is it disingenuous to call a situation with a pet a “family emergency”?

A reader writes:

Is it disingenuous to refer to an incident regarding a foster dog as a “family emergency”?

My spouse and I foster dogs, and our current foster has been with us for nearly three months now. Last Thursday, I had our current foster out for a potty break around noon (I’m currently working from home), and he was attacked by another dog. I had to call out for the remainder of the day because I was extremely frightened and upset, and I also needed to closely monitor him for signs he needed urgent medical attention. I do not work Fridays at the moment, and I spent my Friday tending to him and ultimately getting him in to see a vet.

My job involves frequent and often urgent contact with clients. I do feel like I need to offer an explanation for why certain inquiries have been sitting for days when they would normally receive a response in less than an hour. My instinct has been to say that I was called away on Thursday for a family emergency. Is that appropriate verbiage under the circumstances?

For the record, everyone in the office (~15 total, small organization) knows exactly what happened, and they’re very supportive. I just don’t particularly want to delve into the details of an upsetting event with all of my clients if it’s acceptable to give a vague explanation.

You can call it a family emergency — because it was, and also because clients don’t really need details beyond that anyway.

Animals are part of your family (even foster animals, just as foster kids would be). Your dog needed emergency care, and this was an emergency for your family.

There probably are times when calling a pet situation a family emergency could come across as disingenuous, although I’m having trouble of thinking of one. It might be more about the aftermath — if people ask you later if everything is okay and you explain what happened, there are some people who might think the “family emergency” language was overblown or misleading.

But frankly, you can solve that by (a) not giving them details later or (b) just calling it an “emergency” rather than a “family emergency.”

Ethically, though, this is a family emergency and you’re not wrong to call it one.

But clients are a different case anyway. Clients almost never need the details, and broad explanations — “family emergency,” “out sick,” “a scheduling conflict I couldn’t move,” etc. — are generally fine. They don’t need to know “out sick” means “terrible diarrhea” or “something is weird with my tooth” or “I am going to lose it if I don’t get a day off,” and they don’t know need “family emergency” means “my teenager got caught smoking pot in the school cafeteria” or “our dog needed urgent medical care” or anything else. Broad, vague categories are fine.

{ 266 comments… read them below }

  1. Sir Lena Clare*

    I just read the title of your letter and immediately knew the answer would be, “absolutely not”.
    Pets are family, LW. End of.

    1. MK*

      Unless and until you get a boss or a client who doesn’t agree that pets are family, and then you might get backlash. Which might be something you are willing to face, but I think it’s easily avoided by saying it was an emergency without qualifiers.

      1. Observer*

        Not really – as Allison pointed out, the OP doesn’t need to provide any further explanations to a client.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          You could always say ‘something urgent came up the required my immediate attnetion’ if ‘family emergency’ would not fit.

        2. Triplestep*

          In this case I would tell the supportive colleagues that I was using the term “family emergency” with clients so no one raises an eyebrow over it. Supportive or not, they might not agree it was an actual family emergency.

      2. Yorick*

        I think it’s fine to call a pet situation a family emergency – as long as you state it matter-of-factly and don’t harp on it. If you’re really pushing back with “oh no, I can’t deal with this important work matter because there’s a FAMILY EMERGENCY” and later people realize it was just your dog was barfing, they’re gonna think that’s weird. If you just explain the situation (such as “I can help with this in an hour or two after I get done with the vet/done with my appointment”), most people will probably be fine with that.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          I once had to stay home because my cat was barfing. I had to watch her for a couple of hours to make sure she got better and didn’t need to see the vet.
          Luckily I was at a job where my boss and colleagues were supportive.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            If I stayed home every time my cat threw up, I’d have to retire. You are a lucky cat owner. Or I’m an unlucky one.

          2. Yorick*

            Sure, I get that someone may need to stay home with their sick pet. And if they say “I have to take my cat to the vet” or whatever, I’d get it.

            But a vague “family emergency,” especially if in a very serious tone, makes it seem like they’re playing the sick pet up to the level of a sick spouse or kid who’s been in an accident or whatever. I would feel pretty differently if they used that and then later I learned it was a sick cat (especially in a minor situation where the cat might not have even needed to see a vet).

            1. K. M.*

              My dogs and cats are my family. I care about them and treat their sickness or injury as seriously as, and possibly more than, I would a human relative. I don’t see why I would need to think of taking them to the vet or emergency room any differently than I would a human child or spouse.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I don’t know anyone who digs at the “who” when you say “Family emergency”, it’s rather boundary crushing to require that kind of information.

          This is why you say “there’s a family emergency” or a “medical emergency” and leave it be.”What happened?” is answered by “we needed to visit the doctor and there was some observation.”

          The culture of giving too much private information is on it’s way out, thank God.

          1. Avasarala*

            Yeah, honestly if someone had a leak in their house and called it a “family emergency” I wouldn’t respond “well TECHNICALLY that’s not a fAmIlY eMeRgEnCy”

      3. charo*

        The bigger issue is: Don’t be self-indulgent and say too much. This is work, be professional. I like “household emergency” even more than “family emgcy.” cause it’s more vague.
        No need to explain. If you’re friendly and meet for lunch / drinks to talk business and chat, then you might get more personal but gauge their level of interest.

        1. JSPA*

          I also use “household emergency.” Can be anything from backed up sewer to sick pet to sick but not E.R. level emergency of a family member.

          People tend to sail right along, instead of inquiring to see if sympathy and support are required.

        2. Melewen*

          I was also going to suggest “household emergency” — I do think pets are family, but calling a pet emergency a family emergency rubs me the wrong way (I also hate the term “fur babies,” so that probably plays into it). That being said, I wouldn’t give anyone a hard time about.

          1. Ponytail*

            I always took it to mean as it’s an emergency that someone in the family has to deal with – i.e. me or my other half. Not that it’s ever been an issue about telling people it’s a pet situation, and I even made a friend at work from having a cat-related crisis – we suddenly realised we both had cats (I’d asked her to leave a notice on my office door saying I’d be late in) and we’ve been work friends ever since. If I’d said ‘family emergency’ we might still be strangers to this day!

            1. PeanutButter*

              I’ve always understood “family emergency” to mean that the person needed to deal with something that couldn’t wait, but wasn’t the one sick/injured/arrested/etc themselves, so I don’t need to inquire about whether they needed help/support beyond the time off.

      4. LW*

        I think that’s ultimately what I was worried about. It also goes doubly because he’s a foster dog, and people can be weird about that in particular. Good news being that it was a non-issue – I wrote the letter last week, and nobody questioned me at all!

        1. allathian*

          Glad to hear it and thanks for the update. I hope your dog is doing well now. I don’t think it matters that he’s a foster dog, you’re still responsible for his care.

    2. MicroManagered*

      Yeah but there’s a point where that could be inaccurate or deceptive, like if OP wanted to use a sick day to care for a pet–most employers would consider that an abuse of your sick time. I agree with Alison’s advice that it’s fine to call it that to clients though.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        The descriptor “pet” to equal family is open to abuse. I’m struggling to think of many employers and employees that I’ve worked with who would be sympathetic to taking leave because the goldfish looks peaky. Cats and dogs – yes, absolutely, no question. Although my skepticism may have more to do with previous coworkers and their loophole seeking than any affiliation with furry/scaly/two-/four-/no-legged companions.

        1. Dahlia*

          I mean, the dog wasn’t looking “peaky”. It was severely injured. If you want a similar example, my friend just had their 30 gallon tank spring a leak. There’s an emergency for you.

          1. Eukomos*

            OP said she needed to “monitor” the dog for signs he needed medical attention and they ended up not taking him in until the next day, so it sounds like the injuries weren’t too severe thankfully. But splitting hairs about what kind of emergency it is doesn’t strike me as useful; OP’s colleagues were fine with her taking some time off under the circumstances, and all clients need to know is that it was an emergency, and now it’s under control and she’s back to being able to focus on their stuff.

        2. MicroManagered*

          I did work with a woman once who sincerely believed that she should be allowed to take sick leave for her dogs’ vet appointments and (I’m not making this up) that she should get paid parental leave for adopting a new puppy. She’s of course in an extreme minority, but she exists.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            I took PTO/worked from home when I adopted both of my dogs, because they needed time and supervision to get into the routine of a new household. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or weird. We’re not talking three months, more like 3-4 days, but puppies are really labor intensive and do need supervision/daycare/dogsitters.

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            We allow people to use sick time for whatever they want. They don’t need to say a thing about why they’re using it, thanks to the mandatory law requiring that if it’s not 3 days, you can’t request a doctors note.

            There’s more of us that exist than you know, we just don’t bring it up. I took the day off and used sick leave to take my cat to the vet a few times now.

            The maternity leave thing though, that’s absurd.

          3. K. M.*

            That’s actually a benefit some companies are starting to offer. Puppies take a lot of time in their first few weeks. For starters, you need to take them outside every 2 hours if you want to potty train them. I don’t see why this would be any different. Adpoting a dog is as much of a choice as having a baby.

            1. Avasarala*

              I don’t like this parallel. Nobody “oops”es a dog. Let’s not compare them–the argument is stronger that way.

        3. KoiFeeder*

          Hey, I’ve taken days off of school for the koi. But there’s a small but significant factor which is that trying to remove a 2-3 foot long fish when it does not want to leave the pond is a bit of a challenge without two people.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah, when the intern called in to tell me she was upset about her guinea pig dying and wouldn’t come in, leaving me to handle everything on my own, I was majorly peeved. She told the boss it was a personal problem. If you have several pets that live no longer than a couple of years, you surely shouldn’t expect a day off each time one dies?
          Don’t go thinking I’m anti-pet, I love my pets dearly. When our gorgeous kitten managed to die in a horrific accident, I still carried on working. I was working on a text about Brazilian music, I needed to write in an upbeat, light-hearted style. Usually I can put the music on and let the words just flow out of me. This time the music was like an insult to my mourning, so I just gritted my teeth and went back to the thesaurus like when I was first learning my trade.
          The client called a few weeks later with some questions. I pulled the file up again and was pleasantly surprised to see that you couldn’t tell that tears were pouring down my face as I had typed the text.

