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Odin, a 7-month-old puppy, and his owner Colin Exelby of Celestial Wealth Management, walk in Towson. Exelby and Odin often take walks during the day.
Odin, a 7-month-old puppy, and his owner Colin Exelby of Celestial Wealth Management, walk in Towson. Exelby and Odin often take walks during the day. (Cody Boteler/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

It is not uncommon to see a person walking a dog, or even two or three, on the streets of Towson. The restaurants, murals and shops make the area a pleasant one for an evening or midday stroll.

Less typical, though, is attending a meeting or walking into a shop and seeing a four-legged creature in attendance. It could be a growing trend, however. According to Scientific American, “dog friendly” jobs can be found on LinkedIn, and studies have shown that pets in the workplace can increase cooperation among co-workers and allow individuals to express some of their personality in job environments.

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There are a few businesses in Towson where office dogs are the norm rather than an oddity.

Meet some of the working dogs of Towson: Lexi, Georgia, Odin and Viviana.

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, and her dog, Lexi. Lexi likes to go on walks to get bacon from Jake's Deli.
Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, and her dog, Lexi. Lexi likes to go on walks to get bacon from Jake's Deli. (Cody Boteler/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Name: Lexi

Breed: Yorkshire terrier (Yorkie)

Age: 2 years old in February

Owner: Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce

Most likely to be found: On Nancy’s lap or sitting by her desk.

If Nancy Hafford leaves her office on West Chesapeake Avenue with Lexi for a walk, the tiny Yorkie will immediately make a bolt to the right in an attempt to guide her to the nearby Jake’s Deli.

“They give her bacon,” Hafford said, laughing. “They give her a tiny piece of bacon.”

She demonstrates. Hafford lets Lexi lead her down the block and around the corner to Jake’s, on Washington Avenue. Lexi moves, practically at a gallop, and rushes to the glass doors of the restaurant. Without hesitating, she jumps up, paws on the glass and waits.

Moments later, a woman comes out of the shop and laughs as Lexi jumps onto her hind legs to grab a few strips of bacon from her hands.

“When I’m walking around Towson without Lexi, people don’t ask, ‘How are you?’ They always go, ‘Where’s your dog?’” Hafford said.

Hafford said she got Lexi when the dog was about 3 months old, and just about 3 pounds. Most days, Lexi will calmly sit in Hafford’s office, either behind her desk, on her lap or in a chair. Lexi isn’t a big barker, and most days she seems relatively chill, and will approach new people who wander into Hafford’s office.

Lexi always gets a good reaction, Hafford said, probably because “she’s not bark-y.”

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Having Lexi in the office lightens the mood and keeps people happy. She can “change the dynamic” of the office or of meetings, Hafford said as to Lexi comes to work.

“Everybody is working so hard, it’s just nice to pet something once in a while,” she said.

At least 8% of workplaces in the U.S. now allow dogs in the office, an increase from 5% in 2013, according to the Society of Human Resource Management.

For Hafford, her Yorkie’s demeanor and friendliness serve, in a way, as a sort of sixth sense.

“If she doesn’t like somebody, I wonder about them,” Hafford said.

Georgia, a 9-year-old Great Pyrenees and Labrador mix, gets to hang out in the insurance office of owner Chuck Connolly almost every day.
Georgia, a 9-year-old Great Pyrenees and Labrador mix, gets to hang out in the insurance office of owner Chuck Connolly almost every day. (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Name: Georgia

Breed: Great Pyrenees and Labrador mix

Age: 9 years

Owner: Chuck Connolly, Farmers Insurance agent

Most likely to be found: On her office couch.

Georgia is big and she likes to sit on her big couch and greet visitors to Chuck Connolly’s office.

But most importantly?

“She’s a good girl,” Connolly said.

Connolly rescued Georgia about 9 years ago, and she’s been coming to the office ever since. She kind of has her own room in Connolly’s office on York Road. There’s a comfortable couch, a few toys scattered on the floor and some loose dog hair, even though Connolly vacuumed in the morning.

“Some of my clients, I don’t know if they come in to see me or see her,” Connolly said. Georgia, just under 100 pounds, gets along with everyone, he said. “It feels weird when she’s not here.”

Georgia is not shy about her tastes. Her favorite treats are bacon-flavored. And at home, she’s a “counter cruiser,” always sniffing around the kitchen for food that may have been left out.

Georgia comes to work simply because Connolly is able to bring her. He, his colleagues and his clients all enjoy her company.

“It’s a comfort, and this way she’s not sitting at home by herself,” he said.

Connolly said he thinks it’s a shame that more people don’t adopt or rescue dogs, and instead choose to buy them from stores or disreputable “puppy mills.”

There are “so many great groups” in the Baltimore area that people can rescue from, he said.

Odin, a 7-month-old puppy, and his owner Colin Exelby of Celestial Wealth Management, walk in Towson. Exelby and Odin often take walks during the day.
Odin, a 7-month-old puppy, and his owner Colin Exelby of Celestial Wealth Management, walk in Towson. Exelby and Odin often take walks during the day. (Cody Boteler/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Name: Odin

Breed: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, mixed with “something else”

Age: 7 months

Owner: Colin Exelby, owner, Celestial Wealth Management

Most likely to be found: Walking the streets of Towson.

Colin Exelby works a virtual business, meaning he doesn’t often have a lot of meetings in his office. If he’s talking to people face to face, it’s on some sort of video call. So, because Exelby doesn’t have to worry about clients being allergic or skittish around dogs, he can often bring his puppy, Odin, to work with him.

“He’s chill, but he barks,” Exelby said.

Exelby said he likes being able to pop in and out of the office with Odin. Most people he runs into around Towson are friendly toward the pup, Exelby said.

“I like to get up and move. Probably every 3 hours or so, we’ll get out and walk a little bit,” Exelby said.

In January, Exelby and his family had to put down a dog that they had had for 14 years. Exelby said he knew he wanted another dog, but that it was important his children not feel like they were replacing the one who had just died. They adopted Odin in October.

“They say dogs improve the spirits of everyone around them,” Exelby said.

Owners Chris O'Neil and Stacey Dietrich, of Courthouse Title & Settlements, LLC, with their dog Viviana. The 8-year-old dog was a rescue.
Owners Chris O'Neil and Stacey Dietrich, of Courthouse Title & Settlements, LLC, with their dog Viviana. The 8-year-old dog was a rescue. (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Name: Viviana

Breed: A mutt

Age: 8 years

Owner: Chris O’Neil and Stacey Dietrich

Most likely to be found: Perched on a chair, watching out the window.

Viviana is energetic. She’ll run laps around the office. If she knows you’re coming, she might bound down the hallway and greet you at the door.

And, though she’s not the type to harm even a flea, her size adds a layer of security.

“She makes noise, and that’s enough to scare people away,” owner Stacey Dietrich said.

Most of the day, Viviana sits in a chair with a view out the second-story window, where she can see anyone that walks by the office of Courthouse Title & Settlements in Towson. Viviana, who wears tree-covered pajamas, also likes to sit in the sun.

Viviana is a rescue, from BARCS. She’s in the office almost every day, said Chris O’Neil, Dietrich’s husband. She used to cry when her owners would leave for the day, and doesn’t like to be away from them long. So she’s “become an office dog,” he said.

One of the perils of a four-legged co-worker, of course, is that they get hungry. And, like unscrupulous colleagues everywhere, Viviana isn’t afraid to nab food that doesn’t belong to her.

“She’ll eat anything,” Dietrich said, “including salad.”

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