On Ownership versus Guardianship
And now, by popular request, Animal Person’s views on the ownership versus guardianship debate. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you that you might be disappointed.
- In Defense of Animals started The Guardian Campaign with its first Guardian City, Boulder, Colorado (shocker!) in 2000. Since then, 17 more cities in the US and Canada have joined, passing legislation that recognizes people as "animal guardians."
- Guardians make The Guardian Promise, which is to:
• Make a lifetime commitment to my animal companion
• Adopt animals only through responsible rescues and ethical breeders
(Of course, Animal Person wouldn’t agree with the breeder part. We should be trying to decrease the number of cats and dogs, not participate in increasing them.)
• Spay or neuter my animal companion for their health and to prevent overpopulation
• Provide nutritious food, fresh water and daily exercise for my animal companion
• Care for the emotional needs of my animal companion
• Understand and work through my animal companion’s behavioral issues
• Treat my animal companion with compassion and gentleness
• Report suspected animal abuse or neglect
• Call myself and others "guardians" rather than “owner”
• Encourage others to embrace guardianship
- Supposedly the using of the term guardian will cause a subtle shift in the relationships between people and animals.
- Here’s the rub: The problem isn’t that we use the word "owner," the problem is that we "own" are pets. They are still property, legally, and I can call myself a greyhound "mommy," "guardian," "owner," or "caregiver," and it wouldn’t make a difference. Guardianship doesn’t even give me greater responsibility or make me in any way more accountable to Emily Fokker, Violet Rays, and Charles Hobson Booger III.
Look, I’ve got a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics and I’m the first one to say that language matters. But who does it matter to? What we need is a change in the status of dogs and cats (among other things)–a change that affects them and benefits them in a meaningful way. Altering our language might make us feel better. And it might make people around us pause and think. But I’m not convinced that it’s going to help our "companion animals." In fact, I’d venture to guess that the people who use "guardian" aren’t the people who need any kind of enhancement in they way they view or treat animals.
The person who chains his dog or breeds dogs to race them and when they lose "discards" them needs a lot more help than the word "guardian."