By Dr. Becker
For some, the loss of a pet can be as significant as the loss of a parent or sibling. This may seem surprising until you realize that you're grieving so intensely because you've lost a constant companion.1 Many pet owners know all too well that losing a pet is a life-changing event, and grieving that loss can be significant.
Research shows that simply acknowledging the significance of the loss, as opposed to viewing the grief as abnormal, is key to healing.2 In the U.S., however, many people have no choice but to go right back to work after losing their pet, without having even a day to regroup and process the loss.
While some workers are able to take vacation or personal days during the grieving process, many others do not have this luxury. Fortunately, though still relatively rare, an increasing number of U.S. employers are now offering paid bereavement to those who have just lost a pet.
Growing Number of Companies Offer Paid Pet Bereavement Days
Human resources expert Jon Decoteau of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) told CBS News that while many companies allow employees to take time off when a pet dies, some are now going a step further and offering paid pet bereavement as part of an employee's benefit package.
"In previous decades and generations, pets were often kept outdoors, and the bonding wasn't as deep as it is today …
Hundreds of thousands of social media posts attest to the variety of ways we're relating to animals that would have been unthinkable in the past — getting them groomed, dressing them up, entering pets in contests [or] taking them on vacations.
No wonder people are discussing pet bereavement leave. You have lost a vital part of your home and your heart."
With nearly 1 out of 3 pet owners saying they feel sadness over their pet's death for at least six months,5 it's clear that offering a paid day off is the compassionate thing to do. Companies that have already implemented some form of pet bereavement days include:6
- Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, San Francisco, which offer a three-day pet bereavement leave
- Mars Inc. (some units), which makes candy and pet food, offers one or more days pet bereavement, flexible hours and the ability to work from home when a pet dies
- VMware, a California-based software company, offers flexible days off
- Maxwell Health, a Boston-based company that provides an operating system for employee benefits, also offers flex days off
- Trupanion, a Seattle-based pet insurance company, offers employees one paid pet bereavement day
Is Paid Pet Bereavement Unfair?
Offering paid time off that benefits pet owners only has prompted some debate. Is it unfair to offer a benefit that non-pet owners lose out on? Some companies have suggested that offering paid time off, for any reason, as a more equitable solution.
This benefit can be used for any purpose, from doctor's appointments to pet bereavement, without making non-pet owners feel resentful.
On the other hand, a specific pet bereavement policy may be important, according to some experts, because it validates a person's grief. Without it, an employee grieving his pet may feel ashamed to admit he's suffering and believe he should simply get over it and get back to work.
In reality, it's normal and natural to feel shock, disbelief, guilt, anger, sadness and an array of other emotions after losing a pet. Humans have, after all, been mourning the loss of their pets since ancient times.
The ancient Egyptians mourned their dogs and cats, and in Japan there are 465 companion animal memorial temples where companion animals can be buried and memorialized with special ritual services.7
How to Take Care of Yourself After Losing a Pet
When you lose a pet, it's important to take time to heal. If your employer does not offer paid pet bereavement, consider taking a personal day, sick day or vacation day.
If that's not possible either, do your best to function at work but don't be too hard on yourself if you find it difficult to concentrate as normal. And when you get home, allow yourself to fully experience whatever feelings you held in during your workday.
Please understand that you don't need to go through this process alone. There are many resources available online for grieving pet owners, including dedicated websites, such as the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) as well as 24-hour phone hotlines for grief counseling and pet loss support.
If you're the pet parent to an older pet, a sick pet or have recently lost your pet, I also urge you to watch my two-part webinar, "Winding Down: A Comprehensive Look at Companion Animal Aging and Dying," below. It concludes with information on the cycle of grief that is important for anyone mourning a pet to be aware of.