Bereaved owners are hit hard by the death of a pet. Should they get paid leave?
It takes time to grieve people — and pets.
Megyn Kelly took a moment to grieve over her deceased dog, Basha, in a teary-eyed tribute at the end of Monday’s “Megyn Kelly Today.”
“I just want to steal a personal moment and say, something sad happened in my life on Friday — hope I can get through this — but my dog died,” the anchor said of her beloved shih tzu companion of 14 years. “Already I’m not through it, but yeah, Basha died and it was super sad.”
Kelly then thanked her fans who comforted her on social media over the loss of her pet. “I know some people would say, like, ‘It’s just a dog,’ but it’s been a really emotional weekend, and one thing I wanted to say was I posted it on Twitter, and you know Twitter can be so nasty, but it was so lovely these past couple of days,” she said, holding her hand over her heart.
“I will miss her terribly, and for those of you who are pet owners, I know you get it,” she added. “Hug your little dog, your little cat, whoever it is who loves you. Take a moment to appreciate them while you have them.”
Kelly is the latest famous face to grieve the loss of a furry friend. Queen Elizabeth mourned the death of her “last corgi” in April, the Daily Mail reported. The 14-year-old Willow was the last in a line descended from her first corgi, Susan, that her father gave her when she turned 18.
The 92-year-old monarch was “hit extremely hard” by the loss, a palace insider told the Mail, even though she has two dachshund corgi mixes and recently adopted a corgi whose owner passed last year.
“She has mourned every one of her corgis over the years, but she has been more upset about Willow’s death than any of them,” a Buckingham Palace source told the outlet. “It is probably because Willow was the last link to her parents and a pastime that goes back to her own childhood. It really does feel like the end of an era.”
Queen Elizabeth's last remaining corgi has died, the Queen has owned corgis since 1944. https://t.co/ADwlyxx8F8
— Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) April 18, 2018
This isn’t just a royal pain — nine out of 10 pet owners say they see their animal companion as part of the family, according to a 2011 Harris Poll of 2,184 adults. And pets’ passing on can leave owners reeling: About 30% of 106 pet owners exhibited grief and sadness for six or more months after the death of their pet, according to a 2009 Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic study.
“The stages of grief and loss for a pet are no different than if you have lost (a human),” psychotherapist Jenn Mann, host of VH1’s “Couples’ Therapy with Dr. Jenn,” told Moneyish. “I can’t tell you how many times I have worked with clients who have said, ‘My dog or my cat was there through a difficult breakup or a divorce or a career catastrophe.’ Our animals are there for us, and they love us unconditionally.”
So with so-called “pawternity leave” benefits gaining pup-ularity, should companies also offer grieving pet parents paid bereavement leave? For companies looking to promote a progressive corporate culture, such a policy should be a no-brainer, said workplace expert Stephen Viscusi, who has appeared on NBC’s “Steve Harvey.” “I think it shows a relatability to your employees’ needs, and it shows a kindness that is important,” he told Moneyish.
Amy Nichols, vice president of companion animals at the Humane Society and former CEO of the dog daycare chain Dogtopia, sees a benefit to respecting what’s important to employees. “Whether it’s your pet, your child, your spouse or parents, we have big, complicated lives,” she told Moneyish. “I think if we can respect and acknowledge that, we’re going to have happier people working for us in their lives and in general.”
Even when it comes to mourning their fellow humans, many workers don’t enjoy stellar bereavement leave benefits: U.S. employees are awarded only an average four days’ bereavement leave for a spouse or child, according to a 2016 Society for Human Resource Management survey, and just three for a parent, sibling, domestic partner, foster child, grandchild or grandparent.
But “giving employees a little room to grieve is good business,” said Mann, “because otherwise sometimes people end up acting out their grief in the workplace, and that’s unhealthy.” If nothing else, Viscusi added, pet bereavement leave is “a good public relations investment” for employers.
A few companies have already adopted such policies: Rover.com, a Seattle-based dog-walking and pet-sitting network, offers employees three days a year of paid pet bereavement leave in addition to the three days they get for mourning people — a benefit that Jovana Teodorovic, the company’s director of people and culture, says other companies should consider adopting. “It’s not a very costly benefit to the company, but it could make a huge difference to the employees’ lives and to their loyalty to the company,” she told Moneyish.
And Bloomington, Ind.-based Hanapin Marketing announced this year it would offer employees four hours of bereavement leave for a pet dog or cat — the same half-day they would receive in the event of a fellow employee passing away, said human resources worker Becky Throckmorton. “A lot of employees who have pets definitely appreciated the policy,” she said, “and also those who may have recently lost a pet really appreciated that we added that in.”
San Francisco’s Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants also offers three days’ pet bereavement leave, while Seattle-based pet insurance company Trupanion offers one day, according to SHRM. Some parts of the company Mars Inc. reportedly allow some time off, ability to work from home or flexible hours, and Boston-based Maxwell Health and Palo Alto-based VMware offer flex days off.
Meanwhile, folks at other companies can cobble together bereavement time with existing paid time off and understanding bosses. Viscusi, “traumatized” by the sudden loss of his 17.5-year-old Siamese cat, Number One, says he took one day off with his boss’s go-ahead. Nichols, while she was running Dogtopia, stayed out of the office for several days after losing her 15-year-old Boston terrier, Griffin. “I asked for the space; thankfully I was able to get it, and I would’ve done it for any of my employees as well,” she said.
And Mary Pharris, director of business development and partnerships at the women’s career community Fairygodboss.com, says her company’s flexible workplace policies allowed her to care for her sick dog, Mr. Brooks, when his last few weeks of life were packed with vet appointments. After her little black Chihuahua died, Pharris said, the company’s vacation policy allowed her to take a day off to grieve.
“Life doesn’t stop between the hours of eight and five when you’re at work — sometimes you need that flexibility to take care of your family needs or personal needs, whether you have a sick child or a sick pet,” she said. “I was very fortunate at Fairygodboss to have employers that really walk the walk and the mission that we support as a company.”
Still, not everyone benefits from a dog-loving boss like that of Gwyn Donohue — who was given a day without formally taking time off after her 13-year-old golden retriever, Sydney, succumbed to an inoperable brain tumor six weeks into her job at the National Association of Home Builders.
“I wish more companies would formally recognize the importance of pets in their employees’ lives with a bereavement policy,” Donohue told Moneyish in an email, “rather than depending on the compassion of individual supervisors — or a surplus in someone’s leave balance — to provide that important time for emotional recovery.”
This story was originally published on April 11, 2018 and has been updated.
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