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Chanda Torske, Published July 10 2009

If pets are part of the family, owners should be ‘guardians’

A recent Associated Press poll found that half of all Americans “consider their pets as much a part of the family as any other person in the household.” But the article referred to these caring individuals as “owners.” If Americans consider their animals equal family members, is “owner” truly the appropriate term to use?

A growing number of people, legislators, humane societies and rescue organizations are replacing the term “animal owner” with “animal guardian,” recognizing that the word “owner” is outdated and doesn’t reflect the human/animal bond that exists in our culture today. “Guardian” denotes a higher level of responsibility, caring and respect to our animal companions. It sends a message that they are much more than mere commodities, objects, property and things.

“Guardian” accurately describes the appropriate kindness and long-term care to one’s family pet, teaching children respect, compassion and kindness. Studies show that children who learn compassion and respect for animals are more likely to become responsible adults.

Seventeen cities, including St. Louis, Bloomington, Ind., Amherst, Mass., Wanaque, N.J.; Boulder, Colo., Sherwood, Ark., Menomonee, Wis., Woodstock, N.Y., and the California cities of San Jose, Albany, Sebastopol, Imperial Beach, West Hollywood, Berkeley, and Beverly Hills and the entire state of Rhode Island have incorporated the term guardian into their animal-related ordinances.

Carl Friedman, the former director of San Francisco’s Department of Animal Care and Control, said “increased numbers of people thinking and acting as ‘guardians’ of their animal companions will lead to fewer cases of abuse, neglect and abandonment, and to fewer animals being killed in our nation’s shelters.”

The importance of language cannot be understated. It affects how we think and how we act. The dogs and cats who ask so little, and give back so much love and loyalty, deserve the protection and care the term “guardian” represents.