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(The Zebra)

Maribeliz Ortiz, agency quality assurance coordinator at The Zebra, used her pet stipend to welcome home Niko, a miniature long haired dachshund.

Working from home just got better for employees of local insurance-comparison site The Zebra, with its new employee benefit that gives them a stipend to adopt a furry friend - the first employee benefit of its kind in the nation, the company said.


Employees are offered a $300 stipend and are encouraged to take "pawternity" leave under the company's paid-time-off policy to get acquainted with their new pet, particularly while they are working from home "for the foreseeable future."

CEO of The Zebra Keith Melnick said his dog made a "huge difference" in his life and wants his employees to share that experience.

"There was a time a while ago when I took my Labrador, Zuma, with me on the train into my office daily. I know this kind of companionship can make a huge difference in quality of life and mental health. Especially now that we're all working remotely for the foreseeable future, I want to make sure that anyone at The Zebra who wants to can experience that," Melnick said.

A few employees are already taking advantage of the new benefit.

At Austin Animal Center, an open-intake facility that takes in lost and surrendered pets, a significant number of people have stepped up to foster and/or adopt since they are spending more time at home, said spokesperson Jennifer Olohan.

When businesses closed their doors in March due to the pandemic, the animal shelter followed, but they were able to get more 400 animals adopted or fostered. As more people are adopting or fostering while they work from home, the shelter's capacity to take in homeless pets has been steadily increasing since reopening, Olohan said.

"Animals are amazing companions, and shown to decrease stress levels, so it makes a lot of sense that people are opening their hearts and homes during such a difficult time," Olohan said.

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