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It’s a Question of Wording…

Words Matter.

Recently I had the privilege, through LinkedIn, to connect with Dr. Elliot Katz, founder of In Defense of Animals.  He kindly shared with me some information about the group’s Guardian Campaign, and about how the words we use when talking about animals do matter.

Baby girl or good dog?

Baby girl or good dog?

Stop and think for a moment about the following words and the images they bring forth in your mind.

Pet

Owner

Pet Parent

Mommy

I have never liked the word petMerriam Webster defines pet as a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility.  In my mind I see dogs in purses and cats with their fur shaved to look like lions. To me those are not the behaviors of a caretaker, but of one who is using the animal to gain attention for him- or herself. And yet I have used this word for years, including on my LinkedIn profile, because it’s less bothersome than some other words out there.

Am I his owner or his caretaker?

Am I his owner or his caretaker?

 

When I think of the word owner, I think of someone who possesses something. People who consider animals as property believe they can treat said property in whatever way they wish.  I believe many of us no longer see dogs or cats as property. We don’t feel the same way about other animals, particularly those we eat. But more of that another day.

Yet, until yesterday, this blog stated that I promoted responsible pet ownership.

I do not care for the words mommy or pet parent, though I’ve used both.  Rumpy is not my child. To me, such words deny my companions the right to be what they truly are- dogs and cats. I do take license with these animals in my writing because, to be honest, it gets attention, and the first rule of economics is to give the people what they want. But it is not how I see my companions and it is not how I treat them. Do my words indicate otherwise?

The Guardian Campaign proposes we humans refer to ourselves as Guardians for our companion animals. If you don’t care for that word, there is also Caretaker. These are words that promote caring behavior toward animals.

I always wondered why Leader Otis referred to his humans as The Guardians; perhaps now I know.

Pet or companion animal?

Pet or companion animal?

How are companion animals to be addressed? I’ll be honest with you, it’s a heck of a lot easier to say or type pet or baby than it is companion animal. Personally, I prefer to say dog or cat than pet, when it’s practical to do so. But it is not for me to choose your words for you.

Dr. Katz has reminded me that our words do matter, and that my choice of words does have an important impact on those that hear them or read them.

I challenge you to think about the words you use. What do they mean to you? What do they mean to others? Will you commit to taking care when choosing your words? Will you take the Guardian Campaign Pledge?

For our words may be the only tool we have in changing the way some people think about animals.

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About rumpydog

I am a malamute that was rescued by her. I live with June Buggie the cat. I blog about animal welfare and responsible care of companion animals at rumpydog.com. You can follow me on Twitter - @RumpyDog. And don't forget to LIKE my Facebook page! Thanks!

Discussion

49 thoughts on “It’s a Question of Wording…

  1. Excellent blog!

    Posted by Maria Appleby | January 5, 2013, 7:02 AM
  2. In my opinion they are not companions, nor pet, they are our little brothers… I have 2 guinea pigs and they have fantastic personalities and feelings, they are part of the family… only who loves little souls like this understands… 🙂

    Posted by memyselfandela | January 5, 2013, 7:08 AM
  3. Cupcake will always be my “little girl” and I will be her “mom”. But I love this blog story with it’s careful attention to words. They ARE important. I will still blog the same way (for attention), but I will alwyas think and sometimes speak differently!

    Posted by Genevieve Petrillo | January 5, 2013, 7:32 AM
    • Dr. Katz has given me much food for thought. If you see my keywords, I included pet. That’s because many people use that search word. And I still believe Rumpy and June Buggie do a far better job of getting my message across than I do. But I think that I will also be making more conscious choices in the words we all use.

      Posted by rumpydog | January 5, 2013, 7:36 AM
  4. My mom has this word thing a lot with work being a realtor and saying house, property or home makes a big difference. Pet and owner we don’t like. Mom couldn’t have kids so we are her furry kids and she is our mom, but that works for our family, not for everyone. We are allowed to be total dogs (rough house with other dogs, roll in nice stinky stuff, get down and dirty, etc), which is important even though mom sees us as her kids. This is a good point to consider, thanks for bringing it up.