    3. D*

      Absolutely. Last summer I had to call in sick because the dog I was “dogsitting” (doesnt do it justice, my father and I have ‘joint custody’ as it were, rescued him in college when I was still living with them and mom wanted nothing to do with him so hes mine and my dad’s) ended up getting gastro and needed to be let out at least every 2 hours. I was supposed to work nights and called in sick. I hadn’t slept in almost 2 days, plus the poor dog would have destroyed the house over a 12 hour shift (almost no breaks on a good day, let alone every 2 hours) I feel no shame or guilt.

      1. allathian*

        Going without sleep for two days straight would make you unfit for work, no matter why you went without sleep. At the very least, it would have been dangerous for you to drive, because the cognitive impairment caused by a lack of sleep is as severe as being under the influence of alcohol.

  2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    Even if it is hypothetically disingenuous, what are you supposed to do? Say, “Sorry foster dog, I can’t take you to the vet, this isn’t a valid excuse for missing work.” No, you make up whatever lie you need to make up to get you out of work to get your dog medical care, because you are responsible for your dog’s health and well being.

    1. Colette*

      Many of us could be honest. “I need to take the afternoon off, vet appointment”, “The foster dog was attacked, I’ll be off this afternoon”, etc. Not everywhere, and if you don’t have that kind of autonomy, I like Richard Hershberger’s suggestion “emergency at home”.

      1. Original Sally*

        If I heard “emergency at home,” I would imagine something dire, like a flood or fire, and in fairly certain that my coworkers would be alarmed if I used that phrase. But that’s my experience, and everyone’s is different. To me, “family emergency” means something important has come up that I need to deal with, and I need to leave work in order to do that. And my colleagues would ask if everything was OK, but they wouldn’t pry or expect an explanation if I didn’t offer one.

        Sometimes you need a shorthand or an inconsequential lie to explain needing time off, but I would hope your managers and colleagues would treat you like an adult and assume that you made the best decision you could about what you needed to do – and that they wouldn’t grill you for details.

        1. Observer*

          Most people don’t catastrophize this way, though. For the vast majority of people “emergency at home” covers a wide range of things that CANNOT WAIT.

          1. Yorick*

            Yeah, this is catastrophizing. I’d definitely think “emergency at home” was a maintenance issue before I thought it was a fire.

            1. ENFP in Texas*

              I’d go with “emergency that I need to take care of”. That also covers a wide range, and shouldn’t raise any eyebrows.

          2. Amethystmoon*

            It maybe depends on the employer. I used to temp and literally, it would have to be an actual emergency, such as a flood, fire, or human being medical thing for a legitimate excuse for not being in the office. A pet would sadly not count. Also, I did witness many companies fire temps for taking too much sick leave. I hope that this is no longer the case in the time of Covid-19, but I’m realistic enough to doubt that it has changed much.

            1. Bridget the Elephant*

              Totally agree. At OldJob, I wasn’t able to take time off work when our cat was dying (very sudden and traumatic). Got some sympathy, but no understanding that she was a baby to me.

              1. A*

                Same – it was a huge factor in my deciding to leave my first employer. And I also bring up pets in interviews now to gauge reactions – I will never, ever again work for someone unaccommodating to veterinary emergencies.

              2. Sun Tzu*

                Yes. An employer that doesn’t understand that pets are family is a terrible employer.
                Our cat died four months ago. Bridget, you have all my sympathy.

            2. Pomona Sprout*

              When I was a temp (after being laid off during the last recession), taking time off was not a big deal. I didn’t get any PTO, so if I wasn’t there, they didn’t have to pay me.

              I took as little time off as possible, because I needed the pittance they were paying me pretty badly. I’m not sure how many days I would have had to miss to get fired, but as long as I was there most of the time, an occasional day off was not an issue, and I didn’t have to have an elaborate excuse, either. I know different employers have different expectations, though.

          3. Richard Hershberger*

            While “family emergency,” on the other hand, suggests to me something involving a visit to the emergency room.

          4. Not So NewReader*

            “Cannot wait”

            If you are looking for word choices you can live with, OP, there’s a phrase you can use. “I have a matter here at home that cannot wait, I must take care of it now.”

        2. Mazzy*

          Yeah, I agree. I hate the whole “family emergency” phrase, but granted, it usually gets used by younger workers or interns, and once people are older they usually just say what specifically happened and say they’re leaving, so. I used to go through a whole conversation in my head about how most things people call emergencies can wait, but then over time I got laxer and started focusing on the overall picture, not if someone felt the need to rush out once a year for something that technically could wait. Not important enough to damage relationships over

        3. Colette*

          Yeah, it’s a little strong than I’d prefer, as well. I’d probably go with “there’s something I need to deal with” or “a situation I need to deal with” if I didn’t want to share the details.

        4. Eukomos*

          I’d imagine the water tank sprang a leak or something unless the person sounded really panicked. Many things are emergencies without being top level disasters.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        For myself, in this scenario, I would go blander and say it was a “situation outside of work” that kept me from [whatever] — it could be literally anything. I don’t need to tell a client I was unexpectedly out of the office because my grandmother was dying or my dog was injured or the car broke down. I was out, I’m back, I’m sorry for the delay, moving on.

    2. What's in a name?*

      I could see using the fact that LW was shaken by the attack as a reason to call off Thursday afternoon as a mental health break and then Friday through Sunday was just normal time off.

      1. Caterpie*

        That’s what I was thinking. I don’t think I could be very productive at work after seeing my pet get attacked (even if the pet turned out fine in the end).

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, in my mind OP’s day was pretty much done then. Just call in.
        A cohort came in after hitting a pet on the way to work. He was visibly shaking. He should have just gone home.
        When people get that rattled, there is no point in trying to work. They really aren’t going to get that much done.

        This applies to special circumstances, if there are on-going issues then a person can build a different plan that does not involve calling in every day. I think there is a big difference between the two.

    3. MK*

      The OP isn’t asking whether it’s ok to take time off work to care for the dog, just if it’s ok to call it a family emergency. There are plenty of people who wouldn’t question why you want time off and/or would be completely ok that you are taking it to care for your dog, but who would be taken aback that you used the term for a sick pet. If you are willing and can afford to ignore these people, great, but the OP’s concern that clients might find it disingenuous is valid.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        It sounds like the coworkers and employer knows what happened. The lw just asking what to tell clients.

    4. LW*

      This is a great point. I’m fortunate that my workplace is extremely accepting – we’re a small, tight-knit group, and everybody knows about my fosters and regularly asks after them as though they were kids. (Our office manager got me a little sign that says “My Children Bark” on a recent vacation she took, because she saw it and it reminded her of me.) It was more about my clients – with what I do, client confidence is paramount, and I work consistently with the same people in my niche. I needed them to realize that I didn’t just flake out on them, and the “family emergency” verbiage did the trick.

  3. Sylvan*

    I think pets are family, but I don’t think I’d phrase it that way. You can say it’s your dog. People will understand that. If you say it’s your family member and then people find out it’s your dog, that might look odd.

    1. Sylvan*

      Actually, since you’re saying this to clients and not your coworkers, ignore my comment. You don’t really need to worry about it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree you do not owe clients a longer explanation. I do think it is good to indicate that all is well now or things are back on track. Because that is what people really want to know.

        Let’s say I went to you for services (legal, medical, financial, whatever) basically what I want is a clear conscience that I am not taking you away from a five alarm fire in your life. So it’s fine not to indicate what the problem was, but you can offer a wrap-up type statement: “Yes, I was out the other day. I had a matter to take care of and it’s much better now.” Sometimes people have an endearing way of checking on others, if I catch myself feeling charmed by their manner I might add, “But thank you so very much for your concern.”

    2. Kiki*

      With clients, though, they likely will not find out unless you tell them. If it were close coworkers, I might feel differently, but as Alison said, clients really don’t need to know the ins and outs of your life to understand why you’re out. They just need to know that it’s a last-minute, high priority thing. And even if someone took issue with saying a pet emergency is equivalent to a family emergency, that would be their own quibble with wording. I think they’d still understand why the LW was unexpectedly unavailable.

      1. Yorick*

        To a client, I’d probably just say it was an emergency. It could have been personal, family, an emergency at work or with another client, etc. that made OP unable to help that particular client right away. They don’t really need to know. They just need to hear that it was an exceptional circumstance so they know in the future they can expect to hear back sooner.

    3. Lemon Meringue Pie*

      This is where I come in too. It’s different with clients but as a general rule I’d say this is right.

  4. Richard Hershberger*

    “Emergency at home” covers a wide range of events, from taking a sick child to the emergency room to dealing with a burst pipe.

    1. LC*

      I like this one. With “family emergency,” if I were the client I’d want to offer support, which would end up being intrusive, which is not what you want.
      I also wonder if a straightforward “pet emergency” would be fine?

      1. Kes*

        Yeah I like this one – it’s true but more general and avoids any potential issues of people imagining a human family member and being taken aback or feeling deceived in any way at discovering it’s a pet.

      2. lulu*

        I was coming here to say that. Personal emergency can be yourself, your family, your pet, your house. It just means it is not work related, which is all you need to convey to your clients.

      3. Quinalla*

        Yes, this is what I use if I want to be vague about a situation for kids/home/pets with clients or whoever at work that must be dealt with now.

    2. lost academic*

      That’s really what this is – I think we’ll see a ton of responses defending the pets are family angle, which is fine, but the real meat of this isn’t that at all, it’s what do we need to mean if we call something a family emergency. It’s also just a better phrase than “household emergency” which while more technically accurate, is awkward.

    3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I really like this one because it answers the question and closes the conversation. I know I would think for a second, “I hope nobody is sick/oh god, what if it’s water? that’s the worst/I wonder what it is-oh wait, NOMB” and get on with my day.

    4. Observer*

      I think that this is better than “family emergency”. It covers a LOT, and it doesn’t invite questions the way “family emergency” does.

