Why You Should Be Able To Take Off Work When Your Pet Dies

We may be barking up the wrong tree, but don't we need a paid pet grieving leave?

I’m ready to split the world into two groups: those who understand the need to take the day off from work when your pet dies and those who simply don’t get it.

To be upfront and crystal clear about which side I fall, our two dogs are full-fledged family members of our household. They sleep on our bed, nap on the couch, and go with us everywhere we go by car. They come to soccer games, cross country meets and meet the school bus. We hike in places where they are allowed to run off-leash and we go out of our way to get them the special dog food they both like. And when the inevitable day comes that they cross the Rainbow Bridge, I will absolutely stay home from work and mourn them. Think ugly cry face non-stop for hours.

Truth is, the loss of a pet is so painful for me that sometimes even just thinking about the day in the future when I’ll have to walk that last mile with them is enough to set off my waterworks. I have held every one of my dying dogs in my arms when they were euthanized because I wanted them to know how much I loved them ― to the very end and beyond.

But last week, a friend lost her fur-baby to the ravages of old age and the issue of taking a day off to grieve reared its ugly head again: My friend felt she had to go underground, be stealth, hide her massive sense of loss because people “don’t understand.”

She called and asked what I thought she should tell her boss about needing the day off. Telling the truth wasn’t even an option on the table. 

She was tempted to go with sore throat or stomach ache, she said, but she’s a manager and managers don’t get to stay home from work for those things even when they are real. She thought about claiming car trouble or a need to wait for the plumber, but those are both circumstances where the boss would expect you to work from home ― and she couldn’t stop crying long enough to functionally do that.

And of course she knew that taking a personal day was a possibility. Except not really. Personal days have to be planned and approved in advance. They exist so that non-Christians can celebrate their religious holidays that aren’t recognized by the company calendar. Personal days are used so we can be at our kid’s side when his wisdom teeth are pulled. But they aren’t used to cry over our dead cats. That still falls under the wire of what would be acceptable. 

In this day and age, when families come in so many shapes, configurations, and formations, how is the bond between humans and their animals not considered sufficiently legitimate and deserving of the rights and privileges extended in human-to-human relationships? My friend’s company allows two days off to grieve a grandparent. She has no grandparents; she has a dead cat whose loss she wanted to mourn.

There are some companies beginning to offer paid pet grievance days. But it’s not an idea whose day has come by a long-shot.

I get it. Pets are still considered property in most places in the U.S., especially by those who don’t share lives with them. France, on the other hand, is way more enlightened. Last year, Americans spent more than $60 billion on their pets and there has been plenty of documentation about how good it is for people to have companion animals. Even from my own narrow window of experience with this, the therapy dog that came to visit my husband in the hospital was decidedly a turning point in his recovery. (We did our best to smuggle in our own two pups, but hospital rules forbid it.) Even the nurses noticed that their patient was willing to go for a walk with the therapy dog for the first time.

So yes, animals are good for us and we love them in a real-love way. Maybe it’s about time for our workplaces to recognize this as well.