Creature comforts at the workplace
by Nicole Sours Larson
09:47 PM, Thursday, March 24
Pets brighten our lives, soothe our souls, calm us when we’re frazzled, bring us down to earth and remind us of our basic needs of food, water, shelter and love.

Since they contribute so much to our well-being at home, more and more residents of this pet-friendly city of San Diego take their pets to work with them. Others work at home with their cats on their laps, dogs by their desks or birds on their shoulders.

These pets are part of the changing workplace.

Chester: Chester is a mellow, sometimes goofy guy who loves playing fetch with his chewed up tennis ball, swimming in Mission Bay and chasing seagulls and blue herons (he never catches them, according to his dad).

As assistant dockmaster at Mission Bay’s Dana Landing Marina, where dad Chris Jones is dockmaster, Chester’s primary job is supervising everything that happens around the marina and waterways and making sure everyone stays happy.

About two years old now, this handsome black Labrador, probably a pure-bred, was pulled from the Lake Elsinore animal shelter by Labrador Rescuers, who posted his mug on Jones and his wife spotted Chester online last summer, filled out the rescue organization’s application and fell in love at first sight.

Now Chester enjoys the good life, spending his mornings with his mom, who drops him off at the marina on her way to work, and sailing with his humans in their free time.

Jones reports that Chester scares himself when he barks, thrives on playing with the kids around the marina and is good around other dogs. He suspects Chester was a victim of the foreclosure crisis, since he clearly had good training in his previous home.

“He’s one lucky doggie – and so am I,” Jones says. He’s proud that Chester is “Mr. September” on Labrador Rescuers’ 2010 calendar. To view his pin-up and other Labs available for adoption, visit their website at

Dave: Dave, an umbrella cockatoo with handsome pale saffron feathers in his tail and crest and a pale blue ring around his eyes, is also a rescue. He now lives and “works” as chief assistant to C.J. Wilson at AA Smog Shop, located at 3546 Barnett Ave. in the Midway District of Point Loma.

Dave, about 21, spends his days sitting atop his large open cage in the smog shop, supervising his dad as he inspects vehicles at his smog-check-only facility.

This smart bird always knows what’s going on. One customer who brings in his cars for testing insists that Dave always knows when cars are going to fail the smog inspection. He squawks loudly before the machine registers the final failing results.

Wilson acquired Dave from his sister’s neighbor 11 years ago. At some point Dave was abused and showed his distress by plucking most of his chest feathers.

The lack of feathers is the main sign of his prior stress. Dave is a very affectionate bird who enjoys “stepping up” on visitors’ hands and loves to cuddle against a warm shoulder while his back is stroked.

“He’s very sensitive and doesn’t like to be yelled at,” Wilson explains. Dave is not much of a talker, he reports, but will occasionally say hello.

Clyde: Clyde the camel has a major sweet tooth. During most of December, Clyde and his sheep and donkey companions, accompanied by Gil and Nancy Riegler, owners of Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona, spend their weekends appearing in the region’s holiday parades and living Christmas nativity scenes, with the Rieglers attired in biblical garb.

This handsome camel was spotted basking in children’s attention by a “manger” set up in the courtyard of the La Jolla Presbyterian Church following the Christmas parade. He relished the children’s petting, but kept an eagle eye on the plate holding Gil’s iced Christmas cookie, ready to pounce. Nancy confirmed Clyde’s fondness for sweets.

He spends his days hanging out at the camel dairy, the only one in the country. Although not yet licensed to sell camel milk for human consumption, they turn the milk into luxurious camel’s milk soap, which they sell online and at their ranch.

Oasis Camel Dairy, which opens for monthly public tours where the public can meet Clyde and the other camels, is home to a range of other camel-oriented activities. The Rieglers also rent camels for special events, film and photography, camel races and camel rides.

Domesticated for thousands of years, camels are exotic-looking, but gentle, sensible animals that like people and children.

For more information about Oasis Camel Dairy, Clyde and their other camels, visit

Bob, Zeke and Stu: Bob, Zeke and Stu all work as “distractions” at the Oceanside campus of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which trains dogs, mostly golden retrievers and Labradors and golden/Lab mixes, as assistance dogs for the disabled. Bob is a cat with “cattitude,” while Zeke and Stu are bunnies.

Their job is to make sure the dogs stay focused on their commands and the task at hand, even if a totally alpha cat like Bob, a 15-year-old Maine coon mix who’s the campus character, decides to drink out of the dogs’ water bowls, prance in front of them or share their beds.

“Bob has a lot of attitude perfect for his job here. He struts his stuff around campus, exactly what we want him to do. He tries to distract the dogs and is just a great companion,” says Katie Malatino, CCI’s PR coordinator, southwest, whose lap and keyboard are two of Bob’s favorite destinations. He is, she reports, the campus pet, and has many fans among their staff of dog lovers.

“We want our dogs to get used to their environment and many of our clients have cats or bunnies as pets,” she added.

Bunnies Zeke, a white and brown mini-dwarf rabbit, and Stu, a brown dwarf, provide distractions to the dogs as they walk around the bunnies’ play area. The bunnies live in a little hutch outside on the campus. Malatino describes the bunnies as “very sociable, pretty, approachable and friendly.”

For more information about CCI, visit their website at

Hank: Hank sits quietly on the 26-foot workboat, tied up to the stern of a pleasure boat, watching his dad ready the hoses to perform an oil change. Hank’s dad, John Fisher, the British-born owner of Sea Lube, offers boat-owners “full service oil change at your slip” and operates the only on-the-water mobile oil change service in San Diego.

Fisher enjoys taking Hank with him on his daily rounds, going from boat to boat, changing oil and oil filters and anti-freeze. Hank remains on the boat or rests on the dock, supervising the work. When the boat is underway, he stands next to Fisher watching him maneuver the boat, also called Sea Lube, around San Diego Bay.

Hank, a laid-back golden retriever who loves people and boats, came to live with the animal-loving Fisher and his wife Laurie about a year ago on their East County ranch. There he can cavort with Higgins, a rescue Berger Picard French sheepdog who loves to herd but doesn’t like boats, a calico cat named Maude and three horses, including two rescued Premarin horses.

Hank, although a pure-bred, was a neglected giveaway from a woman in Descanso who had too many dogs. Now he revels in serving as first-mate on the Sea Lube and enjoys all the love and attention he receives along the docks.

These are just a few of the many “working” San Diego pets who follow unusual “professions.” If you have stories of pets making a contribution to the workplace, please let us know! E-mail the author

Note: This article was written with the assistance of two working cats.
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