    5. OrigCassandra*

      Yes, this is my go-to, especially now that I’m single again and can’t swap time off with a partner. Nobody’s ever gotten upset about it — major-appliance failures and contractor appointments and vet visits are super-usual.

    6. Kiki*

      This is really great! I’ll def use this in the future. I don’t think LW would be wrong to use family emergency, but I feel like most people associate family emergency with human death or hospitalization

      1. Yorick*

        Yeah, to me, “family emergency” is more serious and intense than most other phrases. It sounds like your partner was hospitalized, or your teen was in a car crash, or whatever. But I guess it depends on how you say it. If it’s after the fact, and you say it in a calm voice, I won’t think of anything like that. But if you rush away saying there’s a family emergency, I will definitely think of the worst.

    7. A*

      Yup – in my office we use ’emergency on the home front’ to refer to any immediately time sensitive situation requiring time off, that is NOT related to health. Not sure how it came about, but it’s been nice to have a distinguished difference, mostly so I’m not worried that my colleague is in a life/death situation etc.

    8. jack*

      being single and living alone (w/ my dog) I like this better than “family emergency” for me

    9. Sara without an H*

      This is a good choice. Nobody, except the office busybody, really wants to know the details. You were unavailable for a couple of days because something happened at home. It doesn’t matter if it’s an injured dog, sick kid, or a flooded basement.

    10. Amethystmoon*

      Yes, I would use this phrase. That way, there is room for some leeway but also means “something that the person had to be there for.”

    11. SomebodyElse*

      This is definitely the way to go.

      Honestly, even if it were a human member of the family emergency I’d use this line with clients. This allows the client to give the obligatory “Oh, I hope everyone/everything is ok” which gets the response from the OP “yes, thank you” and life moves on.

    12. Not So NewReader*

      I have even used it to cover helping a dear neighbor with her sick family member for a few minutes. “I will be late because I had an emergency here at home.” It’s okay not to mention who was the recipient of your time in caring.

    13. LW*

      I like this very much as well. Might keep that in the pocket if something along these lines happens again – although, I’d love it if it didn’t.

    14. knead me seymour*

      This is nice and vague, and not terribly alarming. Personally, I feel like “family emergency” suggests a serious medical emergency involving a close (human) relative, so I would probably only use it in that situation. If you don’t have the kind of relationship where you can be candid, I would go for a lower-stakes description like this one, just to minimize the chance of blowback. (For myself, I do think of animals’ medical care as an urgent and critical family issue–but I wouldn’t want to deal with dissenting opinions from coworkers.)

    15. Glitsy Gus*

      Yeah, “Emergency at Home” my general go to when I need to be out for something other than illness. Could be a burst pipe, could be a pet, could be car trouble, could be sick roomie needing help. Honestly, it’s no one’s business 90% of the time, so I pretty much always keep it vague if the details aren’t pertinent.

  5. Another name*

    I have referred to pet emergencies as family emergencies more than once and it never occurred to me this might be seen as disingenuous! It is my family, it is an emergency, and I have to go take care of it!

    I think the important thing with any emergency is just to follow up after the situation is resolved to let anyone you needed to cancel with know that the emergency is resolved and when you can reschedule, and hopefully that everything is okay now. Most people don’t need all (or any of) the details, they just want to know you and your family are okay.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      There are some rough people out there who find NO excuse acceptable. Perhaps OP has run into one or more of these creatures.
      Sometimes we omit information to protect our own sorry butts, OP.

      Sometimes we omit info for other reasons, such as avoiding discussions or no desire to share or taking time out from that issue. Sometimes discussing the matter is just too much a derailment and there’s no time for it. There’s lots of reasons for not expanding on why we took time off.

      It’s good to remind ourselves of what we are doing when we are at work. “When I am there I put in 120% everyday.” This can help balance any nagging feelings about giving reasons or not giving reasons.

  6. Colette*

    I wouldn’t call it a family emergency if you were using leave specially designated for (human) family – but it would still be fine to call it a family emergency to clients. I’d also avoid using “family emergency” with coworkers I was friendly with – I’d go with “pet emergency”.

    But in this case, I think it would also have been fine for the OP to say she wasn’t feeling well, since she legitimately was frightened and upset.

    1. Laaal*

      I agree with your distinction. Clients just need to know it was a time-critical personal thing & “family emergency” is a standard phrase for personal stuff (vs work). To me, “Family emergency” is a catch-all for “a personal thing and the details are none of your business.” Clients don’t need to know it was your pet bc that’s too much detail about your personal life. Coworkers might feel that you were being disingenuous if you qualify it as a family emergency because they tend to know more about you and you don’t need to put a spin on details like vet appointments.

    2. LW*

      I appreciate the distinction. To be clear, I did tell my office exactly what happened – I called our poor receptionist, hysterical, right after it happened to ask her to spread the news around about why I wouldn’t be clocking back in from lunch.
      I also DESPERATELY wanted to avoid the “not feeling well” verbiage at the moment because pandemic, but I agree that under most circumstances that would be acceptable.

    3. marmalade*

      Agree. I’m in the minority here, but I wouldn’t describe a pet emergency as a family emergency, because, at least where I live, family emergency is assumed to mean human family. But I think it’s fine for clients.

  7. Lygeia*

    I used “family emergency” to take a PTO day after I had to put my last cat down. I was grieving hard and couldn’t go to work (not to mention I was up until almost 2am at the emergency vet). No one at work got the real story (except my best friend that worked at the same company in a different department and office building). No one gets to tell me that my cat who had gotten me through my parents divorce when I was a teenager, helped me through the stress of moving to a new city and grad school plus all the trials of a first gull time job and young adulthood isn’t my family.

    1. Seal*

      I also took PTO after having one of my cats put down. My staff knew what was going on but my boss didn’t, which was fine; I think I just told him I was out sick and he didn’t ask any questions. As far as I’m concerned, pets are family and all of my staff members know they can take time off for pet-related emergencies, no questions asked.

    2. Another worker bee*

      When I, in my early 30s, had to put down the cat I’d had since age 19 – I was such a wreck. I didn’t take a day off the following day – because it felt like work was too busy, not necessarily because I thought there would be any pushback – and I definitely spent like…half a day crying in the bathroom. Taking the day is the right move

    3. Turquoisecow*

      I took the day off after my cat was found to be sick with the thing that eventually killed him (kidney disease). I had taken him to the vet and ended up leaving him overnight and I was so worried about him that I didn’t sleep well that night. My boyfriend at the time (now Husband) took us to the vet and then bought us a pizza and I was so upset I couldn’t keep it down.

      I didn’t say any of that to my boss at the time, I just said that I wasn’t feeling well. Which was true, I was physically ill. It sounds like OP was physically ill with worry also, so she can just say she was sick. Unless she has a very close relationship with her clients, they’re not likely to ask.

    4. Kate 2*

      Agreed. As a single childfree person I object to the idea that pets are “less than”, less important than human family. My cat has given me more love and care and emotional support than some of my human family members. Like my father who is a narcissistic jerk. I wouldn’t take time off of work for him, but I would in a heartbeat for my cat or my mother. Family is about who you love and who loves you. A pet emergency IS a family emergency and anyone who doesn’t understand that has lost my respect.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ This. I mean, I love my family, but I spend more time with my dogs than any other living things. They’re the first faces I see when I wake up, the last faces I smooch when I go to bed, they are glued to my side when I’m home, they’re entirely dependent on me for love, food, care, play, exercise, and entertainment. They respond to my moods and are always happy to have a snuggle or a nap together, nudge me to go outside when I’m being lazy, keep me on a schedule, and make sure I never pee alone. I’m not saying they replace my family or friendships but they’re definitely a huge part of my mental health and a big, big part of my life.

      2. allathian*

        I as a married mother who does not have pets object to the idea that pets are somehow less important than human family members. I do object to people who dress their pets in fancy clothes and try to anthropomorphize them, or dye their fur, etc. but only because I feel sorry for the poor pets who aren’t . But people who do their best to ensure their pet has a good life and consider their pets members of their family have my support.
        A pet emergency is a family emergency for two reasons: a sick pet can’t be left at home without supervision and if you’re worried about your pet, you’re probably not a very productive employee.

    5. A Social Worker*

      I feel very fortunate to work at a place where when I had to put my cat down I texted my boss saying I might not be in tomorrow, I don’t know and was told in no uncertain terms to stay home. I wouldn’t have been a very good therapist that day!

    6. LW*

      I feel that, and I consider myself very lucky that I don’t have to deal with that in the workplace. I’m also sure it’s different in a bigger corporation where everybody doesn’t know everybody else’s business all the time.

  8. Username1234*

    I was just in this situation last week. On Friday we had to put down our 4 year old dog who had ongoing bladder complications. I ended up being off Thursday and Friday. Today as I’m responding to emails from last week, I’m apologizing for the delay and saying that I was unexpectedly out for a family emergency. I don’t want to say that it was an emergency specific to my dog, because I don’t want to field questions about if he is okay.

    1. Username1234*

      I also want to say that my entire small office knows what really happened. I’m using family emergency when responding to outside clients that I work closely with.

    2. Marny*

      “Family emergency” is completely accurate. It was an emergency being dealt with by your family. I would never assume that a “family emergency” strictly meant that an individual family member was having a problem.

    3. WasaVetGirl*

      I just want to say how sorry I am for your loss. Losing a young pet to a chronic illness is so hard and I can imagine how hard the bladder issues were for all of you. (Signed, a former vet tech)

    4. allathian*

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Most of the time life is not a court of law, where you have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Here you’re also saving your email correspondents awkwardness by not oversharing.

  9. lost academic*

    I was initially skeptical of Alison’s response, because I think that while a lot of us have moved towards clearly defining pets as family it’s seen as an awkward creep to others (pets aren’t children, for instance) but in this case that’s not the real basis for the explanation. A family emergency isn’t necessarily related specifically to the people (or living things) in the family but can be “emergency pest control because that last bag of rice had weevils in it” to “burst pipe” to “abrupt rescheduling by delivery/contractor” – it’s unspoken that it’s a family responsibility emergency.

