Brian Monson’s favorite stress-coping tool is hidden inside his vest pocket. It’s a Ziploc bag of Milk Bone treats, which The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center construction superintendent uses to get to know neighborhood dogs and their humans. If it’s the right kind of dog — “good personality, calm, friendly,” Monson says — he will text his or her photo to his entire team at DPR Construction via a group message thread, along with a brief description of the dog.
“It’s just a little something perky I put out there for them — and for myself, too,” says Monson, an Escondido resident. “Like, ‘It’ll be OK.’”
Wherever a high-stress situation is likely to interfere with an important task — such as healing or learning — therapy dogs are occasionally employed: hospitals, courtrooms, classrooms. And in La Jolla right now, little work is more important — or stressful — than the construction of the $76 million performing arts center (aka The Conrad) for the La Jolla Music Society at 7600 Fay Ave. in The Village.
“This is a logistically very challenging job, because there’s virtually no room to work in there,” Monson says. “I try to keep everybody idled down, so we all play well with each other, because everybody wants to get their work done in a small space.”
Photos of the dogs Monson meets along Fay Avenue also run in a continuous PowerPoint loop on a big-screen monitor in DPR’s office. So far, there’s Scout the Burmese Mountain Dog, Hadley the Labrador, Truman the Labradoodle and about 10 others. “Truman’s queuing in at No. 1,” Monson says. “It’s just his eyes.” (Well, to be fair, the crew sees a lot more of Truman than the others. All members of this kennel club have an open invitation to stop by the office, but Truman’s human, Sean Richards, works on the third floor of DPR’s building.)
“Of course, we’re not as good at knowing the humans, but we try,” says DPR project manager Amanda Pritchett. “I don’t think we know who Hadley’s owner is at all, honestly. It took us quite a bit of time to discover Sean’s human name. It’s pretty embarrassing!”
DPR was already a dog-friendly company. Maggie the French Bulldog can usually be found curled underneath project engineer Nikki Vansickle’s desk.
“No matter how your day’s going, if you see a dog, you will be instantly happy,” Pritchett says. “We’re all dog-lovers. Every time one of the dogs walks into the room, we all get excited, we all want to pet the dog, and we all feel better.”
Monson — who grew up with dogs in North Dakota and currently has three (“two Bichons and a mutt,” he says) — came up with his brand of dog therapy while building a new nursing facility for the University of San Diego in 2015. He happened to have treats on him, for his dogs at home, when up walked a Collie named Maverick. “That dog loved me,” Monson said. “The poor owner would have to hold onto me because Maverick knew I had the treats.”
Monson can’t scientifically document the positive effects he gains from his crew’s connection with La Jolla’s furriest. But his experience supports what researchers who study human/animal interaction have concluded: Pets, especially dogs, seem to be good for our health. A 1995 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that pet ownership after a heart attack significantly cut mortality rate. Within a year, only one of 87 dog owners died (1.5 percent), compared to 19 of 282 dogless subjects (6.74 percent).
“That sounds right,” Monson says. “Just last week, we were having our Tuesday foremen meeting — which can be stressful, because there’s a lot of conflict in construction. And Scout came up right in the middle of the meeting and it just calmed everyone down.”
And employees who are healthier take fewer sick days, need lower health insurance premiums and are less likely to make serious errors of judgment that can prove damaging to themselves or the business.
Can the dogs take any credit for the fact that DPR is topping out The Conrad on Jan. 19, precisely on schedule? No one can say, but as DPR project engineer Jett Horn says, “It’s pretty awesome to get those texts.”