Discussion: Owner? Guardian? Crazy Cat Lady?

Where do you come down on the issue of characterizing people with pets – Owners?  Guardians?  Something else?  Do you believe if animal laws include the word “owner” or “guardian”, pets will benefit?  In addition to the legal ramifications, what does our word choice in this context say about our society’s relationship with pets?

18 thoughts on “Discussion: Owner? Guardian? Crazy Cat Lady?

  1. I think combining the words “Owner Guardian” in legal documents is the best way to go. It conveys the concept of “Mine” and adds in the expected value of an entity that needs to be cared for.

  2. OWN.. many people do not realize the legal ramifications of the use of the word “guardian” .. they should look it up.. my lawyer buddies all say OWN..much safer for your and your “property”..

    1. The whole argument for “guardian” is to de-objectify animals and legally give them standing as beings who have an inherent right to life and certain legal protections allowed to other sentient beings, such as, well, us! There are prones and cons on both sides of this issue, and it is not as easy as a yes/no answer.

    2. There are no legal ramifications. In the cities that use “guardian”, it is defined in the exact same legal manner as “owner”. You might want to look it up, for yourself. :)

  3. AR groups push the word “guardian” under the logic that it would change the relationship between humans and animals–that we would no longer see them as “property”, but as furry four legged children that need to be parented until they are able to be independent (read: die). They do this in hopes of ending animal ownership, but I don’t really think they have thought it through. In my mind, this brings up many important questions, among which:
    If we are simply their guardians, and they have a will of their own that must be respected (such as orphan children do), then do we have the right to spay or neuter them?
    Do we have the right to make any medical decisions for them?
    Do we have the right to euthanize them when the time has come that they are medically suffering? (After all, nobody has the right to make that decision for any human.)
    Do we have the right feed them dog or cat food (instead of human food), do we have the right to keep dogs forever on leashes?

    Legally, there are many problems with changing the status of our relationship between us and our pets from an owner situation to a guardian situation. I’m not really a fan of it.

    1. Cities that actually use the term guardian have really done nothing more than literally change “owner” to “guardian” while retaining the same legal language for the definition.

      Chaos has not ensued.

      So in practice all those rather ridiculous fears (like your questions) naysayers put forth have not come to fruition.

  4. I am the owner of my pets and they are my property. However, emotionally, I feel like they are my “furry kids” – but legally, I want to be considered the owner.

  5. I view myself as being in a parental role in that I have clearly defined responsibilities (food, water, shelter, medical care) along with the fuzzier ones that pertain to family (keeping them entertained, well exercised, etc.).

    But, undoubtedly like many others here, I follow cases in which the only thing that can save an animal from being killed by a “shelter” is ownership rights. I think that if we gave up that status, we wouldn’t have sufficient standing to save our pets in critical situations.

    Having said that, it’s obvious that some AC agencies use the concept of “ownership” against citizens, i.e., insisting that feral cat caregivers own the cats they spay/neuter and feed — something that vastly increases the cost of care and puts caregivers at risk for being labeled as criminals if they have more than what the government deems an okay number, as Annette Betancourt recently was in Liberty MO. Clearly, that’s wrong.

  6. We must continue to OWN our pets, otherwise we cede the rights to make decisions in their best interests to the likes of animal “shelters,” animal rights activists and others who bury their true agenda under a warm fuzzy disguise.

  7. “Guardian,” just a single word. Yet it has the power to force people to think about something they may not have thought about before: How can we own another person? We cannot. Why then should we think we can own another being, a dog, a cat, a horse, a bird? The law may tell us we can, but the law has also told us in the past that men can own their wives, parents their children, slave owners their “slaves.” I now realize how wrong it is to consider myself an animal owner. This is I realized where all my work was heading. Language is no trivial matter; how we use it affects how we think and then how we act.
    The truth is, we can and should protect and safeguard other beings from harm. We should be their guardians, not their owners; we need to protect and guard them from cruelty and abuse. We have been placed in a position that allows us greater freedom and greater authority over their lives. We must use this freedom and authority to improve their lives, to keep them from harm, to help them, not hurt them. We are their guardians, and it is our sacred duty to see to it that nothing happens to them that we would not want to happen to our own children.
    Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep; Dogs Never Lie About Love; The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving, and Dogs Make Us Human.

  8. Calling a pet owner a guardian is not going to make them automatically into a GREAT pet owner. We see this every day when priests abuse kids, teachers don’t teach, policemen murder. Words have power yes but it’s not the whole answer. Look at the human fostercare system. Yep, kids have guardians and they can very easily be whisked away into another home. Thanks but no thanks.

  9. The lexicon doesn’t matter unless it changes the legal rights of an animal and the ability to protect them. The current problem with the being and “owner” and a pet being “property” is there are an abundance of animal cruelty or killing that ends up being solved by putting the “price of replacement” of the property like someone broke your lawn ornament and had to pay for it. It would be much more valuable for those of us with pets that care about them as part or an extension of family that they have a legal standing superior to furniture. I for own find we are accountable for the actions of our pets when they do damage to someone property or person, but they are treated only as property when harm is done to them. So I would lien to see the word changed if the legal rights around the word changed with it and gave animals the ability to be labeled victims when they are victimized, and have the right to humane treatment. Ironically, Michael Vick’s crimes resulted in dogs from a fighting ring being perceived as victims instead of weapons for the first time. The law enforcement and prosecutors deserve an immense amount of gratitude for creating that environment in the case. Hopefully, it will provide precedent for our pts in the future when bad people do bad things.