    1. SweetestCin*

      Exactly. I never ask questions when I see “family emergency” or “household emergency”, because unless I know the person well enough to offer assistance or support in my world outside of work, I don’t need to know anything about it.

  10. AnotherAlison*

    Since we’re only talking about providing a reason for a delayed response to clients, “family emergency” seems a little too much to me. I would go with a pet emergency or urgent situation. . .I think people understand that when certain things happen, it has to be dealt with during business hours. I just think family emergency might cause more alarm than you intend with clients. My dog has been sprayed by a skunk, ran through a barbed wire fence, and had a mystery bite/infection on her nose that all needed to be handled immediately, so I would certainly be sympathetic to someone dealing with an urgent pet situation.

    1. Observer*

      The problem with calling it a pet emergency is that a LOT of people would not see it as reasonable to do it at work. You would be surprised at how many people do not at all understand how animals work and are extremely surprised that a “properly trained” animal can have emergencies that need to taken care of NOW or during business hours, because it’s not about an untrained dog doing things it’s not supposed to do.

      It’s one of the reasons that so many people buy pets for other people and for children who are unwilling or unable / too young to take care of them.

      1. Surly*

        I think maybe you’ve had some extreme experiences? I’ve certainly never had anyone at work see pet emergencies as unreasonable or as related to training, and I’ve worked in a few different fields with different types of offices.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yep. I have seen this also. It’s definitely a “know your workplace” thing.
            There are some really heart-hardened people out there.

            1. Observer*

              It’s not just being hard hearted. Sometimes it’s just sheer ignorance.

              Look at the conversations here about childcare and people who don’t get that toddlers, for instance, need to cared for when they need it and not on Parent’s work schedule. That lack of understanding is multiplied with animals.

    2. Angelinha*

      Also, does it really need to be mentioned at all? She left Thursday midday and already doesn’t work Friday, so she was really just unreachable for half a day. I think she can just answer the request and not apologize!

    3. Carlie*

      “Urgent situation” was what I thought of too, or “time-sensitive issue”. All they need is to know something else took precedence.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        I don’t think the specific… vague… term (haha) the OP uses to describe it matters as long as it conveys “I was out unexpectedly, but I am back now, and I am not going to provide the details to you, near stranger.”

        But I personally say “I was out unexpectedly” or a “situation came up at home,” and don’t really give it more thought than that :)

  11. Kiki*

    I think the intention of “family emergency” is mostly to communicate that something important and unexpected is happening. While some people may think it’s odd to group pets as family, it doesn’t really matter for work reasons.

  12. A*

    Personally I go with ’emergency situation’ because it’s all encompassing – but that’s just my personal preference. I’ve come across numerous situations (and no doubt there have been more than I’m aware of) where ‘family emergency’ meant ‘veterinary emergency’ and never batted an eye. In fact my coworker just last week had to put her dog down, and her out of office for the day referred to a family emergency.

  13. Tuckerman*

    I don’t think it’s wrong to call it a family emergency, but it might make people wonder when it would be appropriate to follow up with you so it might be helpful to provide a little additional context. I think in the past I’ve said my dog (who is definitely family) needed urgent care.

    In general, I don’t like the term “emergency” when not used for an actual (like 911) emergency. Though I understand some managers will grill you if you don’t use that word, so some people need to use it for urgent but not emergency situations. I prefer to say “urgent.”

    1. Observer*

      Except that emergency is NOT necessarily something that is life threatening.

      Google defines emergency as:
      a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.

      : an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action
      2 : an urgent need for assistance or relief

      something dangerous or serious, such as an accident, that happens suddenly or unexpectedly and needs fast action in order to avoid harmful results:
      This one comes the closest, and even under this definition, you don’t need a life threatening situation to qualify.

    2. Welcome to the Hellmouth*

      They don’t need to follow up with anything, though? If they want, they can say something general like, “I’m sorry to hear that, hope everything is okay!” Otherwise, no other questions or responses are necessary.

      1. Tuckerman*

        If I hear “family emergency” I tend to hold off on following up about the business issue for a few days. I wouldn’t want to email asking about an expense report, for example, if someone’s kid is in the hospital. But maybe I overthink these things.

        1. Wing Leader*

          Okay, yeah, I see what you mean. In that case, if I were the client, I would just probably make it clear that the ball is in their court for whenever they feel like resuming work.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve used ‘emergency’ to cover things like:

      My cat falling out of a window (he’s fine! Just an indoor cat who tried to clean his bum next to an upstairs window and landed bad)

      My sister getting caught with no working car right before her son was due at a hospital appointment 30 miles away (lent her my car, I worked from home)

      In both cases I didn’t give more information than ‘family emergency’ and whether I’d be available that day or not.

      (Also because my boss at the time of number 1 reacted extremely hostile to anyone who suggested that pets were in the same league as her kids. A coworker used the same limited information when her horse was taken ill for the same reason)

  14. Turanga Leela*

    Honestly, the only time I’ve ever been more specific than “family emergency” with a client was when I was hospitalized and straight-up missed an important call. That time, when I called to apologize, I said “medical emergency.”

  15. Rainy Cumbria*

    I agree that “family emergency” is accurate in this situation, but if you feel uncomfortable then “personal emergency” works too.

  16. AnonNurse*

    I work in a 24/7 industry and my schedule rotates each week. Last year we had to say goodbye to our 15 and a half year old dog, Sammy, who was 100% a part of our family. My co-workers were beyond understanding to my basic emotional needs and limitations during that time. It worked out that I was off the day we had to say goodbye but I would not have hesitated to call out using the words “family emergency” had he taken a turn on a day that I was scheduled. I also don’t doubt that most of my co-workers would have understood and never question my use of those words.

    Please don’t worry about the wording and know the majority of people are going to understand where you’re coming from. Hope your foster is doing well!

    *Oh and just saying “I had to be out for an urgent family need” should be all that clients need to hear. Most wont pry, as those words tend to imply something private. And those that do only deserve a “oh it’s been taken care of but I appreciate your concern”. While there are rude people that are going to continue to push, most will understand and move on.

  17. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    I like the term “minor emergency” as in “I’ve got a minor emergency here at home” or sometimes “a situation I need to deal with”. That way people don’t worry and generally don’t push for details. A major emergency would be something like a death, a house fire, a home invasion, but a minor emergency is when your water heater broke and there’s water everywhere, you need to take a pet to the vet, someone in your house is having a problem and you need to help them, etc.

    1. Amy Sly*

      Yeah, “minor emergency” suggests it’s something that has to be taken care of now, but that no one is in the hospital. (e.g. messed up plumbing, kid needs to come home from school, you spilled hot coffee on yourself and need fresh clothes and burn ointment) Granted, since LW was on injury watch, “minor emergency” might not be fair, but my instinctive reaction to “family emergency” is to ask if everyone is okay.

    2. Genny*

      This is what I would suggest. It conveys that something important required your immediate attention without implying there was a death in the family or something that would necessitate a longer absence.

    3. LaSalleUGirl*

      I like “minor emergency.” I use it to mean “I’ve got to take care of [whatever it is] right now, but it won’t affect my workflow in an ongoing way and no one is in serious danger.”

      I would 100% use that for certain pet situations (“dog has cracked a toenail and is bleeding all over my floor” comes to mind), but probably not for this one, since there was still a risk of serious injury. (Poor doggo!)

    4. LW*

      While I like this in the abstract, I think it depends on the industry. I should just stop dancing around it and admit I’m a paralegal – for a lot of my clients, their legal matter is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing, and fellow legal professionals will definitely know that clients can get… tetchy when you imply their legal matter isn’t the most important thing in the world. However, “family emergency” is both vague and serious enough that people generally won’t pry, which is why I gravitated towards it.

  18. Jay*

    My sister lives out of state and a few months ago she called me during work to tell me that she was having to put her dog down that day. Now obviously I couldn’t do anything to be with her in person, but I was such an emotional wreck that I couldn’t get my work done and left at lunch. My boss didn’t say anything then but a couple weeks later I ended up in a situation where he wanted me to stay late on a day I absolutely couldn’t because I had plans (fittingly enough, plans with my sister who was visiting). He used me taking that half day off to grieve for the dog to try and shame me for leaving at the time I was supposed to leave. This is a boss I’ve had my share of issues with especially when it comes to work life balance, but this was the one time that I truly felt offended that he would be that manipulative. Now my own dog is 13 and her health problems are getting worse so she probably won’t be around much longer and I’m terrified of the thought of getting a call from my parents in the middle of the day and needing to leave to be with her, if he’s going to be a jerk about it or not.

    1. Ellie May*

      Maybe your boss doesn’t deserve the truth when that day comes … migraines can crop up pretty quickly and maybe that is what needs to be said on the day your dog needs you most.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep, this.

        Jay, tell your boss whatever it takes to get you out of there.
        This is not something I’d say to do often, but there are times where we just have to leave work, period.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, I concur. If your boss is going to be a jerk about it, he doesn’t deserve the truth.

  19. Sharon*

    What’s wrong with “unexpectedly out of the office/away from my desk”? I don’t think clients really need to know whether it was a family emergency or not and you don’t really want them asking you if everything is OK, do you?

    Also, I understand that you only took Thursday afternoon off, and Friday was your normally scheduled off time. If you can’t take a few hours off without needing to explain to clients, you should have a backup system in place so one of your co-workers can respond.

    1. Ashley*

      I’ve definitely used the line “unexpectedly out of the office” before and it has never invited any followup questions, so I love it.

    2. Kiki*

      There are jobs where that explanation would be fine, but if you are the person dealing with emergency issues from clients where they normally expect you to get back to them within an hour, letting them know there’s an out-of-the-ordinary situation going on on your end will make sure they don’t perceive you as flaky.

    3. NW Mossy*

      I’ve used this one too, and it seems to go over fine. For me, it strikes a good balance between explaining that my absence/non-response is out of the ordinary but not over-explaining in a way that sounds defensive.

      Life happens. Reasonable people have been there themselves and understand. And sometimes, finding out who reacts unreasonably to an afternoon’s absence is useful information too.

    4. Kiwi with laser beams*

      “If you can’t take a few hours off without needing to explain to clients, you should have a backup system in place so one of your co-workers can respond.”

