On first gloss this title might seem humorous, but my wife and I, who are childless by choice, have over the years been the proud people-companions and caretakers of three to four dachshunds at a time. On numerous occasions we have had to take our animals, called our children both by people who are supportive and non-supportive of our lifestyle choice, to their doctor’s appointments. In addition, our little ones do need to be let out during the day since my wife and I do not have doggie daycare and it was not until recently that this option for dogs became available where we live.
I have never asked to take sick-leave despite the many health issues our dogs have faced. Bee stings with allergic reactions, slipped disks, coughs, eye infections, skin rashes, viruses–all the ailments that afflict otherwise healthy children and dogs–my wife and I have handled on our own time, meaning not during scheduled work hours. I have used vacation time to tend to our little ones.
If my telling you that taking the youngest of our three, Ilsa, for acupuncture and laser treatment on my own time has been a burden in part because I feel my colleagues who have children “unfairly” get to take sick leave to accompany their child to the dentist, yes, that is true. I would also say that many of my colleagues with children are very supportive of my wife and me having “substitute children” and most would not be opposed if I used sick leave to take care of Ilsa, Ava, or Greta.
My wife and I frequently joke if our dogs could only be on our health insurance and if they only had social security numbers, but underlying is the hard, cold fact that we spend more money on our dogs’ teeth cleanings, orthopedic treatments, and blood work than we do on ourselves. Medicines for our dogs are not to be had for a $10.00 co-payment, either.
I have read very carefully my employer’s leave form, what constitutes a family member, and it seems to me our dogs are much closer family members than say, great-great grandmothers, and if not, I would certainly be willing to have our dachshunds included in that category.
I would think that this kind of proposal will be received by people who can be divided into camps: those who think animals belong outside or on a plate, those who tolerate animals, those who love animals above everything else (including children), and those who really don’t care.
But it seems to me that as our society evolves and we become more tolerant, or should become tolerant of different lifestyles, it is time to include also dogs on the list of family members for which sick leave can be taken.
I would like to close on a memory that is bitter-sweet. When our first dachshund, Max, died, I remember my chair, who was not at all an animal person, telling me to go home. She understood, underneath that veneer of rule-keeping, that Max was truly a part of our family. I was a very young faculty member back then, and I chose not to go home that day. I did not make that choice because I was not in pain; next to the day my father died, the day Max died counts as the most horrible day of my life. I stayed at work because I simply was not ready to face my pain. I have never stayed at work as long as I did that day.
Older now, having had time to reflect and being able to speak out more, it is my wish that young faculty members, old faculty members, faculty members of any age, anyone who needs to take care of his or her dog, can take sick leave for this purpose.
Of course then there are the cats, and while they have nine lives, I can hear their people companions begin to shout, “Hey, what about Morris,” and the bird lovers, “What about Tweety.” Yes, it is all very funny but really not.