Canadian company introduces ‘pawternity’ leave for fur kids

When Calgarian Jessica Riopel and her husband decided to get a puppy, she knew they’d have to book time off work. 

They each booked off a week to spend time with their now four-year-old silver lab, Benson, using the time to crate train him and help him adjust to his new home. 

“Then we felt a little bit better kind of going to work, going about our lives a little more usually,” she said. “To us, it makes sense. You’re welcoming a new family member, right?” 

“He’s the centre of our lives. We love him so much, and I think he loves us back,” Riopel said.   

The Riopels used vacation time in order to have the time off to be with Benson, something she said is a fond memory.

Now some companies are introducing a benefit for their employees who have gotten a new pet. 

a woman squats next to a dog near a body of water
Calgarian Jessica Riopel and her now four-year-old dog Benson. (Submitted by Jessica Riopel)

Sometimes called pawternity, or pawrental leave, the benefit is paid time off for new pet parents to help them get their new family member adjusted at home. 

One Canadian company, communications agency Talk Shop Media, which works with businesses in Calgary and has offices in Vancouver and Toronto, recently introduced that benefit for its employees. 

Katie Stevens, managing partner at Talk Shop Media, said the average age of the company’s workforce is between 28 and 30, noting pawternity leave represents the interests of those employees.

As a female-owned company, she said, the organization tries to be supportive of working parents. But what that looks like, and the life priorities of people on her team, have changed, Stevens said.

“We want to make sure that we were acknowledging the fact that families these days come in many different forms and shapes and sizes, and that includes and is extended now, often, to our family members with four legs,” she said. 

“We wanted to expand our parental leave policy to include pets.” 

The pawternity benefit from that company is three days of paid leave, with the option to take an additional two days of unpaid leave. 

a woman with brown hair smiles. she has a black shirt and is in front of a black background
Katie Stevens, managing partner at Talk Shop Media. The company recently introduced a pawternity benefit for its employees. (Submitted by Katie Stevens)

Stevens said that because the company just recently rolled it out, no one has taken advantage of it yet. But she said employees expect more and different benefits than those that have previously been offered.

“Gone are the days of the Ping-Pong table and the free beer in the fridge. And we are now in the era of making sure that benefits, I think, align with the core values of the team that you employ.” 

The premise of pawternity has had pushback in other countries, but Wendy Giuffre, president of Wendy Ellen Inc., a Calgary human resources firm, said employers are increasingly looking for anything that will retain staff and attract skilled employees. 

And for the new generation of employees joining the workforce, benefits that fit their lifestyle have become “way more important,” she said.

She said the benefit is innovative and doesn’t come at a high cost to employers. However, she said, it’s not a very common benefit in Canada. 

“Everybody doesn’t have children, and to some people that’s their animals,” Giuffre said.

She said pawternity leaves that she’s seen are typically between two- and four-weeks long — just long enough to house train the dog and get in some bonding. 

She said that for a lot of employees, it’s more about the gesture than the actual benefit. 

“Even if you don’t take advantage of it, knowing that it’s there, it shows that the company cares about the mental well-being of their employees. And you know right now flexibility is huge.” 

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