      Yeah, as someone with clients who need responses to queries within a certain time frame so that they can meet their deadlines, that was the first thing that popped into my mind. Explaining that there was a serious reason is a good first step (I’d never just say “unexpectedly out of the office/away from my desk” to a client in that situation), but if replying a couple of days late could damage your company’s relationship with the clients, there should really be coverage measures in place.

    5. LW*

      It would probably explain a thing or two for me to admit I’m a paralegal – for my clients (as with most law clients), their legal matter is usually the most important thing going on in their lives, and they can be pretty hostile when they feel like they’re being brushed off. I think that’s why I gravitated towards “family emergency” as an explanation rather than giving a less serious-sounding excuse.

  20. MistOrMister*

    I think saying you had either an emergency or family emergency is fine. A being that is currently residing in your house did have an emergency. If you don’t want to get into the semantics of the situation and call it a family emergency, there is absolutely no reason you can’t just say “we had an emergency so I took the rest of the day off.” Person or not, what happened did constitute an emergency which ended up needing medical care. The only time I would,consider it inappropriate to use the emergency tag would be if one called out for an emergency simply because they felt like taking the dog to the groomer (or something along those lines)….same as if one claimed an emergency to go to the salon. But an attack and/or legitimate medical issue? Just try and stop me from calling out if something happens to me pets!

  21. E*

    >Clients almost never need the details, and broad explanations — “family emergency,” “out sick,” “a scheduling conflict I couldn’t move,” etc. — are generally fine. They don’t need to know “out sick” means “terrible diarrhea”

    When I worked as an auditor, there was one time when the FC was out sick for the second of our five precious onsite days. It was awful timing. She knew this of course, and so she pre-empted any possible inquiry as to her sickness by passing on the message: “Vicky’s got diarrhoea.”

    1. LW*

      I love this. I tend to calibrate the TMI-ness to the likelihood that the person I’m speaking to will think I’m feeding them a line. If I’m missing something really important or urgent, and it’s likely to sound like I’m just making an excuse, a little TMI can go a long way toward being believed.

  22. Trixie Firecracker*

    Just wanted to say THANK YOU for this response. I’ve often felt like this isn’t the case with pets and as someone who has no kids, but a house full of pets, they ARE family and their care/emergencies are treated as such. So yes, thank you for confirming what I was hoping to be true.

  23. Midwest Manager*

    I agree that with clients, “family emergency” is fine as a descriptor here (although “emergency at home” or “household emergency” are more elastic and are definitely going into my vocabulary). But I also understand and am cognizant of the “creep” of referring to pets as family, since I had a direct report who wanted to take Family Caregiving Leave time (a specific category of PTO under our system) for caring for her dog. The FCL time is specifically intended for human family members, which she did not accept, and I wound up having to escalate the matter all the way up the HR chain, which was frankly embarrassing (especially since she had adequate vacation time she could have used).

  24. CarrieT*

    I would recommend against calling it a family emergency if the goal is simply to placate your clients. A “family emergency” is by definition a big deal – and I’d wager that many of your clients would suddenly feel worried and would be likely to say, “Oh no, is everything okay?” If you want to just move on, blame it on illness.

    1. Gav*

      Agreed. When I hear the word ’emergency’ I think, omg, someone died, or was in a terrible car accident, or a house burned down, or there was an injury, etc. My curiosity and sympathy are piqued. It’s almost an invitation for questions. If someone doesn’t want to talk about it, the better language is just, “Something personal came up and I had to take some leave.” But honestly, I don’t think your clients are owed an explanation at all, unless your slightly-later-than-normal response is costing them $$ or something.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      I don’t think that’s a big deal though either; you can just say “Yes, we are fine. Thanks for asking! For the X report you asked about… [subject change]” and the conversation still moves forward without having to tell the whole story to the client.

      I highly highly doubt they’re going to fixate on it, continue pressing for information, or insist OP explain the emergency – that would be extremely weird behavior, and quite frankly, someone who acts like that is probably going to insist on a detailed explanation for the absence whether or not OP specifically says the word ’emergency’.

    3. Kiwi with laser beams*

      As someone in a role like the LW’s, “Oh no, is everything okay?” is still a win, because it means they’ve accepted your reason as valid. In my business, a delay could cause a client to miss their deadline, so if there’s absolutely no way to get coverage during an emergency situation (and I’m side-eyeing the company for not at least arranging for one of LW’s colleagues to tell the clients she’s away – I had more coverage than that in a startup where it was just me and the boss), the next best thing is to convey that you had a serious and unavoidable reason for not replying to them in time. As long as you’re not lying about the urgency of the situation (which LW isn’t), it’s fine. Just say something like what Dahlia said and move on.

      1. LW*

        YES to this. Generally, when I’m asked if everything’s ok, I’m just responding “Thanks for your concern, all is well now.” Although I’m in a situation where it’s really not possible for emergency coverage to be much of a thing – very small law firm, and I’m one of the more senior paralegals, so there really isn’t anybody who can do exactly what I do, even temporarily, without a lot of lead-in and advance prep.

  25. Lemon Meringue Pie*

    I agree that pets are family. But I don’t love this – I’d go with personal situation.

  26. Dust Bunny*

    Okay, I would not side-eye calling this a “family emergency” because the welfare of a living thing was potentially at stake. It’s a different level of emergency than, say, a flat tire or burst pipe, which needs attention but in which nothing will actually die if it’s not handled immediately. I, personally, would probably not call it a family emergency because I feel like that tempts people to push for more details, which I never like, but I wouldn’t blink of somebody else called it that.

    I do have sense enough not to use my sick time to take (currently, my foster kitten) to the vet, of course.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I haven’t exactly had a burst pipe, but I did have an employee call out to deal with a broken water heater which leaked all over at a rental he owned, and I personally spent the day before Thanksgiving emptying our septic tank by the 5 gallon bucketful because the pipe between the house and tank broke and we had to empty it to have the plumber replace the pipe. No wastewater from the kitchen or bathrooms could go down the drain till it was done. I think plumbing is a level 5 emergency, lol.

  27. Juniantara*

    I wouldn’t use “family emergency”, but “emergency at home” and “household emergency” convey urgency and suddenness without people wondering who is dying, which is the risk I see for “family emergency”. This may just be Midwest semantics, but I would put “family emergency” just below “death in the family” and “medical emergency” at urgency and time needed away, while “household emergency” or “emergency at home” sound like 1-2 day issues that need to be resolved, while “need to take care of something at home” is a rest of the day/maybe tomorrow morning notice

  28. Chronic Overthinker*

    Unfortunately it depends on the manager/company. I have worked plenty of places where I had a “family emergency” regarding my pets and it worked against me. It was partially due to the fact I didn’t have PTO or sick leave banked so it counted as an “unexcused absense.” That particular job was all about structured shifts and phone coverage and they had a very strict time off policy. It really wasn’t fair. My current job would be much more lenient. I am hourly so I could use PTO, but I could take unpaid time off if one of my animals needed emergency care.

  29. anon for this*

    I wanted to thank you for this question, because although most of my progress reports describe me as an empathetic, helpful, hard-working human, I have never been an “animal person,” and I think if I’m not careful to read the perspectives of those who care for and love their pets, this is the one way I could start unknowingly acting like a real jerk to people as a manager.

    1. LW*

      Thank you for that, and I totally get that it can be difficult to understand. Conversely, I’m the only person around my age and level of seniority at my office without kids (and happily, intentionally so), so I think it’s a great mark of the respect that my colleagues and I have for each other that I ask them about little Timmy’s baseball team, and they ask me about finding homes for my foster dogs.
      If I could give you any advice as a manager, it would just be to be realistic and empathetic. Dogfights are violent and scary, especially if you care at all about either dog involved. You’d have to be a real jerk to imply that someone was overreacting if they became upset at suddenly being in the middle of one and needed some time to calm down and make sure their dog was not direly injured. If you can look at your actions and honestly say that they are not royally jerky, you’re probably on the right track.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It’s very interesting to read people’s stories about service animals. It can give you an idea of how much interaction goes on between an animal and a person. And you can also consider reading news items where a family pet saves the lives of a family or family member.
      There’s an on-going day-to-day conversation with a pet. Some times they initiate the conversation and some times the human initiates. Sometimes they tell us things that are surprisingly complex. My old dog told me the field out back was on fire. He also told me there was an earthquake coming. I did not teach him about such things, he just did it. (It took The Slow Human a moment to figure out what was being said.) He also showed me how to help him when he was old and his hips were failing.
      The beauty of stories is that we can borrow someone else’s eyes and look at the things they see. You might like to read Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul. I think, after reading some, that for you empathy will just naturally flow. You are well into progress right now.

  30. Madeleine Matilda*

    I have a slightly different take from Alison and the other commenters. In the situation where you needed time for your own mental well being and to watch the dog for any signs of serious injury, I would have simply said I am out of the office. I wouldn’t have called it an emergency because you didn’t need to take the dog immediately to the vet. I think it was perfectly legitimate for you to take that afternoon off and I don’t think you needed to justify it by labeling it as an emergency or anything else. You have PTO and you are entitled to use it. No need to explain to anyone if you don’t want to do so. The important thing to do for your clients would be a have a clear out of office message and, if possible, a backup who they could contact if they needed an immediate response.

  31. Dahlia*

    If it’s like. “My dog is bored so I need to stay home,” no, not an emergency.

    But your foster dog was SEVERELY INJURED. You are responsible for that life. The dog is not capable of driving himself to the hospital. He needs you more than work does in that moment. And that’s a family emergency.

  32. ReadyNPC3*

    Unpopular opinion but no, you shouldn’t be saying ‘family emergency’ for a pet in my book. (I don not believe a pet is on the same level as someone’s mother, brother, or child. Sorry not sorry). With that said, you shouldn’t have to qualify your leave absence. If you need a day off, all reasons should be valid. You are an adult who can manage your time off as you deem fit and other people should mind their own business.

    1. Captain*


      Legally pets are property…which isn’t to say I agree, but they are not people.

