Guest Posts
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Is the Guardian Campaign Losing Steam?
Does it matter?
Owner, guardian, parent

Back in the early 2000s, a number of municipal governments around the country and in Canada revised their city codes, county ordinances and state legislation as they related to companion animals, replacing the term “owner” with “animal guardian.” In addition, animal welfare professionals, such as animal shelter staff and police and humane society officers, were referred to as guardians. The idea was to reflect in official language the role our dogs, cats and other animals play as members of our families and our role in protecting and providing for them.

The first city to make the change was Boulder, Colo., in 2000. But during the next four years, 40 cities and the entire state of Rhode Island adopted guardian language. Since then, only six cities in the United States have embraced the concept—an average of fewer than one per year, according to In Defense of Animals’ Guardian Campaign.

I wonder if it’s a reflection of hard times. Does a campaign like this seem frivolous with world economic instability, unemployment, climate change, protracted wars and other more urgent issues claiming our attention?

Is this an idea for better, less distracting times or is it as important today as it ever was?

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com
CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Anonymous | February 17 2012 |

I'm a doggie "Mom"

Submitted by Anonymous | February 23 2012 |

I am my pet's "parent." And that sounds goofy enough; "guardian" sounds too New Age and to me. Just PETA silliness.
When I say, "this is my dog, Sophie" I believe that the fact I have given her a name states my affectionate nature toward my pet to others. I don't think I need to prove the love for my dog with the funny things, such as "guardian" that people come up with.
We need to treat all animals with respect, a label is just that (it doesn't change the fact that we euthanize millions of cats and dogs each year). My dog respects me more if I recognize she is a DOG and that I am her caretaker or pet parent, fine.
Love your animals and give them personal names, respect them and their animal nature; give them good medical care; and keep them on a leash when outdoors for safety sake; and spay and neuter them - other than that, what does "guardian" really mean?
Let's just become a more responsible society. Oops, that's wishful thinking.

Submitted by Shannon | February 17 2012 |

I'm a dog owner. In no way does that minimize the importance of the relationship I have with my dog. The trouble with "guardian" is that it limits our control over our pets. Anyone can accuse me of not training, grooming, feeding, etc. the way they think is 'best' and take my dog away if I'm only a 'guardian.' I'm far better able to protect and be responsible for my pets if I'm their owner.

Submitted by DC | February 17 2012 |

One of the problems with guardianship is that it means the state owns your dog. This gives third parties a standing in court to sue you if you don't care for your dog. It also means they can sue you if they BELIEVE you don't care for your dog. This is what the animal rights agenda is all about. Spaying and neutering all dogs and cats until there are no more. Until then, controlling who can have a dog or cat and how they can be housed. I know it sounds crazy but Guardianship is the first step toward taking away your ability to defend and keep your dog legally. If you are unsure if this could be true, check out any animal rights abolitionist web site or look up the quotes from Ingrid Newkirk about eliminating domesticated animals. This is not my personal belief but it is widespread and it is what animal "rights" is all about.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 17 2012 |

I'm also a doggy "mom" - and I refer to my border collie as my son. On his license application I refer to myself as his guardian.

Submitted by Debra | February 23 2012 |

DC and Shannon are correct. "Guardians," of pets or people, are appointed and can be challenged for pretty much any reason, and subsequently un-appointed (thought that's not the legal term, I'm sure). The best way to protect our pets remains being their legal owners.

Submitted by Maureen - Washi... | February 23 2012 |

I didn't realize until reading this that this was an actual campaign, and yes, it does seem ridiculously frivolous to me. And incorrect, for reasons already stated by others commenting here.

I own my dogs, and through that legal relationship, I am also their guardian, protecting them (as they sometimes protect me) and caring (as they sometimes care for me) for them. I did not give birth to them and I am not their parent (as in "pet parent"), though I often refer to myself as Momdog it's for their understanding only. As long as they are considered "property" by the state/legal, I will own them.

