I don’t want to get the “pet parents” all riled up, but dogs, cats and parakeets should not be given more consideration than newborn infants. There, I said it. I’m specifically referring to recent news reports showing the growing trend in England of employers offering “paw-ternity” leave—time off to settle in a new pet—as a workplace perk.
According to a recent article in the Guardian, many British businesses have been offering paid time off to staff so they can be at home and care for their animals. One Manchester-base, IT company offers three weeks paid leave when a pet joins a family.
Three weeks!!! That’s a slap in the face to American mothers who gestate and give birth to a helpless infant and don’t have any federal paid maternity leave option to “settle in” to motherhood, breastfeeding and bonding with their actual human being. We need paid family leave. Just because you put a sweater on it and push it around in a stroller, does not make it comparable to a human being. (I’m sorry, it needs to be said.)
It is unconscionable that the U.S. remains the only industrialized countryto still have no paid federal maternity leave policy, while employers in other countries are giving three weeks for a pet. While companies consider the needs of an animal transitioning to a new home, what about the ever critical womb to world transition of an infant. The critically important—“fourth trimester.” Babies too, need time to regain their orientation to their new world—after all, the womb world is dark and quiet while the outside world has light and loud noises. In the womb, a baby is constantly “held,” in the outside world, there is a multi-million-dollar business of swings, cribs and heartbeat teddies designed just so that a baby will not be held.
Unlike other mammals, humans are the only animals born with underdeveloped brains—and are completely helpless and dependent on caregivers to tend to their every need. “By one estimation, a human fetus would have to undergo a gestation period of 18 to 21 months instead of the usual nine to be born at the neurological and cognitive development stage comparable to that of chimpanzee newborn,” notes one article in the Scientific American.
Unlike newborn foals, who get on their legs almost immediately after birth, humans take up to a full year to learn how to walk because our brain is unusually complex and it takes longer for it to meet the level of development needed to walk on two legs.
All of this means, that critical fourth trimester, is an important time for continuing the development of humans—that emotional development depends on bonding, nurturing and the neurological and cognitive development is nurtured by breastfeeding. All of these processes are stunted when mothers have to return to work days and weeks after giving birth. If companies recognize that pets need care from a dedicated caregiver when they come home, why won’t U.S. policymakers take a similar stand for all babies?
Yes, it is a dog eat dog world out there, but it should not be a world where dogs trump newborns.