BreakPoint: Pet-ernity Leave


Before you send an angry email to BreakPoint, please know that I love dogs and cats. But I’m disturbed by the growing trend of people treating pets like humans.

People expecting an addition to the family have a lot on their minds. Besides the changes to their routines, there are short-term considerations like getting time off to properly welcome the bundle of joy into his or her new home.

Happily, there are enlightened employers who understand their anxious employees’ concerns. That’s why Virgin Mobile of Australia is offering its employees five days of unpaid leave to welcome the newcomers home.

Only five days? Well, how long does it take you to get a kitten settled?

In announcing the new policy, a Virgin Mobile spokeswoman said that the company understood the adjustment involved in getting a new pet. It recognized that employees “may want to be at home for the first week or so with their new addition, to settle the pet and get them used to their [surroundings].”

Mind you, not all new pets entitle their owners to an unpaid week off. Only employees with “puppies and kittens aged 10 weeks or under” could give up a week’s pay to show Rover the extent of their devotion.

Given people’s sensitivity when it comes to their pets, let me be clear about what I’m not saying: I’m not objecting to Virgin Mobile’s efforts to build employee loyalty, and I certainly think that the humane treatment of animals is a basic requirement of Christian stewardship.

But what’s being called “pet-ernity leave” goes beyond caring for animals to blurring the line between people and animals. As the Virgin Mobile spokeswoman said, the new policy is “an acknowledgment that not all staff would have babies.”

The equivalence between pets and babies is hard to miss. This is especially true when you consider the opposite end of Fluffy’s earthly sojourn. Once, a pet’s passing involved a shovel, a shoe box and some fond memories. Now, grief-stricken pet owners spend $500 and more on pet funerals—usually packaged deals with names like “Happy Trails”—that come with a proper urn and sometimes a chaplain.

Those who can’t bear to be parted from their pets can opt to have the dearly departed freeze-dried.

As I said, blurring the lines. If the consequences to such blurring were limited to people looking ridiculous, we could ignore it. Unfortunately, there’s something else that’s hard to miss. The growing trend of treating pets like people is happening at a time when a misanthropy that sees people as the source of all the world’s problems is becoming widespread. The same country that gave us “pet-ernity leave,” that is, Australia, also produced a serious proposal to tax human births to stop global warming.

Then there is the obscene misuse of resources. In a world where a child dies every 30 seconds from malaria, which can be prevented with an $8 bed net, how do we possibly justify spending 60 times that or more on a pet funeral? Imagine how many real children a Christian charity could feed with that week’s pay now being given up to spend time with a new puppy.

Now I know exactly what it is that has “gone to the dogs”—the compassion we once had for each other.

This commentary originally aired March 24, 2009.


Leave to Care for Family Pet Offered at Virgin Mobile | January 31 2008

Pet-ernity Leave a New Perk
Herald Sun (Australia) | February 2 2009

Getting Gaia’s Goat: Advice for the Eco-Conscious
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint Commentary | March 9 2009

Holy Muttrimony: Equating Animals with Humans
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint Commentary | March 11 2008

Of Pigs and People: Speciesism and Rights for Animals
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint Commentary | November 13 2007

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