Long time ago now, but when my Belgian Shepherd Gemma died when I was in my twenties, I was just devastated. Couldn’t sleep, eat, stop crying. My boss didn’t understand at all. No empathy there, and he made me come to work.
‘Pull yourself together and get over it. It’s just a pet, for god’s sake. Not like it’s your mum or dad.’
At the time I thought, wow, we need bereavement leave for pets and it needs to become the norm.
That stuck with me for a long time—my grief, the inability of my boss and plenty of others around me to understand and appreciate how terrible I felt. And in the last little while the sadness has come up for me again with the passing of my beautiful cat, Nancy.
One of a kind ragdoll Nancy. 19 years, six months and one day. I rescued her when she was four, and she was my constant companion. People say I saved her but really, she saved me at the same time. She was very dog-like, very communicative and a real snuggle bug. Wanted to be with you all the time. Full of personality.
She was just always there. I was single for a long time when I had Nancy, and amid disruption and turmoil she was the constant for me. I’d pick her up and cuddle her and she’d love me unconditionally.
But in August when I came home from a trip, she was sick. Her kidney disease wasn’t going to get any better and she was in pain. Beyond hard to say goodbye, but we had to let her grow her wings and fly. Let her be in peace.
Nancy’s loss was so hard that I had to cancel clients for a few days and regroup. I was a mess. Most people understood but a couple were a bit, ‘so what—it’s just a pet’. It got me thinking again that pet bereavement leave should be legislation, like it is if you lose a human in your life. Let’s say two days’ compassionate leave.
Workplaces need to understand how important pets are for people. For their mental health, their emotional stability. Pets fill a huge void in that people rely on them for companionship and love. It’s a living being to look after and care for. For some people, pets are their family. Losing them is terrible.
Let’s honour that in a meaningful way.
Under the definitions in the Fair Work Act 2009, an employee’s eligibility for carer’s leave and compassionate leave is ascribed to human family members only. Still, some employers, particularly those in the animal care sector, choose to offer their teams ‘pet leave’ to care for a sick or injured pet.
Other businesses even provide leave to anyone adopting a pet and needing to introduce it to its new home. Think of the benefits: increased morale, better employee attraction and retention rates, positive PR and demonstration of commitment to non-financial goals like family and loyalty.
Leaders out there, is this something you’d consider? I really hope it is.