      It doesn’t mean the situation to take time from work isn’t justifiable, but to me, saying family feels like you’re trying to manipulate the situation because you don’t think a pet is as important either.

      I agree clients don’t need life details etc…but to try to pretend to be a decisive moral authority on the issue is laughable.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      If you deal with clients, especially on fast-moving projects, this is their business. They don’t get to dictate all of your time, but the relationship itself means that they need to know if you will be available to them. They don’t always need to know the details or the why, but they do need to know that their business is important enough to warrant a heads-up and a back-up plan.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No one is arguing they are people. That’s a straw man! They are arguing that a pet who needs urgent medical care is indeed an emergency in your family.

      1. OOW*

        Interestingly “emergency in [my] family”, reads as slightly less grave than “family emergency” to me. I’m not sure why, something to do with the additional words softening the message.

    4. Observer*

      When you take off time unexpectedly and it messes with normal and expected delivery times, you DO need to offer some explanation, if for no other reason than to make it clear that you understand that there were some negative outcomes for people.

      I am most definitely NOT in the pet = child camp. Nevertheless, if you are dealing with a situation where a living creature that you are responsible for is in immediate need of care, that qualifies as a genuine emergency.

  33. Jillian*

    Maybe I’m just soft, but I think seeing something that traumatic could constitute a family emergency, even if it wasn’t your dog. Some people would be fine but others wouldn’t be able to be present at work afterwards, it might actually be more harmful to go to work in that condition than just make up the work in Monday.

    1. Yorick*

      I would seriously doubt someone’s judgment if they said they had a family emergency after seeing a random dogfight.

      1. A*

        Ya, I think this is a bit too extreme. I would be concerned for the general and mental well being of my employee if they were needing time off due to ‘trauma of watching a random dog fight’. I think the relevance of it being OP’s foster dog is very important.

        If you do need time off for something like that…. I’d recommend just saying you need to take a day of PTO. Don’t share details.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        I don’t know. When two animals decide to actually attempt to kill each other, it gets ugly, and it gets ugly fast. Most people aren’t mentally or emotionally prepared to watch a dog rip another dog’s face off- I know I’m not!

        1. LW*

          Yeah, I appreciate you making that point. The other, much larger dog had my foster dog’s face in its mouth and was thrashing around trying to take his dang head off. Honestly I would have been very upset even seeing it happen to a dog I didn’t know, and I don’t think that makes me soft. Because it was my foster dog, it was on a whole different level.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            People see dogfights where neither dog intends to kill each other, and they assume it’s the same case when there’s actively an intent to kill, and it really, really is not the same thing at all. It’s a lucky thing to not have that frame of reference! But, yeah, the fact that this was your foster dog? So, so much worse. I hope the pup’s doing a little better now.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          It’s odd that this should come up today. My older friend witnessed a larger bird KILL a smaller bird who was eating at her bird feeder. She took her bird feeders down because she was pretty upset to see that.
          I don’t like nature videos that go on and on about one animal stalking and killing another. ugh. While I would still go to work in either case, the visual on those things would stay with me all day.

  34. Jay*

    As a single person, I’ve started using, from time to time, “family responsibilities” or “family commitments” to bow out of additional labor that I can’t take on because I’m caring for myself. A “family commitment” might be anything from my own need to take a mental health day to taking time out of my work day for a move out walk-thru of my apartment, but as I’ve found that various supervisors and colleagues across my field seem to respect parental needs more than personal ones, “family commitments” is the word I use. I am a family of one, but I still have various responsibilities that cannot wait.

    As long as you’re not abusing company policies (taking sick time to acclimate a new puppy to your home or something), you’re fine.

    1. Kate 2*

      I agree about using family emergency as a single person. People forget, and I saw this all the time, that I have to do EVERYTHING myself. If I am sick I still have to get groceries and medicine no matter how bad it is. Nobody is going to heat soup for me or clean up after me. If someone has to wait for the cable guy, I’m it. Mow the lawn, vet, etc. I noticed it especially when I was working in an office with wealthier people. The men in the office had all stay at home wives, and when I needed to take time off they insisted on knowing exactly why before giving permission. And even then I had to remind them over and over again that I was single, I had to take care of it myself.

      1. Kate 2*

        ETA Meant to say ghat I am my own family. I have to take care of myself the way somebody might have to take care of another family member. I am the sick family member who has called off work and the family member who has called off work to take care of them.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I so get what you are saying here.
          I got scolded for taking too much time with my dying father. My boss told me, “I just let my little woman at home take care of all that…..” and his voice trailed off as he realized that *I AM* that little woman at home in my household.
          I think my eyes were throwing daggers.

          1. allathian*

            Yikes. That wording makes him sound like a piece of work. Little woman at home is on a par with “girl”.

  35. Ellie May*

    Your family is your definition of family. I don’t have kids. Do I not have a family? Of course I have a family! My family = husband, cat, dog, my Dad and his wife, my brother, BBF of 52 years and her children, SILs, BILs nieces, nephews …

    And yeah, the workday I carried my dog into an emergency veterinarian with a ruptured gall bladder, it was a family emergency (he lived!!).

  36. Scout Finch*

    If I am responsible for the well being of any breathing creature that cannot facilitate their own medical care, I don’t care if I take sick leave, annual leave or unpaid leave. I am going to fulfill my responsibilities.

    I do not abuse my university’s leave policy. But then again, I have a reasonable boss who knows that life happens. He just notes “Scout is out today. I will find someone else to help you if this cannot wait.” Yep – he is awesome & I am grateful for him every day.

  37. Jenny*

    As someone who was attacked by a dog as a kid, I would be upset enough by the occurrence to be unable to work, let alone the time off needed to take the dog to the vet.

    I see no problem with that.

  38. 'nother prof*

    I second those who would avoid “family emergency.” I would find it disingenuous, because the qualifier “family” is unnecessary. The other suggested phrasing – “emergency,” “personal emergency,” or “emergency at home” – does the job. So, why append the word family? It would sound like the speaker was trying to inflate the importance of the issue (which isn’t necessary). So, yeah, disingenuous.

  39. Rosie*

    One fateful day years ago, I got a call from my dad saying we had to put our family cat down that day. We knew it was coming, but it was still devastating. I was a summer intern at the time, and I had to tell my supervisor I had to leave to meet my dad at the vet. I choked up when trying to explain, so I just said “family emergency” — at the time I felt embarrassed on top of everything :(

    Nice to know it was justified to call it a family emergency though. It’s so hard to think clearly when something bad happens to a pet!

  40. Sunset Maple*

    If this is info specifically going to clients, who IMO should get less info about my personal life than my boss does, I’d say I was “OOO unexpectedly” or similar. Emphasize the ‘unexpected’ part, not the description of what you were actually doing. All they need to know is that it was urgent and unplanned.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I have definitely said something along these lines – even to my boss. “Something came up unexpectedly and I need to deal with it.” I have a great boss, though, who trusts that if I need the time I need it and will still make sure my work is either done or taken care of in my absence.

  41. charo*

    You can say “household emergency” too. That could be plumbing, etc.
    TMI is TMI sometimes. I love animals but if someone implies their priorities are to put a pet before clients, w/o details, that could backfire.
    And if you do add the details, TMI.

  42. Sarahh*

    I agree – it can count as a family emergency. But it’s important to be aware of tone and context. I had a coworker who was out of office periodically for family emergencies for his pet cat, and he was very vocal about his cat’s health concerns. This was during a time when another coworker’s husband was going through cancer treatment and was frequently hospitalized. She was out frequently for family emergencies. In my opinion, the pet emergency in that case should not have been referred to as a family emergency to be sensitive to my coworker supporting her husband through cancer treatments.

    1. Yorick*

      Right, and the cat owner shouldn’t have expected the same accommodations that the cancer patient’s wife was getting.

      When I was a TA, I had to take on some of a coworker’s grading because his brother had died (we were a group of maybe 6 and the rest of us split up the work of his ~50 students). I didn’t mind that at all – he should have the time off without having to think about catching up. But around the same time, the same happened to the other group because a TA’s dog died. I would not have been ok to take on extra work because of that.

      1. GrooveBat*

        I found out two days before a scheduled overseas trip that my 15 year old cat was dying and would likely need to be put to sleep within the week. I will forever be indebted to the co-worker who stepped up and did the trip for me so I could be with her at the end. I would happily “take on extra work” to support anyone in that situation because that’s the compassionate and human thing to do.

        1. Yorick*

          I took a day or two when my dog died. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Sure, I would have had a hard time going on an overseas trip right then. But if it’s not time-sensitive work, there’s no reason someone else should have to deal with it. If it can be taken care of a few days later than usual, then they should be able to do it.

          Also, the person from my example constantly talked about how no one understood how hard it was to decide to put the dog to sleep. I told her I took my mother off life support. My mother was abusive and I was almost glad she was gone, but it was still way rougher than any time I had a pet die. I understand pets are important and beloved, but many people don’t quite agree with them being lumped in with family like that.

          To get back to the question, I probably wouldn’t care much if someone used “family emergency,” as long as they weren’t intense about it. I guess I might roll my eyes a little, depending on the circumstances. If they used “emergency at home” or “personal emergency” or just “emergency” and later I learned that it was about their pet, I wouldn’t think that was strange at all.

    2. Observer*

      I agree with you. But I think that this is a rather different situation. Although I’d probably go with a more generic explanation.

    3. Kiwi with laser beams*

      This is just weird to me. Aren’t generic terms like “family emergency” for situations where you don’t want to go into more detail? So if you guys had the kind of relationship/working conditions where this guy felt OK saying “TT needs to go to the kitty hospital again because she’s still very sick” anyway (and those who know which YouTube channel I’m referring to will know that I’m not trivialising his situation), why bother saying “family emergency” in the first place?

  43. WasaVetGirl*

    Coming from the veterinary side, I obviously come at this agreeing with Alison that your sick (especially gravely I’ll or wounded) pet is a family emergency. Having worked in a number of very different cities, I’ve seen this handled a bit differently. In Large Government City, I was always surprised to see media people and government people take time off to sit with their pets and always be available to communicate with us, whereas in Entertainment City we would often be dealing with sick pet brought in by a member of the household staff who didn’t really know why they were at the hospital.

