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    Coping with the loss of a pet, thankful for pet bereavement benefits
    • October 18, 2023


    (Left) Oliver and Madeline came to work everyday with Jack at his job at Pasadena Humane. They were the least helpful office assistants ever. (Middle) Oliver’s favorite room in the house was always the kitchen. As a deaf and blind dog, he always followed his nose. (Right) After 18 years together, Jack took one last photo with his best friend just before he passed over the ‘rainbow bridge.’ (Photos courtesy of Jack Hagerman)


    When Oliver came into my life at only 2-months-old, he looked and smelled like a puppy — but had the soul and demeanor of an old, grumpy grandpa.

    He didn’t like to run and play. He chose leisurely naps over rough-housing in the backyard. He was only interested in going for walks if someone carried him the whole way. He preferred air conditioning and belly rubs to chasing sticks.

    His bark had the low raspy tones of a seasoned chain smoker.

    While his gorgeous creme coat billowing in the wind gave him the appearance of bubbly, blond bombshell, he had the slow lumbering gait and sluggish temper of an exhausted sloth.

    He embodied the phrase, “I can’t be bothered.” He was never in a rush (unless it was to eat).

    He walked through life with such an easy, slow pace. A sweet soul who didn’t seem to mind the company of the (literally) hundreds of animals I’ve saved throughout the years. I guess that’s why I didn’t really think this day would come.

    He lived life slowly, patiently, gently. So slowly, that I thought he’d just keep lumbering along for another 18 years, in no particular rush to see what was on the other side of the “rainbow bridge.”

    Late this summer though, he let us know that he was ready to finally see what’s on the other side. So we honored the promise we made to him that he wouldn’t know a life of suffering.

    Now he’s with his sister, Madeline, and brother, Bailey…doing what they all loved to do best, napping.

    I can’t quite articulate what it meant to lose Oliver. He was my friend and companion for much of my adult life. I had 18 wonderful years with him — and the very sudden loss of him has been a great deal harder on me than I expected.

    I felt an immediate emptiness at the loss of our routines. Ollie was deaf and blind (and had been for the last 10 years of his life), which meant he fell into the “special needs” category of animal care. My husband and I saw to every one of those special needs for so many years, that the sudden loss of them was palpable.

    It hit me really, really hard.

    I’m very fortunate to work in the animal welfare industry, where my colleagues understand what this kind of loss feels like — and organizationally we have systems in place to support each other through it both emotionally and practically.

    I was able to take a few days off after his passing because I didn’t quite trust myself in those first few days. I was raw and emotionally unpredictable. I wasn’t sure I could keep from sobbing at the most inappropriate times.

    Because I worked for an animal shelter at the time, we had pet bereavement benefits which allowed us to take paid time off to deal with the loss of a pet, deal with a pet’s acute health crisis, and paid time off for vet visits.

    When I first transitioned into the animal welfare space from the human health care industry, I remember being really impressed by these benefits because I wasn’t used to having them.

    With my recent loss though, I was reminded of just how critical they were for my mental health and wellness. It wasn’t just a “nice to have,” it was a “must have” benefit; one that I truly needed to move through this.

    Tragically though, most employers don’t offer these types of benefits to employees in America — which says a lot about our out-dated values as it relates to our relationship with our animal friends.

    Our society still largely views our pets as property (and they are technically considered property in the eyes of the law, too, by the way). So when we experience the loss of a pet, our friends and colleagues have the tendency to minimize the magnitude of our grief.

    We’ve all said, or heard someone say “It’s only a dog. Just get another one!”

    Many don’t seem to realize how reductive and insensitive that is.

    So it’s no wonder that our employers haven’t stepped up to the plate to provide better pet-support to their employee benefits packages. Employees aren’t getting these benefits because they simply aren’t asking for them.

    I think we can do better. We must do better. Employers should recognize that the human-animal bond is growing stronger by the day, and that our employee benefit packages should reflect the space our pets occupy in our lives.

    Things like pet bereavement, veterinary assistance, and pet insurance are all benefits that could and should be afforded to all employees.

    We’re making progress though. There are some organizations that are starting to pay attention and offer more pet support for employees. Scripps Health in San Diego, for example, offers pet insurance benefits and discounts for their employees.

    Also, there is an organization called Airvet that provides packages to employers to offer veterinary telemedicine benefits for their employees.

    According to their website, 70% of the workforce has at least one pet at home. They also state that 94.5% of pet parents surveyed indicated that having access to this benefit “saved them valuable time, resulting in a more productive and engaged workforce.”

    Our pets are our family. So when they get sick, or they pass away, it’s important to normalize being open about our grief in the workplace and have better systems in place to support us when illness or loss happens.

    I want to live in a world where my grief over the loss of my dog isn’t minimized or dismissed because he’s “just a dog.”

    Because he wasn’t just a dog to me. He was my friend. He loved me ferociously and unconditionally every day of his life. He made me laugh. He drove me crazy. He healed me.

    I’m fortunate I had an employer that honored the bigness of that loss with benefits to support me through it.

    If you don’t have that with your employer, you should. You deserve it.


    As a child, Jack Hagerman founded and operated his own make-shift animal rescue — taking in stray cats, injured birds, and the occasional bunny. As an adult, he co-founded a critically endangered livestock conservancy on his farm in the Midwest, where he cared for and rehabilitated more than 400 animals in 17 different critically endangered livestock species. He formerly worked with Pasadena Humane and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. When he isn’t working with animals, he’s writing about them — hoping to create a better world for our animal friends, one witty tangent at a time.

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    ​ Orange County Register