I am not a pet parent or a guardian: I OWN my dogs. While this may make many readers cringe, the terms ‘pet parent’ and ‘pet guardian’ really make me squirm. As a pet owner, I don’t feel that I’m entitled to push my dogs around, treat them like slaves or tie them to the bumper of my car. In fact, my dogs all live in my house, are allowed on any piece of furniture except my red fabric couches (what was I thinking?), they have their very own kitchen, their own bedroom with a real hand carved daybed to sleep on, with lovely, clean sheets that get laundered twice a week. They drink spring water, they have three freezers full of fresh food taking up much of my garage (much to my husband’s chagrin), I never think to go out for a ride without them (unless the weather is too hot), and I refer to myself as ‘mommie’ when I talk to them (which I do a lot). So why don’t I call myself a pet parent?
On the surface, it might appear to be a nice gesture to claim that I don’t own my dogs, but the fallout from that seemingly innocuous gesture could be very dangerous for our pets. That subtle slip in language opens the door to Animal Rights activists.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Animal welfare is the ethical responsibility of ensuring animal well-being. Animal well-being is the condition in which animals experience good health, are able to effectively cope with their environment, and are able to express a diversity of species-typical behaviors. Protecting an animal’s welfare means providing for its physical and mental needs.” Animal Welfare supporters believe in our right to own, use and enjoy animals, but insist on humane standards and treatment for all animals, including proper housing, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment and humane handling.
Animal Rights advocates such as PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals), and HSUS (Humane Society Of The United States), want to end human “exploitation” of animals. Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and President of PETA, defines their vision: “[A]s the surplus of cats and dogs (artificially engineered by centuries of forced breeding) declined, eventually companion animals would be phased out, and we would return to a more symbiotic relationship—enjoyment at ‘a distance.’” The goal of Animal Rights activists is to put an end to companion animals – and ironically, pet parents are helping them accomplish just that.
“Changing the word from “owner” to “guardian,” “custodian,” “keeper” or any other term does not convey the constitutionally protected rights of “ownership.” Sitting still for such a change is short-sighted and dangerous” says Gail T. Fisher.
“It boils down to our founding document, the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution gives citizens the right to “own” property, and not be deprived of that property without Due Process of Law. “Guardians” have no such rights. If you think that no one cares enough to want to deprive you of your rights of “guardianship,” look no further than the Animal Rights organizations, with PETA at the helm.”
Attorney Genny Wall adds, “If we are ‘Guardians’ rather than owners, then ultimately it will be the State, and not the individual, who has the power to say who will care for the animal, how it will be cared for, where it will reside, what medical treatments it will or will not undergo, and who will make all the other decisions regarding the health, welfare, life and death, or destruction, of that animal. … [H]istory has shown us that when a State is unprepared to carry out a role that has been imposed upon it, [it] delegates that function. So…who will the States delegate to? The former ‘Owners?’ The citizenry at large? Animal Control? USDA? Animal Rights organizations? Local or national rescue organizations? What is the point of making the State the owner of animals if the State is not prepared to perform this function and must delegate this right and duty? It seems pointless to engage in this kind of useless legislation if in fact the goal is to make things better for animals. But as I have said, that is not the real purpose behind the push for ‘Guardianship’ for animals.
“So, what is the true purpose behind this push for using the term ‘Guardian’? From my legal perspective I see that purpose to be to achieve public acceptance for the concept of animal ‘Guardians’ in a general sense, so that the door can be opened to animal rights activists who don’t believe humans should have or keep animals and who seek the removal of animals from their owners on simple, perhaps unfounded, allegations of abuse or neglect.”
Think this is far fetched? A number of municipal governments around the US and in Canada have already revised their city codes, county ordinances and state legislation as they related to companion animals, replacing the term “owner” with “animal guardian.” In addition, animal welfare professionals, such as animal shelter staff and police and humane society officers, were referred to as guardians. The idea was to reflect in official language the role our dogs, cats and other animals play as members of our families and our role in protecting and providing for them.
The first city to make the change was Boulder, Colo., in 2000. But during the next four years, 40 cities and the entire state of Rhode Island adopted the guardian language. Fortunately, there has since been a decline in the number of cities adopting this terminology. But the number of pet owners referring to themselves as “parents’ or “guardians” seems to be increasing.
Here in the US, and in most provinces in Canada, we already have laws in place that force us to vaccinate our pets for rabies. This is done for human safety, certainly not for the safety of our dogs. If we continue to view ourselves as “guardians” however, there may soon be laws in place to “protect” our dogs and our right to refuse it will be stripped away, along with our ownership. Soon, we may be required to vaccinate for other diseases like bordetella or coronavirus. We may be required to feed kibble because somebody else has deemed raw food unfit for the dogs that we used to own. Eventually, there may be no companion dogs left, except the feral dogs rummaging through our trash at night.
I make no apologies when I say I own my dogs. It doesn’t minimize the love I have for them (or the love they have for me) and it doesn’t mean I treat them as property, like my van or my washing machine. I learned the hard way that nobody – nobody – cares for my dogs in the same capacity that I do. Everybody else has an agenda. Vets must look after their practice first and my dogs come second. Pet food manufacturers have learned that it is cheaper to pay lawsuits than to regularly test their foods for contaminants. Pharmaceutical companies care only about the bottom line, not about my dogs. When I say I “own” my dogs, it means I’m taking a stand. It means that I value the ability to make choices for my dogs because they can’t – and that the choices I make will be based on the love, respect and understanding that I share with my dog family. I’m proud to be a dog owner!