octopuses in the area may be evolving to be more social.

If that's the case, it's unclear why such octo-cities are so uncommon. "Relative to the more typical solitary life, the costs and benefits of living in aggregations and investing in interactions remain to be documented," the researchers who discovered the group wrote in a paper published in Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology [PDF].

It’s also possible that for the first time in history humans have the resources to see octopus villages that perhaps have always been bustling beneath the sea surface.

[h/t Quartz]

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Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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