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Work-Life Balance

Why it’s OK to take time off to grieve the death of your pet

Sometimes we find family in the most unexpected places. Heather Vokes found Dushi, an Aruba Cunucu dog, wandering near her family’s Aruba rental home in 2005. “I was told no collar means no owner. I quickly put a collar on him,” shares Heather. She took him to the veterinarian and then flew Dushi to his new home in New York.

Twelve years later, Dushi was diagnosed with a heart condition and a mass on his spleen. Surgery was too risky for a dog his age, so Heather brought him home knowing that one day soon he would pass. That day was March 3, 2018. “I knew it was time to let him go…That was the hardest decision I ever had to make.”

Nicki Stevens has had to say goodbye to two cats she adopted: Darwin, a domestic shorthair cat with white paws and a pink nose; and Skyy, a brown tabby with green eyes and a burnt sienna nose. Darwin passed suddenly at age 10 during a move to a new house. Skyy died at age 13 of cancer treatment complications. “With Darwin … I cried for about two weeks straight. I was stunned,” shares Nicki. “With Skyy, it was different. I knew for over a year that was coming … I was a wreck.”


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According to the American Pet Products Association, 84.6 million U.S. households have a pet; 60.2 million have a dog and 47.1 million have a cat. These statistics show that pets are an integral part of the American family, which is a reason why employers offer pet benefits, such as health insurance. Yet, few companies allow bereavement for pets.

“I don’t think bereavement policies should dictate what ‘relatives’ are worthy of your time and grief. Plenty of people are estranged from their immediate family, but would want to take leave for a sick aunt or cousin or pet who is like a child to them,” says Nicki.

Heather, who is a teacher, agrees. “I think they need to be put in place. You are allowed to take off for a sick kid … well, this (Dushi) is my sick kid.”

Mary Pharris, director of business development and partnerships at Fairygodboss, tells Moneyish that her company’s flexible scheduling policies enabled her to take time away from work to care for her dog, Mr. Brooks, when he got sick and had many vet visits. When he passed away, Pharris says her company was very understanding, and she was able to take a day off to grieve.

When facing the death of a pet, review your employer’s paid time off (PTO) or personal time policy. Although the bereavement policy may not apply to animals, those policies typically do not require employees to provide specific reasons for taking time.

Nicki recommends, “If you know the death is coming, spend time with your pet because you won’t get that back. If your pet has already passed, take some time to grieve.”

Explore external sources like pet counselors, hotlines and support groups provided through organizations like the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. Heather used Laps of Love, which is a network of veterinarians who offer end of life services for geriatric pets. Heather says, “The hospice for dogs is amazing. They were so helpful through this horrible ordeal.” Remember, grieving is natural.

“Everyone grieves differently,” says Nicki. “Do what you need to do to feel better or honor your pet.”

This article first appeared on Fairygodboss.

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Kristen Farrell is a professional communicator who previously worked in human resources. She shares career lessons and everyday experiences on her blog: kristen-farrell.com. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her running, crafting, or spending time with her husband, Jonathan and cat, Trotsky.