How to support a coworker who’s lost a pet

How to support a coworker who’s lost a pet

Pets are common conversation starters in the office, and that conversation may go on for years, solidifying friendships. You hear about Fido’s escapades and quirks when he’s young and playful, then about his illnesses as he gets older. As his condition worsens, Fido may suddenly pass, or your coworker may have to make the difficult but compassionate decision to put their beloved pet to sleep. But unlike the death of a family member, for a pet there’s no defined office protocol. The office manager isn’t going to send an email telling you where the funeral will be or if donations are welcome. So how do you extend condolences?

  1. Be sympathetic

    No –  “It’s only a dog (cat)” remarks. And never say, “You can always get another dog (cat). There are lots of them.” Maybe no one would say such a thing to someone they have to work with every day, but some may think it. Attitudes about pets vary. You may be a person who doesn’t like animals in general or you may have a pet but don’t give it the same status you would a family member. However, your coworker may think of their pet as their child and may be broken up about the loss for days, weeks or longer. Their feelings are as valid as yours, and a simple “I’m sorry for your loss” is all you have to say to acknowledge them.

  2. Send or give a pet condolence card

    Extending sympathy through a card is thoughtful. If you are friendly outside of work and know your coworker’s home address, send it. If not, leave a pet condolence card on their desk. You might want to donate to an animal organization in their pet’s memory and let them know in the card. Some organizations, such as ASPCA, will send a memorial card by email or postal mail on your behalf.

  3. If your coworker doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t

    Some people use work to escape the grief for a while. Take your cue from your coworker, even if they are obviously upset. Don’t be offended if you reach out and they refuse to engage with you. Everyone handles the loss of a pet differently and coping behaviors can vary widely. They will remember your kindness and acknowledge it when they can.

  4. If your coworker wants to talk about it, do so

    I once worked in a pet-friendly office where employees could bring in their dogs and cats for the day, any time they wanted to. Taking a break to visit with the pets was common, and our pet conversations would last for a half-hour or more. If you work in such an office and your coworker wants to talk, be there for them. If the office culture isn’t conducive to that, invite them out to lunch or go for a bite after work. Either way, they’ll be grateful you took the time to listen.