I wanted to come back to a topic I originally wrote about around Mother's Day. More pet owners than ever before, 81% according to a 2011 study, consider their pets to be a part of their family. The term “pet parent” is becoming so main stream that even some commercials for pet products are starting to use it. While some people may find it tacky, or even offensive, I ended my Mother's Day post by asking "if our pets are happy and healthy, and we're not actually hurting anyone else, does it really matter what pet owners choose to call ourselves?"
In some instances it might.
The Guardian Campaign is working to officially change the term pet "owner" to "guardian". As of last year, just over 20 US cities/towns decided to recognize pet owners as guardians rather than owners. The Guardian Campaign website lists 5 major benefits to the language change. They include animals being recognized as individuals rather than objects, recognizing changing public attitudes toward(s) animals, reducing the number of animals produced in breeding mills, helping to reduce abuse and abandonment, and positively impacting local communities. All that just by changing one word! You can read more about each point on The Guardian Campaign website, but the general idea seems to be that the term "guardian" does a much better job at defining our relationships with our pets, as well as instilling a higher level of respect for non-human animals under our care.
Sounds good so far, right? In my May post, I wrote that although pets are technically considered property, "owner" doesn't seem to do much to convey the bond that can exist between people and their pets. Even so, there are many loving pet owners who don't support officially calling pet owners 'guardians'.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a few pages on their website about this topic. The first, "Pet Owner or Guardian", explains some of the downsides of changing the way we refer to our relationship with our pets. The term "guardian" actually has a well established legal meaning. The short version is that if you are the guardian of someone, a child for example (considered a 'ward'), you are required to act in the best interest of your ward. No problem right? If you're reading this, you're probably the type of pet owner who already does whatever possible to act in the best interest of your pet. The problem arises when we consider who, exactly, gets to determine what is best. According to the AVMA, "anyone with a self-proclaimed interest or expertise...who is willing to use the court system... [can] force a caretaker to make the "best" decision."
According to the AVMA, the legalities of the term "guardian" could impact everything from pet owners ability to decide for themselves what veterinary procedures are preformed on their pets, to how current animal protection laws work. Some pet owners fear that implementing the term "guardian" could lead to pets being removed from loving homes on government whims.
Interestingly, a 2009 study surveyed 274 dog owners in two different cities - a "guardian" city, and a "pet owner" city. The researchers determined that using the term "guardian" did not impact the human-dog bond and also did not impact the percentage of licensed or vaccinated dogs.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments! Is the campaign to change the word "owner" to "guardian" a harmless language change, or do the animal rights groups pushing for the change have a hidden agenda? Would changing a single word really help improve the lives of animals, or would it instead negatively impact the rights of pet owners?