Most of us have heard about pet-friendly companies like Zynga, Google and Amazon, but Tito’s Handmade Vodka may just be one of the friendliest in history. Not only was the small vodka distillery in Austin, Texas, created with dogs by the founder’s side, but its fundamental workplace structure was built around adopting dogs and fundraising for animal outreach organizations.
As Beth Bellanti, relationship marketing and social media manager at Tito’s, says, “Tito’s is a family atmosphere, and dogs are our family.”
Tito and his most recent rescue dog Abbey. Image via Tito’s Handmade Vodka
It all started 17 years ago when Tito built the distillery in a rural part of Austin where ranch dogs, stray dogs and coyotes often gathered, Bellanti says. Tito has always been a dog lover, so when dogs came to the distillery, he fed them and eventually built a yard to care for them.
“These packs of dogs started to come and one of them had seven babies in a wood pile, and she was with a pack of about 4 feral dogs,” Bellanti says. “They [Tito and his guys] kept her in one of the other rooms with the babies and eventually called me and said, ‘I know you’ve been visiting this dog, and she’s not doing so well. She seems to have gotten a skin condition and the babies aren't weaning.’ So I went up there and got her and the babies, and other people from the company absorbed the other dogs in the pack. This just keeps happening and we keep absorbing them.”
As the company expanded, the marketing department moved to its own office and the 10 employees were encouraged to bring their dogs to work. On a typical day, there are three dogs at the marketing office and two at the distillery. But on “Bring Your Dog to Work” day the office has been filled with up to 18 dogs.
Beyond allowing pets in the office, Tito’s has partnered with Emancipet, a spay-and-neuter clinic located next to its marketing office. Tito’s launched a dog-centric blog called Vodka for Dog People, a place to fundraise for Emancipet and to sell pet products such as leashes and toys, with all proceeds going to the clinic.
Long before the partnership, employees helped fundraise money to purchase Emancipet’s mobile outreach units that provide access to spay-and-neuter clinics in hard-to-reach areas. Tito’s also donates vodka to animal rescue organizations for their fundraising events.
“We said Austin embraced us and helped us get to a more national level,” Bellanti adds. “Let’s pay it forward and help Emancipet get beyond Texas and help other communities cut down on pet populations and help people take care of their pets affordably.”
To further promote pups, Tito’s runs a vodkafordogpeople Instagram account and Dogs of the Tito’s Vodka family through the years Pinterest board where people share their dog stories.
The employees give to the dogs, and the dogs give right back to the employees. At the distillery, they serve as companions and security guards when the workers walk around the property at night, Bellanti says. And the dogs can’t complain since they get to go for a jog and get to be in the company of their owners.
Having dogs around the office provides comic relief and opportunities for employees to form new bonds. When employees take their dogs for walks, they are able to talk about work-related things and connect on a personal level outside of the office space. The dog-loving company culture encourages employees to foster a dog or adopt a dog for the first time, and whenever an employee needs a hand, whether it’s taking a dog for a night or sharing insider tips, co-workers are eager to pitch in.
Bellanti adds, “The pet-friendly workplace really helps with morale and loyalty and it makes people work longer and harder in their offices because they don’t run home to let the dog out.”
Increasingly companies are finding new ways to be truly pet-friendly since pets are good for company culture and keeping employees happy. Zynga, for example, has a dog run “wooftop” and computer security platform AnchorFree even allowed an employee’s cat to live in the office while the employee was moving. Whether pets become part of the business model or just frequent the office, companies are recognizing the importance of encouraging the pet-human bond.