Talking Pets: A new perspective on "guardian" vs. "owner"

November 9, 2012 

For quite a while now, I've shied away from saying I was a "pet owner."

That term seemed so cold to me and made it sound like I considered pets just "things" that could be bought, sold or disposed of at our will.

I much preferred the term "guardian" or "companion." It seemed so much more humane.

And then out of the blue, along came a blog post from Chako Pit Bull Rescue that gave me a new perspective on the term "pet owner."

Chako is a 15-year-old rescue group that has a coalition of attorneys who volunteer their time to the advocacy center in Sacramento, Calif.

In the recent post, one of the attorneys explained why using the term "dog guardian" vs. "dog owner" does not really lead to a more responsible relationship between people and their animals, and in fact, brings up legal issues that we need to keep in mind.

First, it was pointed out that advocates are generally misguided when they use the term "guardian," believing it can help law enforcement seize animals that are being abused or neglected.

Law enforcement already can do that (ever watch "Animal Cops"?), so euphemisms won't make their authority any stronger.

What will make their authority stronger is government putting more bite (pardon the pun) into animal cruelty laws and pursuing more aggressive prosecution of offenders.

Second, and most important in my mind, is the U.S. Constitution's amendments that protect our rights as property owners.

The Fifth Amendment, known primarily for its provisions against double jeopardy and self-incrimination, also declares that citizens shall not be deprived of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

And the Fourteenth Amendment, which addresses citizenship rights and includes the provision about how representatives are apportioned, reaffirms owners' rights by declaring that no state shall deprive any person of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Clearly, these amendments protect property owners and it stands to reason that if pet owners give up their right of ownership, they also relinquish an ability to protect their animals.

The attorney writing the blog post took this one step further in addressing the use of the term "guardian," pointing out that, "Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution say that those who are animal guardians are entitled to such due process."

In fact, if we truly were "guardians" of our pets in the legal sense, we would be subject to answering to judges because guardians are overseen by the courts. And what's to stop a judge from deciding that someone else might be a better guardian for our pets?

A judge could come along and take a homeless man's cat just because he IS homeless, or take a family's dog because they don't have a fenced yard.

A previous Talking Pets column asked, "Where do pets fit in your life?" and went on to weigh the differences between "pet parents" and "animal owners."

Well, consider that column hereby edited. I still consider my family a "pet family" in that we have pets and we love them like family, but I will no longer shy away from saying I'm a pet owner.

Big paws up to Chako Pit Bull Rescue for setting me straight.

M.K. Means, Herald copy editor, can be reached at 941-745-7054.

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