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Dogs are becoming an integral part of some businesses around Pittsburgh

| Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, 11:01 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband
Edie the dog, a Boxer/Labrador Retriever mix is the canine ambassador at the Fairmont Pittsburgh Hotel. 'She's my assistant,' said head concierge Mark Chambers (left). Edie is a former service dog whose job is to welcome guests and is available to accompany them on walks.
Jasmine Goldband
Edie the dog, a 16-month-old Boxer/Labrador Retriever mix fetches a toy at the Fairmont Pittsburgh Hotel. 'She's my assistant,' said head concierge Mark Chambers. Edie is a former service dog whose new job is to welcome guests and is available to accompany them on walks.
Jasmine Goldband
Joy Balentine, Heinz History Center events assistant greets Edie the dog, a Boxer/Labrador Retriever mix at the Fairmont Pittsburgh Hotel, Downtown. Edie is the canine ambassador for the hotel. She is a former service dog whose job is to welcome guests and is available to accompany them on walks.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Janice Reese pets Juliet as Romeo looks the other way while the two bulldog pups are held by their owner Lisa McNamara at her salon, MCN, in East Liberty on Thursday December 12, 2013.

Lou Folino waited to pay for his haircut while Romeo and Juliet rolled around on the floor nearby.

The 4-month-old English bulldog pups bumped into his legs, swiped at each other's scrunched-up faces, and nipped each other.

“They're clearly having a good time,” a bemused Folino said while watching the pups play inside MCN Salon in East Liberty.

Romeo and Juliet accompany salon owner Lisa McNamara to work every day. They're part of a niche business model putting animals in the workplace. Their presence creates a homey atmosphere, lowers stress levels and makes people happier and healthier, simply by being cute and friendly, said business owners and animal experts.

“They bring a lot of joy,” McNamara said. “They put people at ease. And clients think it's kind of cool that we're a high-end salon here, but we have dogs. It makes them feel that we're in tune with them, that we're real people.”

Lauren Rimkus, therapeutic services coordinator at Animal Friends in Ohio Township, said studies show that having pets in a workplace relieves anxiety and lowers blood pressure.

“They definitely lighten the mood and create a more fun atmosphere,” she said. “They are very calming.”

At the Fairmont Hotel, Downtown, Edie the canine ambassador greets guests in the lobby. She chases her rope ball across the slippery marble floors and stares out at passing pedestrians — many of whom pause to stare back when they see a big, white dog in the fancy hotel lobby.

“She brings a sense of home for our guests,” said Julie Abramovic, public relations manager and Edie's primary handler. “There's something about having a friendly dog hanging out in the lobby that creates a sense of home.”

Hotel guests can take Edie for a walk — the hotel has a pamphlet with suggested routes — and send her an email when their trip ends, at edie.woof@fairmont.com.

“People say to me, ‘Oh my gosh, now that I know you have a dog, I'm staying here every time I'm in Pittsburgh,' ” Abramovic said.

Not everyone likes dogs, so Abramovic and McNamara make sure their canines are out of sight when such clients visit, they said.

But the responses to the dogs are overwhelmingly positive, they said.

Edie, a white boxer/Labrador retriever from Cincinnati, was taken in by Circle Tail Inc., an Ohio-based group that trains service dogs. She flunked, Abramovic said, because she was too friendly.

“They said she'd work for a few hours and then just want to schmooze,” she said. “But she's perfect for the hospitality industry.”

Romeo and Juliet are, as well. They continue a legacy started by McNamara's dog Josie, a 13-year-old English bulldog who died in August.

“She was here every day,” McNamara said.

“She'd jump up on her chair and just watch everybody. When she died, we got hundreds of posts on Facebook from people saying they loved Josie and will miss her.”

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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