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The weird “give people a day off if their dog dies” idea

Two statements of self-interest here: First, I own a dog, and she is an excellent dog, even if a little bit too keen on walks for my taste. When she dies – and the tragedy of owning a dog is that it’s always a “when” and not an “if” – I will be devastated. Second, I am a monthly contributor to the Dog’s Trust, who’ve come up with this rather hare-brained idea:

An animal charity is calling on employers to offer compassionate leave to staff who suffer the death of a pet.

Dogs Trust, Ireland’s largest dog welfare organisation, has launched a new campaign seeking to gain support for companies to recognise the extent of the grief people can suffer from the loss of a beloved animal.

A survey carried out by the charity revealed that 71pc of dog owners who had experienced the death of a pet described the loss as “devastating.”

First off, let’s not beat around the bush: Of course the loss of a pet is devastating. Frankly, I am surprised that only 71% of people agreed with that statement in the survey Dogs Trust conducted. If you can live with an animal for a decade and not miss it sorely when it leaves you, then there’s something a bit odd about that, for my money. We are a nation of animal lovers – the extraordinary response to my colleague Fatima’s story about Donal Rogers’ fight to save his Jack Russell proves that.

But here’s the thing: Not everything needs to be legislated. It’s true, of course, that not all employers are good and decent, but most are. And most employers recognise things that are important to their employees. A normal person will give their staff the morning off to take a dog to the vet, and so on. They will sympathise and commiserate. If somebody needs a few days off for whatever reason, assuming they are a good employee most of the time, a sensible employer will assent.

When the Government gets involved, though, it just all becomes silly. Because that day off will no longer be a gesture of compassion by employer to employee, but instead just another state-mandated right, availed of even by people who do not want it, and do not need it. It would just be another automatic and artificial interference into normal, everyday, human interactions.

Second, it misunderstands the very purpose of mandatory compassionate leave. When a parent dies, or a sibling, or, God Forbid, a spouse or a child, the time off provided is probably far shorter than it would be if the main purpose of that time off was “to deal with grief”. The time off provided is, you’ll note, short enough to allow a person to organize and attend a funeral service. It is not long enough to process the emotional effect of losing a parent – nor is it intended to be.

With dogs, that social expectation to organise a funeral simply is not there. So the compassionate leave you might get for a pet’s death would be significantly different in nature and intent to that provided in the case of a human death. If we were giving people compassionate leave solely to cope with grief, then we would be giving them months off, not days.

Third, the simple fact of the matter is that while the grief of a loss of a pet is not to be sniffed at, it is to some extent an expected loss. I know, for example, that if my dog is lucky she will live another decade. I know too that, if I live a normal length life myself, she will not be my last dog, or even my second last. Again, it is no intent to minimise the real grief her loss will cause me to note that she will be more easily replaced in my life than a wife, parent, or sibling. Dog lovers may object to this sentence, but the fact is that the loss of a pet simply is not on the same scale.

This proposal isn’t really serious, of course. It’s just another ploy by a charity to get their name and story in the papers and on the radio, at a quiet time of year (and we’re grateful for it), but there is a bigger point to be made here about the Irish instinct to involve the Government in literally everything. Compassion and kindness and understanding are at their best, most powerful, and most heartfelt when they are genuine and offered from freedom, and at their weakest when they are mandated by Government. When your dog dies, and your boss shows you kindness and decency, you’ll remember that for years. When your dog dies and you take your mandatory day off, do you feel the same comfort?

I doubt it. We should, where possible, leave sympathy and compassion to people, and not mandate it by law.

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