  44. Delta Delta*

    This is like the LW whose horse died because she didn’t get a message about a horse emergency (colic? I can’t recall)? This is similar. Sometimes animal emergencies happen, and it seems like the smart thing to say is, “I have an animal emergency.” Maybe it’s because I live and work in a very animal-friendly area, but I find that if someone says there’s an animal/pet problem that usually generates quite a bit of empathy.

  45. greycat*

    I always argue that if whatever happened to your pet was sufficiently distressing to YOU, then YOU are not in any condition to return to work, thus sick leave. I did the same with a pet death that affected someone I supervised.

  46. Employment Lawyer*

    Is it disingenuous to call a situation with a pet a “family emergency”?

    You’re lying to your employer. And I think you know it, given that you’re writing in to ask whether it’s “disingenuous.”

    Call it a “pet emergency.” That’s what it is. My employee has an old dog and the dog is always having pet emergencies which call her out from work. When her dog dies she’ll ask for (and get) a day off, I’m sure. And I do the same when my pets get sick or puke all over the living room.

    But pets are not people; pets are not covered under anything to do with family. And as such pets have more limits on accommodation. If my employee’s family member died then I would work with her to give time off even if it had immense personal cost to me. If her dog died, I would be as understanding as possible but would be willing to bear less cost to myself or my business. And if she was “disingenuous” enough to use the “family-member-level” accommodations for a dog, she would be fired.

    If your employer is reasonable, they will understand what a “pet emergency” is, and they will be understanding. Frankly most folks are sympathetic.

    But if they feel strongly that there is a difference between “humans” and “non-humans” when it comes to their degree of accommodation, then that’s also reasonable. In that case you may have to choose between fostering animals, lying, or finding a new job.

    But don’t pretend that “family” includes a dog. The word “family” triggers employers to think about all sorts of special protections which we all know and love, like leave and sick time rights and such. If your employer finds out that you’re using “family” to mean “dog”, it may severely damage your credibility and/r lead to your dismissal.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        I think Employment Lawyer makes a good point. To avoid having an employer immediately start thinking about FMLA-type implications, a person should consider saying “household emergency” or “emergency at home” rather than “family emergency” when it comes to a pet, IMO.

        I don’t think Employment Lawyer is being gross at all. There’s nothing gross about using precision in language and seeking to avoid misunderstandings.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Saying “You’re lying to your employer” in this context or trying to turn this into a discussion about legal rights are both off-base when neither of those things are in play here.

          1. Glomarization, Esq.*

            OP was talking about clients, not their employer, but I think Employment Lawyer’s addition to the discussion was worthwhile. Even if it’s not your boss, but instead is a client or a colleague, there are people who will feel deceived (at worst) or a little taken aback when they hear someone refer to a pet as “family” or an emergency situation with their pet as a “family emergency.” There are any number of phrases you can use instead (household emergency, urgent issue at home, emergency with my pet, whatever), so why not just use something else when it’s not a literal family member as understood in the law.

            OP wrote in because, apparently, they felt there was something a little “off” about calling a pet emergency a “family emergency,” and Employment Lawyer is helping put a finger on what that off feeling is, I think.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I would characterize a “family emergency” as an emergency my family has to deal with, rather than an emergency involving the welfare of a human I am related to. For example, personal property damage must be attended to immediately by someone in my family. Could be that the police are at your house and you must deal with it, or could be that your windows have been broken and need boarded up, etc. It is a family emergency.

              For me, I didn’t love using the term in this context not because it was incorrect, but because it might cause unneeded worry with the client.

      2. Employment Lawyer*

        But they can’t get around the untruthful aspect on that basis. You can make a “casual lying is justified” argument, but not a “this is not casual lying” argument.

        Think of it this way: If the OP were honest, would the OP get the needed result?

        If so, there’s no need to lie about it. Just be up front that this has to do w/ dogs. I doubt the OP thinks this is true, or the OP wouldn’t be lying in the first place.

        If not–if your clients would not be OK with your dog problems–then you have your answer: Your client is one of the (large) number of people who does not treat dogs as equivalent to humans. So you’re giving deliberately incorrect (“disingenuous”) information in order to mislead the client, a/k/a lying.

        People lie all the time! Usually, lying is a cost/benefit analysis like everything else. It isn’t a gross moral failure to white-lie in order to cover your dog being sick, any more than it’s a gross moral failure to lie about being “super-busy working this morning and didn’t have time to get to it yet” when you really were bingeing Netflix.

        What is shocking here are all the folks insisting–in all apparent sincerity–that it isn’t really lying because you really love your dog (or more accurately dogs in general, this being a temporary foster dog.) It’s like claiming that “super-busy this morning” isn’t actually lying because you really, really, love Netflix, and were working on finishing Season 7 of Lost, so that meant you were “busy working.” It is designed to mislead. And having a lot of people say “but Netflix!” or “but dogs!” doesn’t change that fact.

        Is it common? Yup. People really love their dogs. Dogs are great. I mean, people routinely lie about emotional support needs or obtain fraudulent certifications through the large business set up for such purposes, just to be with their dogs. I have talked with many such people and they all take pretty much the same position: Their desire for a pet outweighs anyone else’s desire for any rules. This is sort of the same thing. It actually reminds me of a local group who brings dogs in from another area; they are always raising money. If they represented it as “donate to help family move to Massachusetts” does that sound squicky to you?

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          It’s not a lie.

          Treating dogs as part of the family is not the same thing as treating them as humans.

        2. LW*

          I think you’re misrepresenting my point a bit. Full disclosure, I’m also in the legal field as a paralegal. As you surely know, legal clients can be extremely demanding because their legal matter is often the most important thing going on in their life. The essence of my question was whether I would be justified to use the ambiguous but serious wording “family emergency” to impress upon my clients that I didn’t just ignore their email because I’m not taking them seriously.

          1. Malty*

            Totally LW! And clients in all fields can be callous in all fields where pets are involved – some people don’t ‘get’ pets and are rudely unsympathetic as a result. (Speaking from experience) It can be better not to let people know they’re involved if you’re upset because people can be not so nice about it. I hope you’re feeling better and your dog too.

          2. Employment Lawyer*

            Again, I would ask: Why do you insist on using “family?”

            You can say “emergency” with no moral issue.
            You can say “pet emergency” with no moral issue.
            You can also ask this “can I call it a family emergency” question of your boss.

            But I suspect that you know in your heart that this is not really ideal, or you wouldn’t be writing to AAM in the first place, seeking justification and validation for using the phrase “family emergency.”

            Someone w/ a high-stress legal case probably has an expectation that their paralegal will pay super-close attention to it absent some major emergency. I’m going go to out on a limb and say that blowing them off due to “issues with your foster dogs” or, worse, blowing them off because you are “feeling upset and frightened by what happened to your foster dogs” is NOT what they are expecting in the client relationship. That simply isn’t the “major emergency” they are envisioning.

            In fact, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that if your boss knew that your voluntary choice to foster dogs was/would lead to your blowing off clients, the response would be “don’t foster dogs”. And that is a perfectly reasonable approach; dog-fostering isn’t a protected class.

            And when you say “I didn’t just ignore their email because I’m not taking them seriously”, well… you’re taking them LESS seriously than your upset over the potential fate of a foster dog. Which may be OK for other folks, but I doubt the clients (or your boss) would agree.

            1. AMH*

              This seems like a very unfair and uncharitable reading of the letter (you are glossing over the OP needing to monitor her injured animal and also minimizing how traumatic and scary a dog attack is, even if OP wasn’t injured). And, again, many people consider pets part of the family. That you don’t doesn’t make you the sole authority on this matter, and many reasonable people disagree with you.

              Honestly, your replies make it seem like you are leaving very little room for people to have very normal human reactions and needs.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Oh come on. This was one incident, one time. No reasonable boss would think it was a pattern of blowing off clients, and assuming she’s conscientious and responsible without a pattern of missing too much work, no reasonable boss would have a problem with someone attending to this situation.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      This is not a discussion about whether the word family *legally* includes pets. They’re sending casual emails to clients, not defending their absence in courts. Many people consider pets part of their family and if you don’t, that’s your choice. But you cannot define someone else’s family for them.

    2. A*

      Agree to disagree. This comes off as extremely cold and out of touch to me. I absolutely do not think pets = children, and if I had a split second to save the life of a random child or a random dog – I’d obviously choose the child. However, that doesn’t mean pets aren’t family. We aren’t discussing the legal definition, I think most people are aware that legally pets are considered property. We are discussing informal communications.

      I don’t “pretend” that family includes a dog. I believe it definitely DOES include pets, even if at a different level than human relatives. I am single/childless/live alone except for my one cat – I refuse to be told that I apparently don’t have a family? We are a small family unit, comprising of one person + one cat.

      Also, you get more bees with honey. Why be callous if you don’t need to be?

    3. Spencer Hastings*

      I thought the letter said that her employer knew it was her dog, and this was just about a public-facing explanation to give to clients?

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Going paragraph by paragraph:

      OP wasn’t concerned about her employer, she was concerned about clients. Her employer is fine.

      You are most fortunate to have an employer who understands the value of pets. I have had an employer who did not even understand the value of parents. A dying parent was NO excuse for not being at work. Forget trying to explain about pets to that boss. Not everyone has an employment setting that is like yours.

      Last two paragraphs. I don’t know why you think OP has asked for any accommodations. She took a PTO day that is it. She earned that PTO time, it’s her’s to do what she wants with it. And in fact she did tell her boss the truth so I am not sure how that is relevant to OP.

      Not everything works into a major legal issue. Many times two adults can have a conversation and reach an understanding.
      Additionally, OP only asked a question. I don’t think she needs/deserves an answer like this. People get answers like this and they stop asking questions.

  47. PDXer*

    I would say the exception is when you lie about it. One of my direct reports had an employee who said that his son had died. The location sent cards, flowers, took up a collection, etc. The employee received three days paid bereavement leave. It turns out it was his cat. When challenged, he told us he loved that cat more than his own son. What’s particularly frustrating is that we would have happily given him time off to grieve, and he had plenty of accrued PTO.

