What a Difference a Word Makes!
1. Recognize Animals as Individuals, Not Objects:
In choosing a more accurate term to define your relationship with animals, you are helping to elevate a community’s consciousness and way of thinking about non-human animals. By viewing, treating, and speaking of animals from the perspective of a guardian, you are respecting and recognizing that they are individuals with needs and interests of their own.
2. Recognize Changing Public Attitudes Toward Animals
Our changing attitudes toward animals are reflected in the language that we use to write and speak about them. Surveys show that the vast majority of people with animals in their care think of them as family members. "Animal guardian" or "animal caretaker" are respectful terms that are consistent with public sentiment. As we use kinder terms, our children will absorb the message that cats, dogs and other animals are living beings who depend on people for long-term care and protection.
3. Help Reduce the Number of Animals Bred in Puppy Mills:
Did you know that most pet store animals come from puppy mills? Also, every dog or cat purchased from a pet store equals one euthanized animal at a shelter or humane society. Buying an animal from a store instead of adopting from a shelter contributes to animal overpopulation by taking a potential home from a homeless animal. Buying an animal also funds puppy mills and contributes to the problem of treating and viewing animals as marketable commodities. By saying we "own" animals, we encourage others to view them monetarily, while calling ourselves "guardians" communicates the emotional value of animals.
4. Help Decrease Abuse and Abandonment:
If you teach young people that their role as a guardian of animals is a valued personal characteristic, they might be less likely to abuse or abandon their animal companions. When adoption agencies, shelters and rescue organizations join you in reinforcing responsible animal guardianship, people will be far less likely to view and treat their newly adopted family members as mere things or commodities. What’s more, shelters, humane societies and rescue organizations that choose to use the term "animal guardian" in their adoption contracts and literature, communicate to adopters that they are adding a new member into their families, not purchasing a disposable piece of property.
5. Positively Impact Local Communities:
It is a community-based effort to legally recognize citizens as animal guardians. Local governments that refer to residents as guardians affirm the positive impact that citizens can have on local animal issues such as shelter overpopulation, barking dogs, dog fighting, and animal abuse. Calling residents "animal guardians" empowers communities to work together toward common solutions. Updating city codes to include the term "animal guardian" is a symbolic change that demonstrates a new attitude of public concern for the welfare of all animals. Though updated legal language does not affect one’s legal rights, responsibilities and liabilities, the psychological and sociological impact of this change in language is advancing positive attitudes about animal care.
Community leaders share their thoughts on language:
Michael Shrewsbury, Director, Sherwood Animal Services:
"Why did we change our ordinance? Because it is important to us that people understand the depth of the bond occurs between their animals and themselves. To us - it is also imperative that people understand the responsibility of being guardians. And to we say to those who are considering an ordinance or policy change to put into effect the word Guardian; These times are reflective of the history of ever-changing moral standards. Perilous conditions have time and time again forced a change in the way the entire world thinks. I am proud to have been leader in this positive movement."
Jan McHugh, Director, Boulder Valley Humane Society:
"Our investigations for cruelty and neglect have increased, I can only speculate that this means we are having more cases reported hopefully because of awareness - same number are prosecuted. I see everyone using the word, newspaper articles, etc. So for me if it stimulates conversation about what role animals play in our lives, it is working toward improving the human/animal bond.”
Dona Spring, Berkeley City Council Member:
“While there are no official stats, the deliberation and news articles were a great local education tool. Animal attitudes are changing. A task force was convened for municipal animal issues, and a bond recently passed unanimously to build shelter adoption center. Media relations in regards to animal issues have improved (there is more coverage of these issues), possibly due to this increased awareness."
Linda Jones, Rhode Island schoolteacher:
"The proposal that my students presented to the Rhode Island legislature was about making society more aware of the importance of animal companions in society and the respect that all animals deserve. They cited the link between abuse of animals and domestic abuse.This is a small step to preventing violence against animals, as well as preventing people from taking on the responsiblity of animal guardianship when they are not able to.
Kimberley Fross, Lawyer, Albany New York:
"I think the language change is a more accurate reflection of how Albany residents care for their animal companions. When local legislators vote for an amendment such as this, it marks an important development for domestic animals most in need. I believe it also marks an important step toward the much needed greater compassion for all animals."
The excerpts below were extracted from Animal Sheltering Magazine's Article, "What's in A Word (And Does it Matter)?"
"The whole profession . . . is evolving,"says Mary Metzner, past president of the National Animal Control Association. "We're moving along, slowly but surely, [toward] the kinder, gentler way." Mary said years ago that the move away from the possessive-sounding term, 'pet owner' "is just another sign of the times." Metzner likened the shift from animal owner to animal guardian to the coining of the phrase "animal care and control" to replace "dogcatcher."
Geoff Handy, the Director of Communications and Campaigns for the Companion Animals section of The HSUS, says "One of the most obvious changes is the evolution at The HSUS of animals as 'it' to animals as 'he' or 'she,' The change was meant to reflect a shift similar to the (guardian) one in Boulder: An "it" is an owned thing with no interests except those of its owner, whereas a "he"or "she" has feelings, rights, and needs. "The very discussion of language helps a field grow,"says Handy. "If you compare 'owner' to 'guardian' and examine the context of each term, then what are you saying? Why are you considering that shift? The dialogue gets people thinking."
Jan Elster, an organizational development consultant, says the difference between "unwanted"and "homeless"is a subtle one, but one worth considering. "I prefer the term 'homeless,' "Elster says. "So many of the animals are unwanted, but some are brought in by caring people who love them, but for some reason cannot take care of them. We can only assume they are 'unwanted'; we know for sure they are 'homeless.' "Just as importantly, the misnomer "unwanted" belies the fact that even though one person did not want the animal, hundreds more may find the same creature to be an ideal companion.
Christie Smith, executive director Potter League for Animals, Newport, Rhode Island says "I think we sell ourselves short sometimes in our word choices because some terms don't reflect how far this industry has come, or how bright and dedicated so many of the people are." Smith continues, "If we speak justly, it is easier to act justly, to build just and humane communities, and to encourage others to do the same. Our community is based on shared compassion; it requires a language of compassion to communicate its intent."