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With animal ownership in the UK now at an all-time high, pet wellness experts Itch, have launched a campaign to encourage employers to offer a pet bereavement leave policy for working pet parents.

The policy encourages employers to give paid leave for employees if a pet dies. Itch has taken the steps to make it easy for workplaces to implement the policy by providing a helpful guide for employers on their website. 

The campaign is inspired by the efforts of Emma McNulty, who in 2019 famously petitioned for the introduction of pet bereavement leave after she was sacked from her job for calling in sick when her dog passed away. 

Itch is picking up the mantle and launching a drive to inspire national change to ensure pet parents are treated with sensitivity around a subject which is often misunderstood and sometimes even mocked.

As pet ownership in the UK continues to rise, it’s clear to see why pets have made their way to the top of the pack in the family home.  Nearly three quarters (74%) of Brits agree their furry friend is a valued member of the family, with over two in five (43%) stating their pet means as much to them as their friends and family. 

As a nation, it also seems we’re suffering great loss when a beloved pet passes away, with over half (58%) of pet owners thinking the death of a pet is just as hard to deal with as a human one. 

Even though there is no legal requirement to give people time off when a pet dies, nearly three quarters (74%) of people in the UK think employers should have a policy in place to help pet parents going through pet bereavement.

Nearly half (45%) haven’t told an employer when their pet passed away, but for those that did, over one in ten (13%) stated their employer showed no sympathy, 9% actively made fun of them or bullied them for being upset and 6% even laughed at them during their time of need. 

Robin Grey, Itch panellist, counsellor, psychotherapist and author of ‘Coping with Pet Loss’, says: “As humans, our experience of loss can be profound and touch us in ways that we did not expect. We may need time to mourn, and, in some cases, it can feel like we will never recover. 

“For many of us, our pets are a valued member of the family and therefore the death of one can seem like one of the hardest losses. There is hope, though. By examining ourselves and our own grief, it is possible to see that this often-unpredictable loss can draw us closer to others that have shared the same experience.”

Robin provides the following tips on how to cope with the loss of a beloved pet:

  • Accept that not everyone may understand the loss you are going through
  • See your loss as being valid and important to mourn
  • Don’t rush into getting a new pet. Wait until you are ready
  • Consider having a ceremony or remembrance for your pet as a positive way of marking their gift to you in life
  • If your loss has coincided with another loss or major life change, consider getting further help, such as talking therapy or counselling

Sapan Sehgal, Founder of London Fields Fitness Studio, commented: “As a business owner with the majority of staff who are pet owners, not only do I understand how important it is to look after their physical and emotional wellbeing, but to also be sensitive to their needs relating to their pet. 

“If someone needs time to grieve then who am I to decide if their love and pain for a pet is or isn’t as ‘real’ as a human. I wholeheartedly support the action Itch is taking and I’m happy to introduce this policy for my staff, as I will always respect the feelings and needs of my employees when they face loss and I encourage other businesses to do likewise.”

Andrew Pinnington, CEO at Itch commented: “Here at Itch, we know that pets are like family to our employees. Therefore, our benefits include paw-ternity leave when an employee gets a new pet, a gift for the new family member, birthday treats for pets and even time off to volunteer with pet-related charities. The death of a beloved pet can impact us in ways we are not prepared for, so we took action to include paid time off within our benefits. 

“Now we are encouraging other businesses to implement pet bereavement policies within their workplaces, with the goal of helping facilitate sensitive conversations and ensuring that grieving employees feel as comfortable as possible.”

Head to the Itch website for more information on how to introduce a pet bereavement policy at your workplace, and for more advice on coping with pet loss.