    Posted by Emmadog | January 5, 2013, 7:45 AM
  5. We call them our fur kids. Who owns who has always been a matter of opinion, but I figure as long as I pay the bills, I get to have some privileges. They do not necessarily agree and don’t at all mind letting us know when we get out of line. Pets? Who are the pets and who are the masters? We are the keepers, the feeders, the opposable thumb people, but hey run the joint.

    Posted by Teepee12 | January 5, 2013, 8:03 AM
  6. cool post… now we are pondering about it ;o)

    Posted by easyweimaraner | January 5, 2013, 8:16 AM
  7. Very thought provoking. I do love the word,”guardian” rather than owner.

    Posted by adinparadise | January 5, 2013, 8:24 AM
  8. When humans talk, they have to choose their words carefully as those words might cause misunderstandings or give listeners wrong impression. However personally my mom use the ones she likes and doesn’t care how other humans take them in.
    She calls all our fur family as her babies, it might sounds weird though….

    Posted by eripanwkevin | January 5, 2013, 8:29 AM
  9. That really does change things. I would consider myself their guardian/caretaker, they are my companions and sometimes children.

    Posted by ilovecats | January 5, 2013, 8:51 AM
  10. It is a bit of a minefield. We feel that rather than guardian, slave would work better for us most of the time 😉

    Posted by Animalcouriers | January 5, 2013, 8:57 AM
  11. Sometimes I use the terms “mom” and “dad” with the dogs, but often I refer to myself as her human, and she’s my dog. Or “Her Royal Highness” depending what level of stink eye she’s giving me! 😉

    Posted by houndstooth4 | January 5, 2013, 9:00 AM
  12. Spot on if I may say so. I hate those over manicured “pets” who seem to be used to enhance their “owners” profile. Give me a proper, scruffy, messy, cheerful animal any day. One who gives you the companionship and pleasure which all friends give to each other.

    Posted by countingducks | January 5, 2013, 9:08 AM
  13. I enjoyed the blog very much today. It is thought provoking; but, I feel,
    more appropiate for someone addressing the public rather than us at home enjoying the writing. Mozie is my baby, my precious, my little devil, and I am his mommy. We like it this way. Keep up the good work Jen, Rumpy, JB, and the gang.

    Posted by Jennifer Threet | January 5, 2013, 9:24 AM
  14. Even though we don’t see our dogs as our kids, babies, or substitutes of, we still refer to ourselves as mummy and daddy for the boys. My husband and I never used our first names between ourselves (we had way too many “pet names” for each other!) and it was easier for the boys to just have one name to learn for each of us. Having said that, over the years the boys have all picked up the dozens of different nicknames THEY each have, no problem, so we needn’t have worried 🙂

    Posted by The Barkshire Post | January 5, 2013, 10:10 AM
  15. I always liked ‘pet’ better because it implies that my dogs are a part of my family and not just simple possessions. You make a good point about the word ‘owner’. However, I think there is more to it than just those words. It is the context of those words. I might say ‘owner’ because it is a common word and I am not really thinking about how others might see the meaning. But when I talk about how we train, play, cuddle, and exercise together every day, people know I am more than just their owner. It seems we’re getting a little carried away with being ‘politically correct’. I can tell how much you care about your dogs and cats by the way you talk about them.

    Posted by Dawn | January 5, 2013, 10:12 AM
  16. Very interesting. I don’t have children, nor will I, so my dogs are my babies. To others, I’ll sometimes refer to them as my pups. To me calling them companion animals would sound a bit odd. In my mind, companion animals are service animals -trained for that specific role. Though, of course, my dogs are my companions. But, they are also my pets. I think it’s important not to devalue words. Why is companion a better word than pet? Some companions -other people- are capable of taking care of themselves. A pet -a type of companion- relies on the love and attention of a pet owner or pet parent. I’m not lessening the value of my dogs by calling them pets because in my mind pets are priceless, loving, caring, precious, important members of my family. 🙂

    Posted by releasing lunacy | January 5, 2013, 11:18 AM
  17. Interesting.

