Should employees be given bereavement leave if a pet dies?

BY TONY FRAME

In the UK, cats and dogs are the main companions humans have as pets. And this is probably true for the rest of the world. Although cats would probably see it as the other way around — we are the pets and they are the masters. Like Terry Pratchett said, ‘In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.’ I am sure that most cat owners will agree with his wise words.

According to the PDSA, UK households have 11.1 million cats and 8.9 million dogs. That’s a lot of fur. I mean think about that for just a moment. If Alien beings were to abduct the entire human population of London we could just about fill the entire city with all the dogs in the UK there. It would be known as Londog, the pooch city, a place that allergy sufferers around the country sweat profusely in anxiety, when the very uttering of its name is mentioned.

Dog owners around the country could have their cake and eat it. Households would be free from chewed slippers and that wet dog smell on rainy days. All they would have to do is get the train or bus down to the Big Smoke and go and visit their pooch as it goes about its business, pooping in Hyde Park or chasing the pigeons in Trafalgar square.

Dogs are smart so they would probably evolve to the next level when left on their own in the big city. Border Collies’ are one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world. So you just know they’d be controlling the media. They would be running the show at the BBC headquarters and for once we’d get some high quality programming. German shepherds are third on the list of smart dogs so they would be running MI6, running covert operations on fake dog treats, whilst secretly running catnip cartels to keep their feline enemies pacified and subdued around the country.

The poodles at number two on the smart dogs list just wouldn’t have the respect of running MI6 looking the way they do — with their luscious curls and air of femininity. Although I am sure there would be dissent amongst both ranks on a hot topic like that, with bitches on both sides having their woofs on equality. On image alone though, Poodles should be running the fashion houses and beauty salons. And the catwalk on London fashion week would be a thing of the past in favour of the dog run. As for the 11.1 million cats; well, the whole of Scotland could be populated twice over with them.

In 2016 the UK spent £4.6 billion on their pets. That’s a whole lot of insurance, food and toys for them to chase and chew on. It’s a whole industry in itself. But the cost of owning a pet far outweighs the unconditional love and affection they generally give back for the food and treats we give them. And fundamentally I’d say without a doubt that any pet owner that owns a cat or dog more than likely sees them more than just an animal, but more as an extended family—a fur baby. Some people who don’t have families would say that their cat or dog IS their family. Hell, back in 2009 at the Golden Globes, Mickey Rourke thanked his dogs when he was on the podium accepting his best actor award, for his role in the Wrestler. No matter how tough an exterior some people have, even the littlest of paws will make their owners shed tears when they pass away.

The effects of losing a pet can be utterly devastating for the owner(s). Psychologically it can have the same traits and feelings of losing a fellow human. For some it’s the first death in their lifetime they have to deal with. Other people can develop a guilt complex which can manifest itself into a long-term depression, because they may have felt they didn’t do enough to help their animal.

An article in MNM details how pets can improve children’s emotional intelligence (EQ) skills. Some of these benefits include improving the child’s self esteem, teaching them compassion, making them understand the importance of responsibility, as well as helping lower their stress levels. The latter is one of the main reasons hospitals and hospices, and many other places, now allow emotional support animals into their wards.

The bonds people make with animals should not be shrugged off lightly. Petships can outlast relationships, friendships and even family ties. Cats and dogs can live up to twenty years, some even longer. Creme Puff was the oldest living cat in the record books; passing away at the ripe old age of 38 years. So surely when it comes to having some bereavement leave from work, to get over their passing, employers should be understanding? You would think so.

Legally, in the UK, employees can take what is deemed a reasonable number of days off for bereavement leave, but that is for the death of a family relative or a close friend. Humans. Not pets. Employers don’t have to pay for these days off but it may vary depending on the company.

Ultimately I think most animal owners will agree that losing a pet, like a cat or dog—or any sentient animal—does affect them in some way and employers should have a duty to allow some time off. Maybe there should be a workplace scheme in effect that people can contribute a small amount of their wages towards, each month, for a bereavement fund for the future. So that when a person or an animal dies then that money will pay the employee for having to take the time off. Therefore employers are not losing out on their end financially.

Employers finally have to understand that pets are a big part of peoples lives and that they should accommodate their needs—to an extent—when there is an animal bereavement. They hold a special place in even the coldest of hearts. Which is why there are celebratory festivals around the world honouring them. Like the five-day Nepalese Hindu festival which celebrates dogs on its second day, known as Kukur Tihar — day of the dogs. The pooches are given a red mark on their foreheads and dressed in flower garlands and fed an abundance of food to honour them.

The cats still strive for world dominance with many a cat festival popping up all over the world; from Singapore and Brisbane all the way to London. With these events and more viral social media fur personalities popping up all the time, like Tuna the dog and Grumpy Cat (who sadly passed away last month) it shows how popular and loved animals are all around the world and the importance they play in peoples lives. And why employers have to be accommodating toward pet owners and their needs when their pets finally take the trip over the rainbow bridge.

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