Dog Parents Or Owners: What’s In A Name?

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I am not a pet parent or a dog parent or a dog guardian: I OWN my dogs. This might be controversial. But while calling myself a dog owner may make many readers cringe, calling owners dog parents or dog guardians really make me squirm.

Being a dog owner doesn’t mean I feel entitled to push my dogs around, treat them like slaves or tie them to the bumper of my car.

In fact, you might say my dogs are totally spoiled. My dogs all live in my house and they’re allowed on any piece of furniture (except my red fabric couches … what was I thinking?). They even have their very own kitchen, and 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 dog parent?

Why I Own My Dogs

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 harmless gesture could be very dangerous for my dogs. That subtle slip in language opens the door to animal rights activists.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association,

“Animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. 

“Ensuring animal welfare is a human responsibility that includes consideration for all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia.”

So … Animal Welfare supporters believe in our right to own, use and enjoy animals, but insist on humane standards and treatment for all animals.

But 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, has said:

“[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.

Dog Owners Have Legal Rights

Being a dog owner is about much more than believing your dog is your family member. It’s about your legal rights to make decisions for your dog. Dog behaviorist Gail T Fisher said …

“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.”

“It boils down to our founding document, the US 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 …

“History 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.”

How Legalese Could Change Your Dog’s Life

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.”

Animal welfare professionals like animal shelter staff, police and humane society officers, were called 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, Colorado, in 2000. And over 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.

Many states have considered changing the term pet “owner” to “guardian.” However, this would change many aspects of pet ownership. And it could take certain rights away from pet owners.

For example, as a pet parent or guardian, you could lose rights to make healthcare decisions for your dog. Your vet could question your medical treatment decisions.Someone could even petition courts for custody of your dog, if they think you’re providing inadequate care.

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Do Control Your Dog’s Care?

Here in the US, and in most provinces in Canada, we already have laws that force us to vaccinate our pets for rabies.  This is done for human safety … certainly not for the safety of our dogs. But if we continue to call ourselves guardians there may soon be laws in place to “protect” our dogs … and our right to refuse will be stripped away, along with our ownership.

Imagine what this could lead to …

  • Legal vaccination requirements for other diseases like bordetella.
  • Being forced to feed kibble because someone has deemed raw food unfit for the dogs we used to own.
  • Requirements to use harmful medical treatments.
  • And eventually, there may be no companion dogs left … except the feral dogs rummaging through our trash at night.

So, I make no apologies when I say I own my dogs.

Being a dog owner doesn’t minimize the love I have for them (or the love they have for me). 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 a different agenda.

  • Vets must look after their practice first … and my dogs come second.
  • Pet food manufacturers have found it’s cheaper to pay claims than to regularly test their foods for contaminants.
  • Pharmaceutical companies’ priority is their bottom line, not my dogs’ wellbeing.

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 it means 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!

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