The stereotype of Brits as a nation of pet-obsessives has been given a fresh boost by a survey showing that increasing numbers of firms are giving staff paid time off work to care for their animals. According to the insurer Petplan, almost one in 20 new pet owners in the UK have been offered time off to look after for a sick or newly homed animal. Some companies allow employees to take a few hours off to settle in a new pet, while a tiny minority offer as much as several weeks.
This seems only fair to me. As a pet lover with three rescue animals of my own, I know how much time can go towards taking care of them. My dog Maisie, well known to Guardian readers, came to us all the way from Ireland, where she had been badly abused and neglected. The physical and emotional damage Maisie had suffered in those few short months before we took her in meant several trips to the vet as well as, at least for the first few weeks, a rota to ensure she was not left alone.
Our two cats had similar beginnings, and came to us with problems. This meant more vets’ bills, more time looking after them, and a few sleepless nights.
As a freelancer, any time I take off for whatever reason is unpaid. But plenty of pet owners I know with proper jobs tend to assume that they have to take annual or unpaid leave to care for pets, even in a life-or-death emergency.
It is my choice to have pets, as it is for parents to have children. After decades of feminist campaigning, many women in paid employment are entitled to decent maternity leave and other benefits. Pet-eternity or paw-ternity leave is not something that the majority of pet owners expect to be entitled to, according to research published last year by the animal welfare charity Blue Cross. A survey of 2,000 pet owners found that more than four in 10 have “pulled a sickie” from work because of their pet.