    1. Yea animals are seen as property. The concept of ownership means if it’s your’s you OWN it. And someone can’t just walk up to you and take it away. You can sell it, you can give it away but a person canNOT just walk onto your property OR into your house and take it from you because YOU OWN IT as a peice of your property. If I own it, you do not. It’s MINE and being an only child I am very very very aware of that type of concept. MINE mine mine!
      Ownership rights is a simple concept that few really seem to understand these days or rather there are a few who do understand it but they don’t want you to.
      I get really irritated when people are so willing to give up their rights as they seem to be these days. Just because I OWN my animals doesn’t mean that I don’t value them NOR consider them a part of my family. They define MY family. They ARE my family. I LOVE them and because I love them I am willing to shout I OWN THEM loud and clear to everyone … and YOU DO NOT!
      Yes, the law sees animal as property BUT the law does NOT look at an animal as a lawn ornament or a refrigerator. Sorry to be a huge raindrop on that parade but the law actually does see them as living beings with the ABILITY to feel pain AND suffer !!!! Havve you actually ever read the law??? Any law, other than driver’s ed??
      What I find is that in the majority of areas there are plenty of penalties for being cruel to animals. Lawmakers just aren’t interested in using them tho. That’s the funny thing about laws … they don’t work by themselves. You need to insist that they do. BTW, Micheal Vick did NOT do any time at all for what he did to those dogs. NOT one day! He pretty much walked for turning evidence and the time he did was for RICO charges. So I am not seeing your comparison at all but thank you for the ability to educate and speak my opinion on the matter.

      1. I don’t think we are in disagreement. I think there are nuances we view differently.

        Although there are protections for both properties and animal cruelty, it is state by state. There are more cases where people are rewarded the value of the animal than punitive damages. And when it comes to shelters, there is almost no precedent for prosecution when a shelter destroys your “property” when it is an animal. Just one recent anecdote here from this blog –


        And another how we don’t prosecute most shelter workers.


        And there are other examples of the law valuing an animal in direct neighbor disputers With a light sentence in my opinion:



        This was a single search on Google; I imagine there are more extreme cases.

        And I am fully aware Michael Vick did do any time for his cruelty, he pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture”

        See – http://articles.cnn.com/2007-08-27/us/michael.vick_1_judge-henry-e-hudson-vick-supporters-aid-of-unlawful-activities?_s=PM:US

        I believe this was a travesty to let him off on the most heinous part of his crimes. He should have gotten time for being “a sadist who enjoyed beating dogs to death, hanging dogs, drowning dogs in buckets, shooting dogs, repeatedly slamming them to the ground, burying them alive, and attaching jumper cables connected to car batteries to their ears and then throwing them in a swimming pool”. –


        But, even though I would like to see Michael Vick vilified, his case did change the way pits from a fight ring are viewed, as victims instead of weapons. I don’t thank him for that in any way, I just look forward to this precedent continuing to value the life of an animal as more than replacement value or some facsimile.

      2. I don’t think we are in disagreement. I think there are nuances we view differently.

        When did you come to that conclusion? I was faily aware of it from the beginning. What about you?

        Although there are protections for both properties and animal cruelty, it is state by state. There are more cases where people are rewarded the value of the animal than punitive damages. And when it comes to shelters, there is almost no precedent for prosecution when a shelter destroys your “property” when it is an animal.


        It’s extremely frustrating to me too, such things as this but I disagree with you on the solution. I think that people can absolutely get more but they have to work the system. This old case shows that dogs were thought to be special even in Texas in the late 1800’s.


        Hope that link works right. I think that people just don’t understand the law well enough and they certainly do not know their rights very well these days. Do not expect the cops to know it much less explain it to you. Yes, it’s going to cost you money in the majority of situations to fight city hall so to say but isn’t that the issue the WORTH of the animal to you? Loosing one of your MOST important rights — property — is not the answer either.

        In this time of Thanksgiving, thank you for the opportunity to speak my opinon … and I’m very thankful for my pets and animals. And the right to OWN them.

        Jmho … your’s may differ — and obviously does.

  10. I will give you one more example of what inflames me about these types of conversations and movements. A guardian is defined by law as a person who looks out for the interests of another because they are mentally incompetent to do so. This can be court appointed but not always. My animals are not mentally incompetent. As a matter of fact, I’d have to say most are pretty darn BRILLIANT. A whole lot smarter than a great deal of people out there these days. I find the entire concept insulting on many levels.

  11. I am ridiculously attached to my pets but I own them. That means as long as I do not neglect them, treat them cruelly, or otherwise break the law no-one else gets to make decisions about them. I may give them away, sell them, or continue on giving them the best care that I can. I am able to purchase pets. If I chose to ‘adopt’ from a shelter or rescue I will of course abide by all agreements I sign. However, they are not people. If it comes to a choice between their well being or my family’s well being my family will come first. I feel comfortable with this, my pets are happy and, according to my veterinarian, are remarkably healthy.

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