Bart Liblang has his own Facebook page, a cushy bed at work and a pretty sweet job.
He’s the official greeter at Liblang Law Firm in downtown Birmingham. When the elevator doors open to the second floor at 346 Park, the 10-year-old golden retriever welcomes clients with a wag of his tail, a broad grin and occasionally a favorite toy.
“He’s such a people-oriented dog,” said owner Dani Liblang, who took him to the Sportsman’s Dog Training Club as a puppy. “I took him all the way through Canine Good Citizen (class), so he knows how to behave in an office. He’s a pretty good boy. But also, I’m fortunate enough to work with a bunch of dog lovers. He has it made. Everybody pitches in if I’m out for the day, if he needs to go out, if he needs more water.
“I have a client that bakes homemade treats for him and sends him his own tin of treats every Christmas,” she added. “The Fed Ex people bring him treats. The postal lady brings him treats. He has a pretty good life here.”
Liblang created a dog-friendly environment when she moved into the Park Street building in 2008. She established her practice in 1982, a year after graduating from the University of Detroit Law School, and specializes in consumer law, with an emphasis on lemon law and auto fraud. Bart has been the office greeter since he was 2. She took Bart’s predecessor, Jillian, who also was a golden retriever, to work with her on weekends and after business hours when the firm was located in an office building.
“I think bringing a dog to work is really wonderful. I know I enjoy it and he really loves it,” she said. “Since the law is such a stressful business, I think he does add a dimension of calmness. He’s definitely our resident therapist and stress reliever. And for clients, we also do personal injury and I’ve had some catastrophically-injured clients. When they come in for depositions or even when they have to tell their story and have to relive the story enough to tell it to us, it’s very traumatic.
“I think one of the things Bart does is he seems to know when people need comfort and I’ve actually seen him rest his head gently or sit gently by someone’s wheelchair and comfort them. And I’ve seen people be able to really relax and feel stronger when dealing with depositions. Because that is tough when you have the opposing side grilling you, but then you have a nice big dog there.”
She has taken Bart to visit at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City and hopes to have him certified as a therapy dog. She also took Jillian to visit patients at a hospital in Grand Rapids.
Liblang has been an animal lover since she was a youngster. She grew up in Waterford with her parents and three siblings and rescued “everything,” including orphaned bunnies, squirrels and even birds that had fallen from their nests.
“We went from one extreme to another. We had a great Dane for a little while and we had a little Yorkshire terrier,” she said. “But I’ve always gravitated toward big dogs, like Bart.”
When she and her husband Eric, who’s also an attorney, moved from a condo into a house in Birmingham, the couple brought Jillian into their new home.
“She was the prettiest golden I’d ever seen,” Liblang said. “Just the best dog. I was heartbroken when I lost her. She lived to be 16.”
She was so heartbroken that her staff pitched in and bought her Bart for Christmas. Now she’s considering dog adoption. She noted that October is National Dog Adoption Month and encourages dog lovers to adopt pets, foster dogs, volunteer at shelters and donate to rescues.
“I’m trying to talk my husband into adopting another dog to keep Bart company,” she said. “One of the reasons I like golden retrievers — but I love all dogs — is they are so good as therapy dogs. And their temperament is perfectly suited to be an office dog. But there are many other breeds that are just as well-suited. And there are many (mixed breed) dogs that are very well-suited and have great personalities.”
In the meantime, Bart has most of the office canine amenities to himself, although office manager Eileen Wheeler brings her dog Willow to the office nearly every day, too. Willow mostly stays in Wheeler’s office, which is outfitted with a dog bed, a crate and other canine items.
“Bart likes Willow. Willow is pretty standoffish to Bart,” Liblang said, with a laugh.
His food and water bowls are kept on the floor in the office kitchen. His toy box and bed are in Liblang’s office, near her desk, which is decorated with his photos and a sign, “Live, Laugh, Bark.” In the winter, Bart likes to stretch out in front of the fireplace in the room.
Liblang has been tapped a few times to work on cases involving dogs, even though it’s not her specialty. .
“I’m such a dog person that probably everyone who meets me hears about dogs. I’m sure that’s how I got the calls in the first place,” she said. “I do think the law should recognize that most pets aren’t just property, that they are members of people’s families and, that when bad things happen to pets, that can be devastating to the family.”
Recognizing that some clients may be afraid of dogs or may be allergic to fur, she posted a sign inside the elevator at her office, advising them to call before they walk into her office suite.
She can think of only one time Bart exhibited “bad dog” behavior at work. He swiped a sandwich from a court reporter’s purse during a deposition. When he was caught, the sandwich was still in one piece, but an office staffer photographed him wearing a “dog shaming” sign and posted it on Facebook.
“We had actually been hoping he had stolen it from the defense counsel because we like the court reporter,” she said. “The court reporter liked him so much that she actually wanted to trade treats with him. He’s a good dog.”