Owning something does not mean you're enslaving it, though technically that is what we do when we own another sentient being, but that debate could go on forever. They are vulnerable and as we have created them, are unable to care for themselves (loose dogs die). I am their owner first, by law. Then their caretaker, guardian, companion, and, very rarely, their master (mistress). Mostly, though, they master me. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Submitted by Star | February 23 2012 |

I think people place too much importance on words... Words, on their own, mean nothing and give nothing. They only mean what the person behind the word intends for it to mean. Whether I'm my dog's owner, guardian, mommy, or whatever else - I love my dog and she is a member of the family. I think the push for recognition in the human's role in providing and protecting their animals is fantastic. I don't think that's done by changing some words around.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 23 2012 |

I disagree about the importance of words. What is that quote that says that the pen is mightier than the sword?
Communication is the heart of our existence, and stories ( words) ... are the beat that we all resonate with. ( look at the popularity of social media like Facebook, everybody wants to share their story.
Owner is very different from guardian and sets a tone of companion animal instead of pet.... Yes, words are powerful...

Submitted by Anonymous | February 23 2012 |

I don't see how the word "guardian" means that the state owns your dog. Parents are their children's guardian, not their owners. The state does not take away that ownership unless cruelty or neglect is proven (and often not even then).

Things are "owned." My dogs and cat and cats and chickens are not "things." Therefore, I do not own them, like I own my car.

By the way, the state can take away things you own as well--don't pay your property tax, the state can take away your property. Commit a crime, or don't pay you income tax, the state can take away your property for that as well.

Words have huge psychological impact. Resistance to NOT being called the owner of one's dog is proof of that.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 24 2012 |

terminology may seem frivolous but i am concerned that this is the gateway to a disturbing trend. one where my neighbor dictates whether or not my choices for the care of my dog is adequate. and i don't mean issues that have already been mandated, and rightly so, against dogs being tethered all day or dogs riding in the back of a pick-up. i mean medical decisions. and i refer again to the case where a neighbor questioned a "guardian's" decision to manage her dogs chronic medical issue with pain medication rather than surgery. the dog was removed from the home and subsequently died in municipal-mandated surgery. had he lived he would have been adopted out to someone the local pound deemed a "better" "guardian." this woman, and her vet, decided that medication-management was adequate given the risks. apparently they were right. i oppose anything that gives anyone the right to take a dog - except in clear abuse cases. these dog-rights activists have gone too far. and i am concerned that it all begins with terminology.

Submitted by Lindsay | February 25 2012 |

Guardian in no way indicates that the state owns your dog. Children who are cared for by "legal guardians" are not "owned" by the state - they are "owned" by the guardian. Being a guardain by definition is a person who guards, protects, or preserves; a person who looks after and is legally responsible for someone who is unable to manage their own affairs. Now since dogs are unable to manage their own affairs (they cannot drive to the store or the vet to provide for themselves) they fall under this category. The wording turns ownership into something with feeling. You can own an object, and it's just that, you don't have to have sentimental attachment to it. Animals are not objects - they are living beings. This makes the letter of the law more tactile, holding owners responsible for caring for their dogs, not like a car that they occassionally wash and park in the garage for safe keeping. Dogs require basics like food, water and shelter, but it's more than that. They require attention and affection. You can't choose to not educate your children, the same standards are now being held for our canine companions, as they should be. All problem behaviors from nuissance barking to aggression, stem from something they experience or a lack of experience. That's what sets them aside from being objects. Objects cam be left alone. Animals can't. Regardless of wording, it's ignorant to assume your dog can only be taken away if you are reffered to as a guardian vs an owner. If you neglect to care for your dog in any aspect of his life, people will question your ability as a care giver. But it doesn't immediately mean the state will step in to remove that animal or bring charges against you.

Submitted by Barbara Saunders | March 12 2012 |

Dogs don't care what words we use about them. I like the old-fashioned "master." "Master" has a connotation that is positive and responsible: that the person has undertaken a comprehensive learning process to understand and properly handle and train the dog. As much as it might feel icky, a dog does not have agency and is "subject" to the owner. There are also other examples of this. "Master-apprentice" is not considered degrading, and students refer to a senior martial artist as "master."

More From The Bark

Julia Kamysz Lane
Elizabeth Kennedy
The Bark
More in Guest Posts:
Career Moves
Timmy's Amazing Transformation
Learn How To Train Dogs at ClickerExpo 2015
Defusing Awkward Situations
From the Streets to the Gallery, All Thanks to the Dog
Jedi Surfs
This Dog Loves Guitar!
Play Ball
Hope Needs a Forever Home
Dogs and Lipomas