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Are all IBMers the same?  Some are in sales, others in consulting, architecture, DevOps, cloud, Watson, or analytics.  Sure, we are still all IBMers sharing a common goal, but we do different work and live different lives.  We differ in other ways too – culturally, ethnically, gender, age, and other demographic tags.  However, we are all part of the shared IBM village; we have a common IBM DNA.  We are one IBM – Together is Better – right?

Recently, I met an IBMer who was outside all the normal cohort definitions.  He could not be categorized in any way that made him fit into a neat little box with a blue ribbon tied around it.  He was truly unique among us.

His name is Barnum Lawrie.  Most days Barnum just lies around and sleeps at work.  Yet, no one seems to mind at all.  He does not code, he does not sell, he does not consult, largely, he lives a dog’s life.  Why?  Because Barnum is a dog.  A dog who works at IBM.


When I met Barnum for the first time a few weeks ago, what truly surprised me was his employee ID badge worn on his Service Dog cape.  It even had his employee photo on it.  What impressed and delighted me was how IBM is extending the concept of ‘inclusion” even further.  IBM has extended inclusion to include other species too.  Absolutely amazing.  In Canada and the USA, animals are still classified as ‘property’ with no meaningful rights.  In other countries, such as France and New Zealand, animals have some rights like humans.  IBM has always been a progressive and leading company when it comes to the treatment of its employees, and this inclusion shows that IBM is pursuing another new leadership rights position, one that includes animal rights.  To me, inclusion at IBM is a real and meaningful topic, it is not just lip service or political correctness.

Barnum is special.  He is a Service Dog to Jim Lawrie, a 33+ year IBMer.  Jim works at the lab in Markham.  Barnum’s job is to help Jim and to make his life easier.  Jim has MS and his physical abilities have some limitations that Barnum works to compensate and augment.  When we talk about Watson, I often use the phrase, ‘augmentation of work’.  Barnum does the exact same thing.  He is just real and not artificial.  Barnum works hard, when he is not snoozing in the sun, to help Jim be an equally productive member of the IBM family.  Barnum is at work every day doing tasks to support Jim, such as open and close doors, push buttons, nudge objects closer, open and close appliances, retrieving items like slippers and shoes, and much more.  Some of these Dog Guides are also trained to bark or activate an alert system when help is needed.

Barnum received rigorous training at Dog Guides of Canada in Oakville, Ontario.  His Service Dog career training began when he was just 6 weeks old and continued until he graduated training at 1.5 years old.  He attended daily training to make him ready for Jim.  Barnum is a certified Dog Guide.  When he was ready, Jim also spent three weeks living at the Oakville facilities learning to work seamlessly with Barnum.  Jim had to be trained too.

There are seven types of Dog Guides: Canine Vision, Hearing, Seizure Response, Service, Autism Assistance, Support, and Diabetic Alert.  Barnum is a trained Service Dog.

When Barnum is working, it is all business, so the rule is to never distract him or try to pat him.  He wears a cape just like all superheroes do.  And when the cape is on, he is steadfastly focused on Jim’s needs and instructions.  So, give him space to work.  However, like all of us, he takes breaks during the workday and when the cape is off, he is as playful as a puppy.


Barnum is a cross between a Labrador and a Golden.  He has been trained to deal with large crowds and noisy distractions yet remain attentive to his work.  He is optimized to the peak levels for service tasks.  He and Jim have been a team for 2.5 years already.  So, if you have ever visited the lab or attended a customer briefing at the outstanding IBM Client Centre there, then you may have seen him at work.  He and Jim are a closely bonded team.

Barnum loves to work.  It is a form of mental stimulation for him and he excels at it.  There will come a day when Barnum will retire. Just like Jim’s previous Service Dog, Titan did a few years ago.  Then, he will live out his days with more time in the glorious sunshine resting and relaxing.  But, like all IBMers, it will be hard for Barnum to stop working because it is his passion.  When the time comes, this old dog will need to learn some new tricks.

See a related story about Jim Lawrie, “A Voice above the Din” May 31, 2019

About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies.

He is a Senior Executive with IBM Canada’s Office of the CTO, Global Services. Over the past 14 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).

Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). 

He serves as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. 

He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.