The Big Read: “Part of the Family”: The Rising Status of Pets in Households and What It Means for Society

For added peace of mind, some owners are turning to DNA testing to make sure their pets don’t have any underlying health issues.

One company, EasyDNA, offers DNA testing for dogs to help owners determine their pets’ breed, parentage, and disease risk.

About 40 pet owners buy these kits in Singapore every year, said Ms. Sharifah Khairiyah Syed Mohamad, Singapore and Malaysia Manager at EasyDNA.

She added that the benefits of having comprehensive information to care for their dogs in a targeted way has led to increased interest from pet owners in carrying out these tests.

As pet owners humanize their pets, some services long intended for humans have also been extended to pets, such as pet insurance.

Ms. Annie Chua, head of personal insurance at Income Insurance, said her Happy Tails pet insurance had grown by more than 150% between 2021 and 2022.

The insurance plan, distributed by Income Insurance and Aon, allows owners to cover themselves against unexpected medical treatment for their pet dogs and cats. Certain congenital and hereditary conditions and certain medical treatments such as chemotherapy may also be covered.

“We are seeing a high number of inquiries from pet owners who are concerned about insurance covering hereditary and congenital health issues in their pets,” Ms. Chua said.

Health issues aside, some pet owners treat their dogs like toddlers, sending them to dog daycare.

While the concept of pet daycare isn’t new, Snuggery manager Elayne Kwok told TODAY she’s seen a 20 percent increase in demand for her services this year, compared to to 2019.

Owners who can’t stand leaving their pets home alone or who know they need to provide their energetic pets with activities throughout the day are spending S$500-800 a month sending them to the equivalent human kindergarten about twice a week. .

“We are (like) teachers to children in a school because we communicate clearly with our customers about their pets,” she said, adding that they usually send several updates via WhatsApp. daily.

The Snuggery allows pet owners to customize what their pets’ day might look like, such as taking outdoor walks, spending one-on-one time with a trainer doing IQ games, exercises simple agility or basic obedience training.

Although rare, some “paws” also seek legal help to ensure that their pets are taken care of if they survive them.

Mr. Tan Shen Kiat of Kith & Kin Law Corporation said the firm has seen growing interest in estate planning among pet owners and has completed two such projects involving pet care the last year.

Mr Tan told TODAY that the company was also engaged to seek out a suitable trustee to be a good custodian of a client’s pets and use the funds for pet care, which he described as a very “tailor-made” service.

If the animal dies before its owner, private farewells to the animal are slowly gaining ground in recent years.

Mandai Pet Sanctuary, for example, handles an average of 2,200 cremations per year.

Having provided such services for over 30 years, the company has seen a shift among owners towards more luxurious closures and private cremations for their pets’ final journey.

The company said TODAY that it hosts three service halls so that these private services can be carried out simultaneously, allowing owners to request closure.

Private cremations and cremation with owner-collected ashes make up 20 percent and 38 percent of cremation services provided by Mandai Pet Sanctuary. A majority still opt for community cremation, where the ashes are scattered in a communal cemetery.

The ability to say goodbye to their pets allows owners like Mrs. Quek to put an end to their grief.

“In the past, there was no proper goodbye or closing…I always wondered how I could send my precious family member away like this,” she said.

“Now you can at least have a proper cremation, procedures are set out and your pets are sent off with more dignity. It brings more comfort.

Some pet owners are also opting for more environmentally friendly ways to return their pets. Although the procedure can be longer – up to 24 hours – aquacremation has attracted interest from some pet owners in Singapore.

“Cremation can be uncomfortable for some as it involves fire and heat,” noted Mr. Yang Loo, co-founder of The Green Mortician. Since launching its services in March this year, the company has cremated 50 pets.

The process, which involves using a mixture of 95 percent water and about 5 percent alkaline solution, speeds up the decomposition process. Within hours, the company can salvage the animal’s bones and other foreign bodies, then burn them to ashes.

THE CHALLENGES OF PET CARE

When Ms Liang lost her pet in 2021, she recalled going to work the same day feeling “just awful”.

Working on the trading floor in full view of others, amidst the commotion, she remembers crying while her colleagues laughed.

“They told me ‘it’s just a dog,’” she said, adding that some snickered as she tried to work while grieving.

But pet owners today say things have changed and those around them understand that the pain of losing a pet can be similar to that of losing a close family member.

Recognizing this suffering, some companies and countries around the world have implemented compassionate leave for employees who lose their pets.

For example, Colombia has a law that grants employees in this South American country two days of paid leave in the event of the death of their pet.

Mr. Chris Lee, former Managing Director for Hong Kong of the human resources company Ethos BeathChapman, noted that although it is not yet common, more and more companies around the world are moving towards granting compassionate care leave for the pets of their employees.

“There is a very real change in the way people perceive their pets, so it is not very surprising that they now expect the same compassionate leave,” said Mr Lee, who is also co-founder of the pet food brand Buddy Bites.

He noted that companies that implement pet leave could attract employees and increase retention rates because it “demonstrates compassion toward company values.”

However, this leave is not governed by legislation and so companies will find it ‘vital to carefully define eligibility through a comprehensive internal policy’.

Mr. Lee added that human resources departments must ensure that these policies are well explained. Rather than focusing on whether such policies are fair to those who don’t have pets, Lee suggested educating people about how owners view their pets. as more than just animals.


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