Yesterday’s client took the day off work to attend to her asthmatic cat who was suffering an attack far worse than any he’d experienced before. It was scary for this owner to wake up to see her kitty laboring to breathe. She had to rush in to see us, spending three hours at our practice while we stabilized him. Then she had to go in to work (a large company) and explain that she needed a couple of days off to watch her cat. And guess what they said? No way no how…paid or unpaid.


Sure, I don’t expect to get paid if I take a few unexpected days off…but that’s in my contract. This woman? If she had claimed personal illness instead of pet infirmity, she says she probably wouldn’t have been questioned…and she certain wouldn’t have been strong-armed to fulfill her daily duties at the office.

I’ve known many individuals whose pet grief went completely unrecognized by family, friends and, perhaps most egregiously, by the workplaces whose responsibilities they could hardly be expected to attend to adequately. (“Time off for what??? You’ve got to be kidding!”)

Contrast this commonplace attitude to the increasingly generous approach adopted by firms in Great Britain. Halifax bank and Bank of Scotland now grant paid “paternity” leave for parents of sick pets. Even Britain’s royal Mail is considering “compassionate leave” in the event of pet death.

So what is it about our [American] culture that (in spite of the pockets of pet-enlightened workplaces now emerging) deems pets so beneath consideration when it comes to illness or death?

Is it because they’re still regarded as indulgent luxury items or hobby fare? I think that’s the lion’s share of the dilemma. The rest lies in our die-hard work culture that still thinks on sick days or telecommuting as a weak-person’s way out of expected industrial contribution.

As someone who never shows up late and rarely takes vacation or sick days (I need the cash and I’m basically healthy now), you’d think I might be less sympathetic to this cause. Yet I consider it only human to expect that people will occasionally be late, they will sometimes be sick, and they’ll need days off for family members’ illnesses or deaths—pets included. To be sure, there are limits, but abuse of any privilege—especially one so obviously humane—is rare.

Wake up, America! Pets are people, too. Even if they don’t mean anything to your employer, he, she or it still has an obligation to meet your basic needs. We can’t decry our nation’s irresponsible approach to animals, whether in shelters, feedlots or pig crates, without allowing employees to attend to their pet-related emergencies.

A huge 84% of American pet owners deem their pets family members. That being the case, why is corporate America [with all their talk of humane employment] so slow to recognize it in their employee handbooks?