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May 23, 2023 4 minutes to read ∙ 1000 words

What to Do When Your Pet Gets Sick but Your Lawyer Life Won’t Stop

By Julie T. Houth

Pets are everything to their respective pet owners. As a pet owner myself, I can confidently say that my dog is a high priority on my to-do list. Pets have a way of providing mental and emotional support and overall companionship, something that busy lawyers need in their stressful lives. Pets can also provide a healthy escape from the hectic responsibilities of lawyer life. In particular, because dogs should walk at least once a day, dog owners have the bonus benefit of walking daily, which forces them to take a break from their computer screens and other work tasks. I take my dog for a walk at least three times a day; it’s his favorite thing to do!

My dog means so much to me that I actually co-authored an article for the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division’s publication a while back about the benefits of having a pet (Julie Houth and Ashley Kloenhamer, “Pet Your Stress Away,” After the Bar). Pets are similar to human children in the sense that they require care and attention; they need to be fed, loved, and walked (usually applies to dogs, but I’ve seen cat owners walk their cats!) and require regular visits to the veterinarian to maintain their health. Most lawyers have demanding work schedules and obligations, but what do you do when your pets suddenly fall ill and you need to take them to the veterinarian? This is where planning in advance and preparing for potential emergencies are key.

Stay Organized in Your Personal and Lawyer Life

While you can’t predict when something out of your control will happen, you can maintain an organized work and personal schedule just in case you need to attend to something other than your job, which includes taking your pet to the veterinarian.

My calendar saves me every time. I have three different calendars that are synced together on my phone. I can also access this calendar on my laptop. I highly recommend being detailed when calendaring tasks and also color-coding each task. Different colors help me make distinctions between high- and low-priority tasks and between personal, bar association, or work-related tasks. I also have reminders for certain tasks to ensure that I don’t forget them.

Separate lists help me, too. Sometimes, it’s easier to see everything that needs to be done in list form. I suggest making a list of emergency contacts for certain scenarios (e.g., emergency room visits) and including brief instructions just in case an emergency happens. This will help you calmly find the information you need to handle that particular situation.

If you have a pet, you should have your pet’s vaccination records and veterinarian information on hand or in a place that you can easily find. My parents also have my pet’s vaccination records and veterinarian information just in case something happens when they watch over him. Your calendars and lists are helpful tools that are meant to make your life easier. Implement these tools for your pet’s records, too.

Tips on How to Approach Your Boss (If You Have One)

When you need to take time away from work during business hours, it can seem nearly impossible, especially when it’s unplanned. But it happens! You’ll need to be prepared to tell your boss, if you have one, that you will need to take time away from work for personal reasons. My rule of thumb is to tell the truth—you need to take your pet to the veterinarian because it’s an emergency. Now, if it’s not an emergency, you shouldn’t say that it is. It’s up to you to assess whether you are dealing with an emergency regarding your pet’s health. Hopefully, your boss will be understanding of your situation, but that’s not always the case.

This might not apply to solo practitioners per se because solos are their own bosses. However, all attorneys, including attorneys running a solo practice, owe their clients a duty of communication and competent legal representation. So, if you have a hard deadline for your cases on the day you need to take your pet to the veterinarian, you’ll need to act quickly but calmly to ensure you are still acting within your required duties to your client while attending to your pet’s health. Of course, it will depend on the task. For example, if you have a discovery deadline, ask for an extension with opposing counsel or, worst-case scenario, with the court. If you need to take care of your pet but you have a hearing the same day or your boss will not let you leave work, see if anyone in your close circle of family and friends can help you by taking your pet to the veterinarian.

Every situation, no matter how stressful and impossible it may seem at the moment, has a solution, especially with preparation. The situation and solution might not be ideal, but you can make your pet’s health a priority while taking care of your obligations as a lawyer.


Remember to stay calm throughout this time. Lawyers are accustomed to staying calm at times of high stress when working on their cases and advocating for their clients. Think like a lawyer. Take preventive steps by planning for emergencies where possible. Sometimes, unforeseen emergencies just happen, however, and you need to roll with the punches. Reach out to your community for support and help if you are unable to take your attention away from work to help your pet. Pets are often considered part of the family, and you want to be there for them any way you can when they need you the most.

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Julie T. Houth, Esq., LLM (Taxation), is an associate attorney at Thomas Quinn, LLP, practicing maritime law. She is the editor-in-chief of GPSolo magazine and managing editor of the ABA Young Lawyers Division’s TYL and After the Bar. She is treasurer of the New York State Bar Association Young Lawyers Section, a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Publishing Oversight, and a director for the Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego.

Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 12, Number 10, May 2023. © 2023 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.