While we all love our pets, and many of us consider them to be members of our family, warm fuzzy terms to describe our relationships may have unintended consequences.
Recently, legislation regarding pet ownership or "guardianship" has popped up in cities across the United States. Traditionally, pets have been considered the property of their owners and are treated as such in legal matters. A group of animal rights activists have proposed that "pet owner" be changed to "pet guardian" in ordinances and other legal documents. The term "guardian" has a specific legal definition, which implies that the pet then becomes a ward of his or her guardian, like a child would be. Some opponents of pet guardianship, who feel that a change from ownership would be beneficial, propose that "pet friend" or some similar term be used to describe the new status that pets find in our families.
Concerns on the part of the veterinary community come from various aspects of this change. One concern is that veterinary malpractice insurance costs will rise to the point that veterinarians will have to significantly raise their fees, making services less accessible to pet guardians. However, the guardians are legally obligated to care for their pets and can be held legally responsible for "cruelty" if they do not seek out treatment for their sick or injured pet. Abandonment of pets will medical or surgical conditions will rise astronomically and some opponents of the "guardian" legislation feel that people will simply stop keeping pets in their homes to prevent a situation such as this from arising.
The Missouri Veterinary Medical Association has developed a brochure explaining some of the unintended consequences of "guardianship".
Proponents of guardianship as it relates to pets advocate the position of pets as members of our families, entitled to the utmost in love and care. Their reasons for support guardianship are the warm, fuzzy reasons that we all agree with. Their document about why they support guardianship can be read here.
This hot topic has been going strong for 10 years and will continue for many more to come. How do you feel about it?