When we welcome a new client to our practice, part of the process is a questionnaire about their pet’s health history and environment. The last question is: "Do you consider your pet to be a member of the family?" and most people answer "Yes". The human-animal bond is very strong. It’s very common for people to say that the pet is like a child to them. Cat-lovers often say that the cat owns them, rather than the other way around. Certainly many (most?) of us consider our pets as companions, as opposed to property. Thus it would seem that referring to ourselves as the "guardians" of our pets is just a nice way of saying how we really feel. [Trade Secret: the real key question is "Where does your pet sleep?"]
I can’t argue much with that kind of warm feeling, but I do believe it’s a different story when that language gets written into laws and ordinances. It would seem that the terminology is designed to achieve a higher legal status for our pets. That sounds pretty good until you think about how litigious our society is. As you are probably aware, anybody can sue anybody for anything. The suit need not have merit, and you may not win anything, but we have a society that appears willing to tolerate a lot of bizarre actions. People over-eat and sue the restaurant to take responsibility for their resulting health problems. (And everybody’s favorite: the lady who spilled hot coffee in her lap and sued McDonalds. I know that must have hurt, but did she order hot coffee or cold coffee?)
Aside from the abundance of eager attorneys who feel that everyone deserves representation, there is also the issue of folks who may use this foothold to advance an agenda that is far from friendly to pet-owners. Just google "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy". ( This is a site I like, even if has been assembled by bioscience researchers) These folks want to stop animal research (including that which would benefit the animals), and make you a vegetarian, but that’s not all. There are a bunch of them who also don’t think you have any right to keep a pet, much less ride a horse. How dare you exploit that pet just because you both enjoy the companionship?
The Missouri VMA put together this little brochure considering the ramifications of adopting "guardianship" as the legal terminology for our relationship with our animal friends. It may seem a little far-fetched at times, but … maybe not.
It is certainly food for thought. We need to be careful that we don’t just accept this "Guardian" business for the warm, fuzzy feelings it gives us. We also need to think about the foothold it gives to the wacko extremists. I doubt that any of my readers would condone pet neglect, dog-fighting or other forms of animal abuse. On the other hand, a lot of us eat meat, wear leather, and own pets (who also eat meat and wear leather).