Leave! For the love of pets

Pet parents talk about the joy and relief of having more time to take care of their pets and urge for moves like Swiggy’s Paw-ternity Policy.
Leave! For the love of pets

CHENNAI: Reaching home after a hard day at work, we all look forward to that one thing that brings us happiness. From food, shows/movies to watch, reading a book, to household chores, and the chitter-chatter with family and friends, it can be anything. But pet parents often look forward to the kisses, wagging tails, and licks from their furry friends who wait for them. With the option of hybrid working being offered in several companies, these parents have set a routine with their pets. The separation anxiety — akin to missing one’s spouse, child, or sibling — hits them hard on the days when they have to go to the office.

Having been through this process, Vinodhini, a social media marketer and a parent to two cats, says, “Pets need constant care forever and as parents, they are our responsibility. For me, raising a pet is equal to raising a child. During the Covid lockdown, corporates worked from home. I was there with my pet all day long. When the restrictions were lifted, I was asked to come to the office. At this time for most pet parents, separation anxiety kicked in.” She now works in a firm that offers a hybrid working mode and is closer to her pets.

The move

At a time when companies are revising policies that are suited for their employees, Swiggy, an online food delivery app, has made a one-of-its-kind move. On April 11, National Pet Day, they introduced the ‘Paw-ternity’ Policy for pet parents. In their official blog, Girish Menon, chief human resource officer (CHRO) of Swiggy wrote, “...we are now expanding our definition of parenthood to include pet parents as well. And that’s why, starting today, we’re announcing the Swiggy Paw-ternity Policy for all full-time employees.”

Appreciating the move, Sanskriti Bansore, media and celebrity projects coordinator of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India says, “Pawsome move, Swiggy! Animal companions are beloved members of our families, who depend on us entirely for their care, so hats off for recognising and including them in the company’s parental leave policy.” She adds that people should come forward to adopt pets from animal shelters or rescue one from the streets, thereby delivering happiness to their lives.

“Adoption requires understanding from employers, particularly, because policies like this can help pet parents easily balance between pets and deadlines,” points out Lavanya Lakshminarayanan, a sports journalist who lives with two dogs and a cat — Dolly (11-year-old lab), Snowy (3-year-old indie) and Meg (1-year-old cat) — in an all-women household. She asks citizens to open their homes and hearts to animals because India has “an abysmally high number of stray animals, particularly dogs, and cats.” Besides sterilisation and vaccination, adoption is the way forward, they all advocate.

Pawternal instincts

Swiggy’s policy includes paid leave for new pets/adoption, sickness, and bereavement. “These leaves are important for both the pet and the pet parent as the pet needs time to settle in the new environment, and its owner to take it to the veterinarian to understand the vaccine or medical requirements so that special care can be provided in case the need arises,” shares Haarshini Agarwal, a content writer and a sibling of three cats.

The hormone that bonds a mother and a newborn is oxytocin, which is increased during social interaction between people and pets. So, this decision by the food delivery company is a massive push towards creating an inclusive society. “This policy tells us that our pets are family and their well-being is just as important,” shares Kirthana Raamsukaesh, a pet mom and the founder of Hope for Critters, an animal protection organisation.

We are in a society that offers maternity and sick leaves, but being absent from work to look after an unwell pet is often ridiculed or dismissed. But, this proposed action took a step beyond considering the pets and their overall well-being. In contrast, Vinodhini reckons, “Swiggy has always been conscious of their leave policy, be it for period or maternity. They have prioritised employee happiness and engagement. But, I have asked permission at my workplace for vet appointments and have used my other leaves to tend to my pet. So, I don’t understand the impact this policy would create.”

A parent, regardless

While it may be easy for a family to rely on other members to take care of their pet, people who have migrated to the city for education, work, or any other reason and live alone, find the policy a step in the right direction. “I live alone and I struggle with finding backup for my pets. Two of my pets have chronic health conditions. It is hard to manage their veterinary obligations without some understanding, especially our workspace,” says Lavanya. When unwell, pets need the presence of their humans to feel secure and heal. According to her, “The biggest regret of being a working person is that my pets have to do a lot of adulting on their own.”

In a similar situation, Kirthana shares, “I used to take my pet along with me but over the years, my pet developed some health concerns and I stopped travelling much.” She ensures that her pet is not alone for more than a night, for which arrangements are made with people the pet is comfortable with. “Overall, this policy is a positive change and approach for working individuals who are also pet parents,” she says.

Chennaiites believe this policy would start a conversation and other industries would take a cue to implement this in various sectors. “When we start looking at pets as lives that matter as much as human lives, policies and decisions such as this are possible in all the industries,” explains Kirthana. Appealing to the other companies planning a corresponding strategy, Haarshini suggests, “Leaves can also include post and pre-surgery leaves as both the pet and their caregiver need to prepare for any such days in advance. And after the surgery, human intervention is much needed to provide care to the pet.”

This practice will eventually lead to “recognising the seriousness of care pets need, and creating community resources in workplaces, like groups for pet parents to share resources, contacts, supplies; a support system for advice or even pet sitting assistance. It’s a good first step towards a better culture of pet parenting,” notes Lavanya. Caring and leading a life with our four-legged friends is much more important because “pets will always behave like two-year-olds” they pet parents conclude.

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