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.
Stop and think for a moment about the following words and the images they bring forth in your mind.
I have never liked the word pet. Merriam 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.
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.
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.