‘They are my family’: Italian worker gets paid leave to look after sick dog

Pet advocacy groups hail breakthrough as employer agrees to give woman paid time off

“Anna” and her dog Cucciola. “The costs to cure our little friends are very high, and not everyone can pay it.” Photograph: Lav animal advocacy group Facebook page

An Italian dog owner who wanted paid time off to care for one of her dogs offered her bosses a simple explanation: “They are my family.” It worked.

In what a pet advocacy group called a groundbreaking decision, the woman’s employer changed its mind and gave the woman leave to care for her sick 12-year-old English setter. Pet advocacy groups say the woman’s achievement could pave the way for similar claims in the future.

The woman, an employee at Sapienza University in Rome, who was identified in Italian news reports only by her first name, Anna, lives alone and had to take off work to bring her dog to the veterinarian for surgery.

"I had asked for the paid allowance, honestly explaining what I needed it for – namely to care for my sick dog," Anna told the Turin newspaper La Stampa. "I later realised that they had counted those days as a holiday, and I got angry as a matter of principle."


An animal advocacy group, Lega Anti Vivisezione, helped Anna make her case to her employer and, the group said in a statement, the university eventually agreed to grant two days of paid leave. "The lady lives alone, and had no alternatives to transport and assist the dog," the group said.

Lega Anti Vivisezione argued that owners who fail to take proper care of a pet could find themselves vulnerable to legal action, because it would amount to the mistreatment or abandonment of the animal, a crime under Italian law.

"Now, with the due medical and veterinarian certifications, all those who find themselves in the same situation will be able to cite this important precedent," said Gianluca Felicetti, the group's chairman. "Another significant step forward that considers animals not kept for profit or production, but to all intents and purposes as members of the family."


Paid leave for new pet owners or those who need to care for ailing pets has become part of some companies’ benefits programmes. The Scottish company Brewdog allow employees one-week paid leave for employees who adopt a puppy, and several US companies offer bereavement days when pets die.

In Italy, though, because the university's decision to grant the time-off request kept the case out of court, it was not clear how much of a precedent Anna's victory establishes. At the least, Lega Anti Vivisezione said, it should set an example.

"Animals are part of the family, and to take care of them, apart from being our duty must be our right!" it wrote in a Facebook post. The group shared an image of the pet owner and her dog.

Anna has two dogs, according to the Italian media: Cucciola (12) and Duke (17). She told La Stampa that they were part of her family and that the government should do even more to help pet owners. "I think there should be more support for those who have animals, starting for example with public vet health care," Anna said. "The costs to cure our little friends are very high, and not everyone can pay it."

New York Times service