​Forget the HR experts, distinguished speakers and big-name celebrities. Some of the most popular guests at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2023 (SHRM23) are soft, fluffy, playful and very cute.

Above: Lindsey Jones, SHRM-CP, an HR business partner for Snohomish County, Wash., government, cuddles with Flicker, a shy German shepherd puppy, at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2023 in Las Vegas. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)

Yes, puppies and dogs are in attendance at this year's Expo, to the delight of many attendees.

Elizabeth Druffel, a SHRM member and an HR director in Texas, said she made a "beeline" for the animals at the booths run by insurance provider The Hartford and dog food brand Cesar, which is made by Mars Petcare. The Hartford's exhibit features brown Lab puppy Uno; spaniel puppies Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinker Bell; and German shepherd puppies Flicker and Flame—all from Las Vegas shelter Wagging Tails Rescue.

"I don't think people realize how good an animal is in the workplace," Druffel said. "It's unconditional support."

Cesar, which has two dogs in its exhibit—an Irish setter named O'Malley and a yellow Lab named Henry—is at SHRM23 advocating dog-friendly workplaces. "We're on a mission to create a more dog-friendly world—and we're starting with the workplace," said Nicole Serr, senior manager of purpose and brand communications at Mars Petcare, noting that employees who are able to bring dogs into the workplace are often happier and more productive.

More workplaces are thinking about employees' pets and their pets' needs, especially after pet adoption soared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, SHRM's 2023 Employee Benefits Survey, released June 12, shows that pet insurance is on the rise as a workplace benefit. Nearly 1 in 5 employers (19 percent) now offer pet insurance—up from 14 percent that offered it in 2022.

Trang Nguyen, a Charlotte, N.C.-based recruiter with NASCAR who visited the dogs at the Cesar exhibit, said the auto racing company has been offering pet insurance to its employees for the past few years. "It's one of those benefits that came about because our employees wanted it," she said. "And now it's a big recruiting feature for us."

A growing number of employees consider pet health insurance to be very important, Daniel Stunes, manager of research operations with SHRM Research, told SHRM Online. "Pets are family. People are recognizing that more and more," he said.

Brown Lab puppy Uno curiously watches an attendee texting. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)

A cuddle pile at The Hartford's exhibit. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)

Yellow Lab Henry enjoys a toy at the Cesar booth. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)

Zeljana Timms, SHRM-SCP, a senior associate at Ironarch Technology LLC, takes a selfie with spaniel puppy Peter Pan. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)

Steve Seeler, president and CEO of Seeler Industries, Inc., gets a kiss from Flame. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)
Irish setter O'Malley gets petted at the Cesar booth. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)
Nora McInerny, an author, podcast host and founder of Feelings & Co., holds spaniel puppy Captain Hook(Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)
Terese Dragonetti, SHRM-CP, an HR generalist at Biggby Coffee, cuddles Uno. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)
Lucy Hammer, people operations specialist at Addgene, snuggles with Flame. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)
Spaniel puppy Tinker Bell. (Mauro Whiteman/SHRM)


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.