    I frequently refer to “responsible dog ownership”, because at least so far as laws go, we “own” our dogs. I don’t consider myself Elka’s “mom”, however (though I do frequently call her “baby”, but I think I call all dogs “baby”). I guess I feel that our relationship is a little more mutual than “ownership”.

    Posted by Jen | January 5, 2013, 11:29 AM
  18. Well, this is interesting. I have thought about this, but actually don’t personally mind what we call our animals, as long as our actions are kind, responsible, caring and put our furry friends at the heart of what we do x.

    Posted by shacklefordlb | January 5, 2013, 11:36 AM
  19. Great insight, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into some of these words lately. I find it especially hard to cut out the word owner. I think it’s because in the veterinary world, the word is used so much. There is even an abbreviation for it when we are writing thing’s down. It’s the letter “o” with a line above it.

    Posted by Ann Paws | January 5, 2013, 11:40 AM
  20. Excellent message xx

    Posted by Cat Forsley | January 5, 2013, 11:54 AM
  21. Great post! I have struggled with all the words you listed as well. I’m not really their parent, but I have referred to my dogs as my kids before. I have also struggled with owner because of the very same reasons you listed. I really like Guardian. Caretaker is good too, but for some reason Guardian sounds softer to me.
    Thought-provoking post!

    Posted by Mel | January 5, 2013, 12:02 PM
    • I agree with you. My “parents” refer to me as a kid or baby. For example they say “Have the kid eaten?” , “Let’s go the kid for a walk” and so on. They seeing me as their kid.

      Posted by Μάρσα | January 6, 2013, 7:08 AM
  22. Great post. Word spoken and hear repeatedly do affect attitudes and behavior. So care should be taken
    In writing/blogging – as in marketing ideas – words are also chosen for specific reasons or purposes – like if you want readers to find you so you can spread your message, “pets” as a tag/subject word is best used.
    People must read words they are familiar and comfortable with or they won’t take you seriously. (or slot you away as an extremist nutcase)
    You must appeal to the audience you are trying to reach in order to spread the message – with a post like this one tossed in occasionally to provoke thought and re-evaluation.
    Just write. Don’t worry. What is important is the passion and concern come through in the message.
    All paws up for this post!

    Posted by philosophermouseofthehedge | January 5, 2013, 12:51 PM
  23. Well said!! As our dog is aging and his needs have changed dramatically in the past year.. we are so aware of his needs more than ever.. He no longer sees well, especially in a darkened room so lights are left on, he’s slower to walk so we just go off-leash and let him roam.. We have a dozen or so nick-names depending on the day. I’ve never thought of him as a pet.. but a dear old friend:) He’s one of our family.. xxx

    Posted by Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen | January 5, 2013, 12:54 PM
  24. This blog has certainly got me thinking … Jessie is definitely not my pet; she and I share our home. I don’t even like to use the words “my cat” as that indicates she is my possession. So, most definitely, we are companions who choose to live together. Yes I do fulfil her needs with regard to food, brushing, games, scritches and tummy rubs. In turn she fulfils my need for cuddles and unreserved loved. Without doubt I’m the winner in our house. xxx’s from Jane

    Posted by Jessie & Jane | January 5, 2013, 2:15 PM
  25. I am definitely part of the family rather than just a ‘pet’. Although mummy is listed on all my paperwork as my ‘owner’ she’s my carer and my devoted slave:-)

    Posted by themisadventuresofmisaki | January 5, 2013, 3:34 PM
  26. I often refer to my dog as a pet or “little boy.” In a way, he is my adopted child, but it’s obvious he’s an animal. But, for the most part, I prefer him to the company of most humans because his love is pure and he doesn’t have an attitude.

    Posted by Alejandro De La Garza | January 5, 2013, 3:53 PM
  27. It’s BJ. We like this post. Mom was an English teacher and so words are really important.

    Posted by BJ Pup (new name for Lynds Fisher) | January 5, 2013, 7:50 PM
  28. I will most definitely take the Guardian Campaign Pledge! I have always been hesitant to use words like “pet” or “owner” based on feeling…such words do not rightfully describe the relationship I have with Taylor.

