Animal Antagonism to Remote Working

You’d be surprised at how many ‘cat on computer’ photos there are on Flickr. They seem to love to snuggle up to the monitor or drape themselves over the keyboard. I’m assuming it must be the heat that gets them going rather than the need to email their fellow cats!


This week a UKOLN colleague opened up her desk cupboard and found her cat waiting for her. She emailed over the photo for the rest of us remote workers to see. It turned out that pets and home working can be a bit of a bad mix. Quite a few of us had tales to tell.

Cindy Ausbrooks from Little Rock Telecommuting Examiner explains:

When you telecommute or work from home and have indoor pets, you have some unique considerations to make. Pets aren’t always as cooperative as children, whom you can reason with or if all else fails, bribe. Instead, they may decide to bark or meow incessantly while you’re on the phone with an important client. This behavior will do little to increase your professionalism, and it’s a distraction that most telecommuters can’t afford.

The first thing that surprises me about this is that Cindy sees children as being cooperative creatures who can be bribed off! It was only a few weeks ago that I tried to sound professional whilst slamming the door on a sobbing child who was ‘starving’. I even used my jumper to block the gap under the door and muffle the sounds. Luckily my children are normally at school or child-care so that was a one off. My cats, on the other hand, are always home!

I’ve two moggies and usually they prefer to sit in the garden annoying the birds but occasionally they will come in and see me. There was the occasion my cat kindly ‘sprayed’ the chest-of-drawers next to me while I was chatting on the phone. I just had to sit and watch. I think she knew that I was in no position to shout, which is why she did it. Another colleague from UKOLN, who has 2 hounds, says the worst things are conference calls:

The doorbell always rings or they see a cat and they’re off! On one call my dog stood at the top of the stairs, where there is a huge echo sound, and howled for 15 minute.”


Cindy from the examiner goes on to say:

Having a pet has many positive benefits, but if you’re planning to work from home, you may have to take a hard look at your relationship with your four-legged friend. If you already work from home and are considering pet ownership, you’ll also want plan in advance to minimize potential problems.

Regardless of your situation, there are some important questions you’ll need to ask yourself before undertaking a telecommuting or work at home job with indoor pets.

The questions are:

  • What type of work will you be performing? Will you be on the phone or in similar situations in which your pet could be a distraction?
  • Is your pet telecommute-friendly? Does your dog bark at the drop of a hat, or are you confident his behavior will mesh well with your duties?
  • Do you have a room in which you can move your pet when necessary? Do you have an upstairs or office area in which you can work away from your pet?
  • Are you willing to spend money for a pet sitter while you work, if necessary?
    If the problems become too great, are you willing to give up telecommuting or find a new home for your pet?

Cindy offers some handy tips to help you keep things under control.

  • If you have an occasionally noisy pet and spend a lot of time on the phone, invest in a phone with a mute button. You could also try keeping a supply of treats on your desk. Anytime your pet becomes anxious while you’re busy, give him a treat to keep him quiet until you can deal with the problem.
  • If you have an excessively noisy pet, your only choice may be to remove the pet from your work area during work hours. Check out pet day care centers in your area, or if you live in a rural area find someone you trust to watch your pet during the day, such as a relative or friend.
  • In some cases, you may be able to place your pet in a fenced area out of doors while you work, or simply put them downstairs or into another room. Make a decision based on how well your pet is able to behave in these situations.


Though having pets at home can sometimes be a good thing as Kay King explains:

The dogs keep me from being a workaholic. When it’s play time or go-out time, they are impossible to ignore. The first warning is when Wrex starts “muttering” very quietly. “Muttering” quickly evolves into “mumbling” which is the signal for the other dogs to wake up and want “something”….even if just a minute or two of petting.

Stuart from EB hits the nail on the head.

Sometimes working from home can be lonely. There’s no-one to go out to lunch with or (if you’re in australia) all of the people you normally talk to are asleep. I got a cat & it’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought, it’s there when you wake up in the morning, it’s sits beside you as you work & it seems to remove that feeling that “you’re alone in the house.” Now there’s an idea for a business, the ‘Affiliate marketers Pet Shop – Making you feel wanted since 2008.’ 🙂

So here’s to all those poor pets whose owners no longer go out to work!


9 thoughts on “Animal Antagonism to Remote Working

  1. I love this post! I used to work from home for CETIS, and it is a very small house and we have two dogs and a cat. Many a time, I would be on a conference call, and my two loud sheepdogs would start barking very loudly at passers by. There were 3 options: wait for them to stop barking (can take a while), get off the call and go downstairs and shush them (can miss vital bits of discussion) or just do what we usually do and scream “shut up” at the top of my voice (not a very good tactic on a conference call, can offend people).

    The cat, on the other hand, was always pretty good, bar the usual trying to sit on the laptop (or walking across it if I wasn’t paying her enough attention) and also lying on piles of paper, particularly handouts I was getting ready for meetings.

    In a postscript to the cats and laptops issue, I went to get my laptop checked out recently, as it was playing up. When I picked it up, they told me that they had removed quite a lot of cat hair from the keyboard…


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  3. Mustard, the protagonist of the first photo up there, managed to mew right through a telephone conversation with my line manager yesterday. Impressive timing for a cat that normally sleeps all day. Actually home working is to blame for us having a cat. If I had been out at work, I wouldn’t have been around to start giving him tidbits and let him into the house, until he moved in permanently.

  4. Great post, Marieke!

    Kizzie (the dog with her head on the laptop in the second photo) keeps me from going mad! Salukis are used to being with people, and if I didn’t work remotely I wouldn’t be able to keep them – they don’t take well to being left or to going to other people.

    Kizzie is the one who is usually in the room I work in. I can have a ‘hound proof’ room for calls if I need it, but this takes a while to set up. For more casual calls, I do get barking or, on one call, Kiz heavily breathing down the phone. Not sure what colleagues think, but at least I am not just a faceless entity on the end of a conference call. I’m a faceless entity that barks and snorts.

  5. My Jack is normally VERY quiet (greyhound/German shepherd x whatever it was it was BIG) but will bark like crazy if someone walks past the house with a squeaky trolley or the kids are out on their skateboards. The rest of the time I hardly know he’s here – he’s quite happy to lie on my bed all day so long as I’m in the house. Heaven help me if I go out without him, though.

  6. My dog insists on being taken out for a walk every few hours, which gives me a good reason to take a break from the computer screen. He’s not usually too noisy, but when he wants to go out he comes and gives me a hard stare and (if I don’t respond to the meaningful look) rests his head heavily on my left arm, which makes it impossible to type.

    Then there are the chickens who occasionally escape from their orchard run, requiring me to undertake a bit of hen-herding exercise. At least I get more fresh air than I did when working in a ‘real’ office!

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