    1. Observer*

      He said that he loved his cat more than his son?!? Is he still on speaking terms with his son?

    2. I Need That Pen*

      Ok that’s just wrong on all the levels. Particularly when people have taken up a collection under the assumption that a man’s child has died. Now we know the level of loving our pets, but this one takes the dog cake.

    3. OOW*

      Yes, that’s exactly the line that was making me so uncomfortable. Yes, pets are part of our family, and we should be able to take time off to care for them. But lying and claiming that a pet was a human is not on.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Usually companies have a bereavement policy. Since such policies do not include pets, this looks like it’s a write up and perhaps a dismissal. And it’s not because the company did not care about the employee’s grief. It’s because the employee took money that was not theirs to take. You can’t rewrite company policies to suit yourself.

  48. I Need That Pen*

    That’s why I love my coworkers. When I have a family emergency, they usually get upset for me and say right out the gate, “Is it the dog?!” And just a couple weeks ago it was.

    I would say “emergency,” and leave it at that because not everyone agrees… and people who have had conversations with me using “just” or “only” referring to my dog usually don’t hear from me again. The majority of people in my sphere get it though. But in broader audiences, “emergency.” No one needs to know, they only need to wish you well.

  49. Margaret*

    Last fall, we made the decision to put our cat down the next morning, and I had an important client meeting that afternoon. Fortunately a coworker handled the meeting for me, but my email to the client said I couldn’t make it because of a “family emergency”, and added on something to the effect of “all people are ok, but have things to deal with for it”. Which I think made clear no one had died or been hospitalized, but was something urgent and critical that I couldn’t put off.

  50. Colorado*

    I think family emergency or personal situation, something along those lines is fine. We are all adults here and the details aren’t anybody’s business. I have over 40 animals on a small farm and you betcha I’ve taken time off to care for a sick chicken, a couple days off when my horse of 24 years died last month, etc. I’ll be the first person to work late, jump in when needed, and go the extra mile but my #1 job importance is the same flexibility in return.

  51. Wing Leader*

    I had a “family emergency” once when my uncle committed suicide. My boss said it didn’t count as an emergency because an uncle is not a “close” relative. I could have punched him in the face. For the record, I was very close with my uncle. I was raised by a single mom and my uncle did everything for me that a father would normally do–teaching me to ride a bike, helping with homework, etc.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      You hit one of my favorite topics. And that is where companies define who are family members are FOR us. ugh.

      I am very sorry for your loss and very sorry for your compounded grief and pressure due to a bad boss. I hope you shed that job and boss shortly afterward.

    2. allathian*

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Your boss was out of line in saying that it didn’t count as an emergency. Sure, you probably weren’t entitled to bereavement leave according to your employer’s policy, but that isn’t the same as not being an emergency. Your boss could have shown a lot more empathy but it sounds like he’s probably not capable of that.

  52. LMM*

    At my last job, I made the mistake of telling my manager that I was going to work from home that day because I had to take my cat to the vet for an emergency. (Cat had a UTI, which is quite serious and considered an emergency.) Manager flipped out, telling me that unless my cat was dying, this wasn’t an appropriate excuse. Then she made me bring in – yes – a vet’s note.

    When she demoted me a few months later, this was enough to persuade the company that she was full of shit and they eventually demoted HER. I moved on to a better company with a better title, better pay, and an understanding that pets are family.

    1. allathian*

      Yikes. Do you think your demotion happened because you took time off to go to the vet?
      I’m glad you’re in a better place and your former boss got demoted.

      1. LMM*

        Yes, I was demoted because, she said, I “always” wanted to work from home and would use anything as an excuse, including “exaggerating a cat’s illness.” (Other reasons I wanted to work from home occasionally included a sick human child and my own illnesses. The nerve!)

        It should be noted that said manager’s cat once ran away and then came back six months later, and the only thing she ever said about it was “I wish he’d stayed away.” So.

  53. Uranus Wars*

    This thread makes me so thankful for my place of work. I called in ugly tears one day (in hindsight should have texted) and said I would be out the rest of the week because my pap passed away. The response was overwhelmingly “we’ll take care of things, no explanation needed”.

    That weekend I got a card and a few texts from my boss and co-workers saying how sorry they were about my cat.

    They were mortified when they found out but I found it hilarious and heart warming at same time.

    1. Scout Finch*

      So was Pap your father or grandfather? Or your papillon dog? Or truly your cat?

      At any rate, it IS nice to have caring coworkers.

    2. LW*

      Oh man, this is so my employer. Last year, I had a foster dog whose kidneys suddenly and unexpectedly failed, and I found out on a work break that I had to make the decision imminently to put her down. Let’s just say I did not succeed in keeping a straight face while telling the office manager I had to leave right away. Everyone was totally lovely about it, and about the present situation. I think it’s a mark of a good, empathetic workplace for people to recognize that a bereavement is a bereavement, and an emergency is an emergency.

  54. HannahS*

    So, a few thoughts from someone who never had, doesn’t want, and will never have pets.
    1. Go ahead and call it a family emergency.
    2. Also, feel free to just call it an “emergency” and politely decline to give further details. Having firm boundaries with your clients is important. When someone asks “OMG what happened” one perfectly acceptable answer is, “I don’t want to get into it, but thanks for your concern! I’m actually calling to address your questions about the whangdoodle metric.”
    3. Family emergency is not code for “medical need of a biological family member that I must presently attend to.” It’s code for “I could not do the workplace/school thing that was expected of me because something in my personal life unexpectedly needed my immediate attention; it was serious and I had to unexpectedly defer your thing–I’ll get back to your thing once my thing is dealt with, thanks for your patience and not asking further questions.”

    1. Kiwi with laser beams*

      “Family emergency is not code for “medical need of a biological family member that I must presently attend to.” It’s code for “I could not do the workplace/school thing that was expected of me because something in my personal life unexpectedly needed my immediate attention; it was serious and I had to unexpectedly defer your thing–I’ll get back to your thing once my thing is dealt with, thanks for your patience and not asking further questions.””

      THIS. All of this.

  55. CommanderBanana*

    I think it is! Pets are living creatures entirely dependent on you for their care and well-being – if that’s not family, I’m not sure what is.

  56. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    I am finding this post oddly reassuring. I got a call a few days ago saying my doctor would be out of the office this week for a “family emergency,” and wanting to reschedule.

    I already figured the specifics aren’t my business, but this reminder that the term doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is seriously ill is useful. Not just the “maybe it’s her dog,” but maybe she’s helping someone get their stuff home from the dorm/student apartment they had to move out of suddenly, or taking care of stuff so a cousin can take final exams.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I had a family emergency once because someone’s car got stolen, so there’s def so many things out there that aren’t medical emergencies even!

      I had to call in with another one because someone was stranded and I needed to go pick them up. People get locked out of homes, etc :)

  57. Emi.*

    I do not consider pets family but I wouldn’t judge someone who called a pet emergency a “family emergency” because we don’t really have a good category between family and burst pipes.

  58. Sana*

    If you want some more neutral wording that still communicates the issue, I’d say something like “We had an emergency at home” – true, confirms the personal nature of the emergency, and avoids the whole family debate.

    I’m sure it was an awful and scary time, and I hope that you’re all doing okay now.

  59. STL-HOU*

    When my dog (my very first baby) passed away unexpectedly 3 years ago, I did not (could not) go to work for a week. I only went back after that because I felt like i had to. My boss knew and he was ok with it. He didn’t really have much of a choice anyway because even if i showed up at work, i was in no condition to do anything.

  60. Long Time Lurker, Infrequent Poster*

    Ah I needed this thread when I had to invoke the “family emergency” clause some time back.

    What happened was that my mother was devastated that her cat was seemingly cat-napped in broad daylight from her mother (so my grandmother’s) home. My mother has been there for a time to look for the cat with no results and is getting more and more despondent. I had to invoke the emergency clause to get out of work approx. 1 hour early so I can catch the transport to where my mother was and try to help her locate the cat.

    Good thing my boss was pretty understanding as-is but since this happened semi-recently (ie, COVID times), I had to tack on the information that nobody has gone down with the covid or got hospitalized or anything. Regardless, it worked, and I am really thankful for my boss for it.

  61. Squidhead*

    Also in support of the idea that clients don’t need the full story: I had ordered a large quantity of a bulky item from Supplier. Supplier had given us a great price and we found out why when Item arrived: it was a different, cheaper grade of the item. It didn’t meet our codes and was unusable. So, we needed them to pay for return shipping and also send us the correct item. They were going to straight-out lose money on this deal. I played a lot of phone tag. First I was supposed to talk to Marcia. Then Marcia was “out for a couple of days for minor surgery, so sorry!” Then I called back like a week later…now I’m supposed to talk to Marcus. Oh, but Marcus is “out for a couple of days for minor surgery, so sorry!”

    For all I know maybe they really did have an epidemic of carpal-tunnel surgeries (or whatever) going on…but I definitely assumed they were lying, uncreatively. If they’d just said Marcus will be out until next Wednesday, I would have been much less annoyed.

    Hope the dog is doing better, poor pup!

  62. scmill*

    I just always said I was out on personal business whether it was having surgery or getting a haircut. If queried further, a raised eyebrow and frosty enough repetition of “I had personal business to attend to” usually did the trick.

  63. Killer Queen*

    Before I got a dog I wouldn’t have said it was disingenuous per se, but probably better to call it something else. Now that I have my sweet little girl, if she was sick or attacked by another animal and possibly needed medical attention I would definitely call it a family emergency. However, my boss might not think the same thing.
    Just smart to be aware if your boss is an animal person or not. One time I asked by boss for about an hour off to say goodbye to my aunt’s dog before she was put down (I took care of her a lot and since I never had a dog growing up, she was pretty much my dog), and she allowed it but I could tell she thought it was weird.
    Bottom line: use verbiage that your boss would agree with. Although to the main point of the letter, it doesn’t really matter with clients.

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