    Posted by Jessica | January 5, 2013, 10:49 PM
  29. All of those terms are foreign to me. I have two Newfoundlands or (dogs) Mica and Lexie that I do everything with and a cat, Minx. When I buy dog tags (required) it says owner, their papers say owner, I never use that term. I refer to them as my dogs or by name. Never do I say Pet owner, pet Mommy, guardian or companion animal never even thought about those terms. They Are my Best Friends .

    Posted by tylersat99 | January 6, 2013, 5:43 AM
  30. My pets include 3 dogs (normally referred to by their names or as our dogs / babies) 2 fish tanks with a total of 12 fish between them (all named and appreciated for their own personalities which yes, fish have) and a turtle who is usually just called by her name, Chloe. I also have a frog who moved in after a hurricane. He is not caged and can leave at anytime (french doors are wide open anytime weather allows) but Kermit (cliche I know but hey) chooses to stay inside keeping our kitchen and bathroom mosquito and fly free (Southern U.S. state so yeah year round bugs).

    I do not call them ‘pets’ often but not because I consider “pets” a bad word. Pets makes me think of cuddles, belly rubs, wet kisses, silly behavior, warm beds and walks.

    I just have a habit of using their names. Granted, Monkey does create some confusion since he is a dog. His name does cause people to smile and since he is our goof ball I know he likes that.

    There was a time not so long ago, and for some not even yet passed that the words “My pet” could mean a beloved human or pet. I like to think that most people use the word pet as a term of endearment not of ownership.

    The word owner has nothing to do with pets unless you are for some unfortunate reason in a court of law. It is a not a term of endearment. I am Monkey’s mommy in his eyes I am his ‘people’ in mine. I can’t really own these animals, I can only agree to care for them and enjoy the time I have with them, much like friends.

    They are in my care and I do guard them so I guess ‘guardian’ fits as well.
    Then again, come into my home late at night and see who is guarding who.

    😉

    This whole word thing is complicated and although I do believe words are important I am not going to worry too much. I have a home full of happy animals of various shapes and sizes and no matter what others call us we are mostly just calling each other loved.

    Posted by psychowatcher | January 6, 2013, 6:33 AM
  31. I’ve never used the word “pet” in referring to my four-legged family members. When I refer to my to cats collectively, they are “the boys” and when I refer to them individually I use their names. Very nice post.

    Posted by Cathy Ulrich | January 6, 2013, 8:56 AM
  32. Pet is a great word — I love when people pet me 😉

    It is interesting to think about the words we use. I call the people I live with my mom and dad, but they never refer to themselves this way. I would never call myself their son. And they wouldn’t either. I am their pup. And their buddy. And mom’s portable heater too 🙂

    I guess I could call them my humans or my people or something like that. But I like mom and dad because they are my family and since I am young and they are old(er) they are more like moms and dads than anything else. In the end I think what matters most is how our families care for us and love us. The words they use are not nearly as important to me as the things they do.

    Posted by onebluedog | January 6, 2013, 8:04 PM
  33. Even in our language I don’t think I’ve used the term (pet/dog/Bruno’s) ‘owner’ to refer to me. It doesn’t seem right. I like ‘guardian’, though. Guardian it is. 🙂

    Posted by tita buds | January 6, 2013, 10:37 PM
  34. Words are important, but I am not certain our friends care. I think they care more what is behind our actions. Do we provide for them in a caring and responsible manner, that seems to be what is important.

    Posted by Valentine Logar | January 7, 2013, 6:57 AM
  35. Excellent post. Yes, I believe you do see now why My people are The Guardians of Otis. You may also notice that Limbo kitties have “guardians”, whereas people who keep their cats safely confined are “Guardians”. 🙂

    Posted by cult of otis | January 9, 2013, 10:20 AM
  36. My animals are my babies. They’re a complete member of the family, where is taken care of and taken into account. Guardian is good, but I stick with granny for mine 😉

    Posted by angelswhisper2011 | January 9, 2013, 3:53 PM

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