For someone who grew up allergic to dogs and cats, Dr. Robert Steen of Bay Animal Hospital in Manhattan Beach now enjoys his time on and off the clock with pal Willa.

Veterinarian Robert Steen is having a hectic day at Bay Animal Hospital in Manhattan Beach. In minutes, he’s examined multiple animals, scribbled on paperwork, given directions to a colleague and taken a phone call. All the while, his golden retriever is napping under a sun-filled desk in his office, comfortably removed from her owner’s whiplash pace. Still in his blue scrubs, Dr. Steen takes a few moments to discuss the benefits of having his dog as a co-worker and how they share an active schedule off the clock.


What kind of animals do you typically work with?

Dr. Robert Steen: My comfort level is with dogs and cats. I think it’s so important to be comfortable with whatever species you’re working with, and that’s where my comfort level is. 


You could also say that you work with your golden retriever, Willa.

RS: Yes, she does come to work with me. And I’m so thankful that she’s able to do that. 


Has she come to work with you since you first started here?

RS: At first, my fiancée and I had similar schedules, but it was a little more varied. If Willa had to be home for the whole day, I would bring her here instead. Now that it’s been three years, I can probably walk in the door, disconnect her from her leash, and she would walk right into the office. 


Do you think there are any health benefits for the two of you when Willa is here?

RS: What we do is stressful, and she is good at relieving that for me. I can go in and hang out with her; she’ll give me a kiss and make things better. I think, for her, it’s the same thing. She’s very motivated by being with people, and I think it’s better for her to not be at home by herself. I think having her here is enriching for both of us. 


For people who can’t bring their dogs to work, do you have any advice on how to keep their pets active when they’re not home?

RS: It depends on the environment that the dog lives in. A lot of people will take their dogs to daycare, and if the dog likes those social settings, that can be great. If people are able to afford a dog walker, there are a lot of services that are pretty reasonable. 


Where do you like to take Willa to play away from work?

RS: We spend a lot of time walking on The Strand in Manhattan Beach, and for Willa, it is more socializing than exercise. She has some arthritis, so she can’t go for too long, but we take a one- or two-mile walk when we can. She also loves to swim, and there are some facilities in Los Angeles that take her to. There’s a rehab center called Two Hands Four Paws in West LA, and they have an open swim session on Sundays. She’s almost like a different dog when she’s there; we can’t get her out of the water. 


Are there ways to tell when a dog isn’t getting enough exercise?

RS: It depends on the pet, but some will get anxious or stir-crazy and will need a release for that. Their weight, too, plays a big part in it. Also just their demeanor. I think dogs are happier when they’re active. 


Do you have any tips for people who want to keep their dogs healthy this summer?

RS: We’re very blessed to live in Southern California. I grew up in Minnesota, so it’s kind of summer all the time to me. But in the summer, with the added heat, dogs basically run around in a fur coat and can’t sweat. So if you want to be active, try to do it in the early and late parts of the day, when the heat is less intense. Give breaks, provide opportunities for shade and water and don’t try to push them too much.

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