Standards of Care

The term “responsible pet ownership” has its roots in “racism, classism, and the White dominant culture.”

That is according to researchers with the University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection, who argued that some animal control policies perpetuate racial and income inequities in the United States.


Not only driven by “racism, classism, and the White dominant culture,” the legal concept of “responsible pet ownership” is also “largely unobtainable for anyone in the U.S. other than white, middle, and upper-class individuals, their paper argued. This includes animal welfare practices such as “providing shelter, behavioral training or veterinary care.”


In their paper, they voiced support for a Humane Society initiative that, among other things, called for the full removal of adoption requirements.

While I acknowledge that whether readers agree or disagree, probably strongly, with the quoted sentiments, I would ask you to set aside your initial reaction and read on. Because although the arguments are being made in terms of race, I believe there is something more fundamental at the root and it’s worth a discussion.

What is being referenced here is a standard of care for pet ownership. Standards of care in general are important for many reasons. They provide guidance when an individual or institution is unsure how to proceed in a given situation. They may provide legal protection for those operating within the standards. And they provide a means to seek a remedy when standards are ignored.

While the proposal to remove all adoption requirements (which are reflective of the standard of care) might sound appealing to some – hey, let’s get those homeless pets out of cages and into the care of owners – it’s not that simple. All of us can probably rattle off numerous potential disaster scenarios: animal hoarders, dogfighters, untreated mentally ill homeless people and animal abusers would all be eligible to adopt animals, regardless of any prior convictions which indicate they are unsuitable as pet owners. And once in the care of the new owners, animals would be defenseless, lacking legal protection because of the obliteration of the standard of care.

And how far would this go? If we eliminate the standard of care for pets, what about wildlife? Can anyone go out and interfere with wildlife in whatever ways they wish so long as they aren’t in violation of state laws (which are quite limited)? Should there be a standard of care that applies to children, the disabled or the elderly living in care facilities? How about doctors, foster parents, attorneys, or companies that produce baby formula or cars or paint?

In a civilized society, ever striving for justice, standards of care are essential. They can and should be reviewed periodically and revised if needed to offer better outcomes for the vulnerable, to uplift marginalized communities and reduce inequities or to bring standards current with progressive, evolved thinking and technology. I can’t see how eliminating the standard of care for pet ownership does any of that. Nor do I believe any marginalized community would want to be uplifted by standing on the backs of defenseless animals.

There is definitely work to be done and conversations to be had regarding “racism, classism and the White dominant culture” but hopefully we all agree that it shouldn’t happen at the expense of animal welfare. Let’s have those conversations and start from the vast common ground we share: a love of pets and a desire to see all of them in the care of those who consider them family.

(stock photo)

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