Dog "owner" versus "guardian" - Words matter!

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 5/25/08
By: Gail T. Fisher


Words matter. In 1999, In Defense of Animals (IDA) an animal rights group located in the San Francisco Bay area, began a movement to change the word that refers to those of us who pay for our pets’ food, vet bills, housing, and even the purchase of the pet (dog, cat, gerbil, parakeet, goldfish, horse – you name it). The IDA started referring to “owners” as “guardians.” Seems innocent, doesn’t it? How can someone mind such a nice (and seemingly harmless), warm and fuzzy term like “guardian” over “owner?” So the person who pays $1200 to a pure-bred dog breeder, $300 to a rescue organization for a dog of uncertain parentage, adopts a free puppy or kitten from a friend, or pays hundreds of thousands for a thoroughbred racehorse would not “own” that animal; they would be its “guardian.”
Advocates for this change express the opinion that guardianship will lead to better treatment of pets – that somehow a “guardian” is kinder, gentler, and more responsible than an “owner.” What flawed and ridiculous reasoning to think that what one calls oneself affects overall behavior. If this were the case, no parent – or “guardian” – would ever abuse a child; Laci Peterson and her unborn child would not have been murdered by her “loving spouse.”
Much like “a rose by any name,” changing the word from “owner” to “guardian” simply means that abusive people will abuse their pets by a different title. But there is a much greater issue at stake. For those who may think, “What difference does it make? Calling myself my dog’s ‘guardian’ is fine with me.” It makes a great deal of difference. Words matter – and if we pet owners are not aware of it, and don’t take a stand, we are in danger of losing our rights to have and keep pets.
As I wrote last week, there are two animal movements in this battle: the animal “rights” movement versus animal “welfare.” Animal welfare is based on the belief that we humans have a moral obligation to treat animals humanely and responsibly. Animal rights organizations, on the other hand, see absolutely no difference between humans and any other live being. Michael Fox, a senior scholar at the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS – an animal rights organization) said it all when he wrote, “The life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration.” I have nothing against ants (unless they’re trying to destroy my house – in which case it’s me versus the ants!), but one has to feel compassion for Dr. Fox’s child!

In researching this topic, I came across countless quotes equally or even more incredible than this, as well as a number of articles outlining the subtle movement toward achieving the Animal Rights agenda, including the legal implications of “guardian” versus “owner.”

Let’s start with our founding document, the U.S. Constitution, which 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.

Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and President of PETA wrote of her vision for the future of our pets: “[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.’”

Newkirk envisions undomesticating dogs and cats to live feral existences much the way strays in 3rd world countries do, surviving by foraging at dumpsites and eating food scraps tossed at them as people feed pigeons in a park. Having just adopted a stray dog rescued in a foreign land, and having assimilated him beautifully into our home, our lives and our hearts, I can too-easily envision his struggle to survive, slowly dying of the heartworm with which he was infested when he was first captured. Newkirk’s vision is not a world I want for him or any dog or cat.

Taking the concept of “guardianship” a step further, guardians are appointed or removed by judges, often without a hearing or trial, simply relying on testimony from an “interested party.” Do any of us want to turn over our rights of ownership – our basic, decision-making rights about what to feed, whether or not to spay, neuter or breed, or what method of training to use – to the courts?

To quote from an article by Attorney Genny Wall “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.”

The bottom line for us as pet owners is that if PETA, HSUS, and other animal rights organizations have their way, our legal rights, advantages and choices as dog “owners” will slowly be eaten away until they disappear. The word matters!


Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2008. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.