Dog Owner, Cat Owner vs. Dog Parent, Cat Parent. What’s The Difference?
As long as we oppress other living beings we will create a culture of oppression.
The Case to Move Beyond Dog & Cat Ownership
It is time to evolve and move beyond ownership and live in the 21st century with dignity, respect, tact and grace for ourselves and all animals in our care. It is high time society address careless, crass, inaccurate vernacular such as dog, cat and pet ownership. Dog ownership is verbigeration. But first, before we move on, let’s define owner. What does owning something mean? Notice the subtle, yet distinct and important difference between owning something vs. owning someone. Owning anything conveys inanimateness, lacking perception, bodily integrity, self-determination, personal autonomy and volition. Most important, is the fact that things don’t possess sentience and beings do.
As Socrates stated, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”
As the American Heritage Dictionary describes the following:
- The state or quality of having existence…
- The totality of all things that exist…
- An individual form of life; an organism…
- An individual object, especially an inanimate object
- A possession or item in one’s control, as:
- things Articles of clothing: Put on your things and let’s go….
- things Possessions, including clothing; belongings: Pack your things; it’s time to go…
- To have or possess as property…
- Not having the qualities associated with active, living organisms.
- Not animated or energetic; dull.
- Belonging to the class of nouns that stand for nonliving things: The word car is inanimate; the word dog is animate. (Emphasis is mine)
Breathing, living beings are not to be owned but to be responsibly cared for and respected as fellow earthlings. No one is better nor worse, just different. I do not subscribe to speciesism and the inherent explicit discrimination it entails. Instead I would implore one to adopt a weltanschauung view.
“Prejudices are what fools use for reason” – Voltaire
Do we really own family members or other living beings? Just because we can oppress others does not make it morally right, just, fair or equitable. Those with great power (human animals) take on an even greater responsibility to protect the weak, young and others who cannot stick up for themselves. Force and control are the antithesis of power.
“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Most veterinarian behaviorists, dog trainers and dog lovers use the term, dog ownership, ad nauseum. The terms dog owner has been so ingrained in our lexicon that unless you make a conscious choice to use dog or pet parent or guardian, owner may slip out. I am not immune. I use owner on occasion when I think it would help a magazine article or blog post be found by a pet parent searching for help in Google. Besides the one-offs, there is no getting around the cultural shift that is needed whose time has come. Yes, it will take a conscious effort, mindfulness and more thought than using outdated language habits, but then, nothing good ever comes without work.
Crass, crude, obtuse and insensitive prose is not the way to use language articulately and effectively. The backbone and foundation of all relationships with all animals and nonhuman animals is through communication. If we are lazy, sloppy or inaccurate with our speech and diction how can we expect to achieve a deep bond and clear, concise communication with others?
Contrary to the misguided ignorant law, things are property, and beings are not. Even a blind man can see and feel this, why can’t our judicial system (yet)?
Paul Farmer summed it up with, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.”
Let’s be Civilized and Evolve
We don’t own anyone any more than we own our children, partner or best friend. What type of dynamic, fluid, healthy relationship is framed in the context of ownership? None! Living beings do not own others. In fact, it is even arguable whether material inanimate possessions are owned by someone. Laws get abrogated. A different perspective may be that we merely borrow or rent them for our time on this planet or until laws, society and zeitgeist transmogrifies.
“What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right” – Albert Einstein
Framing a relationship of owner and object owned sets a precedent of dominant, subordinate relationship. A paradigm not of the living, breathing, feeling, caring, functioning and loving but of the material, inanimate, anesthetized used and user. Navigating this earth and life together as a team, friends and earthlings requires healthy relationships, balance and teamwork, not through a philistine kaleidoscope. Being a parent, family member or guardian is how we refer to our children and family members. I cannot imagine telling a son, daughter, sister or brother that I own you. Imagine telling your partner that you owned them and you would be soon headed for a couples therapy session or separation.
Jeremy Bentham the English philosopher astutely stated, “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But, can they suffer?”
Using incorrect terminology, as with ownership, leads to poor treatment of others. In Boroditsky’s article in the Wall Street Journal she states, “In the past decade, cognitive scientists have begun to measure not just how people talk, but also how they think, asking whether our understanding of even such fundamental domains of experience as space, time and causality could be constructed by language.” Boroditsky goes on to say “Beyond space, time and causality, patterns in language have been shown to shape many other domains of thought.” The misnomer ownership, judges, labels, strips away rights, diminishes and disempowers living beings rather than ennobles and elevates all beings to equal rights on this planet. Boroditsky asserts,“Patterns in language offer a window on a culture’s dispositions and priorities.” Scientific studies show direct correlations to our thoughts and actions and the words we use. One study showed how words such as fuck and curse words, influenced humans; “In terms of human relationships, “subtle differences can make all the difference in the world.” Science shows that vernacular frames a conversation and sentiment about and around a discussion. If we start with the premise of ownership, we do not start on equal footing as we deserve to be. Speciesism does not exist other than in the mind of the week and egomaniac. This bovaristic, human-centric vision is destroying our planet. Nondiscrimination is the only way to see other sentient beings who feel the same as human beings. Beings with a brain stem and spinal cord and similar neural cortices’ feel love pain, joy, happiness, stress, love, sorrow, and grief. Perception of our world differs and these differences are what makes life so complex, wonderful, rich and fulfilling. Monotony and homogeny are not what the planet and the universe are about. This banal, colorlessness, bleached existence is a disease that humanity must fight off at all costs. There is no duality between US and THEM. We are all intertwined and interdependent upon one another. To treat another with discrimination, injustice, inequity, or prejudice is the same as doing it to oneself.
Not as metaphysical as once thought, the great philosopher and poet Alan Watts said it best, “Black implies white, self implies other, death implies life or vice versa.” How are we separate from that which we are? We are all connected as much as we are disconnected. The other you see is your reflection of you.
Belittle, demean, abuse, discriminate against another and you not only destroy a piece of yourself and your world but everyone around you. The universe thrives on connections and relationships. To belittle these relationships is to cut off your nose to spite your face. A pyrrhic victory won no war, and trivializing animals by poorly, immature, thoughtless words such as owner, trivializes nonhuman animals’ existence and deludes and disrespects both animals attached to the leash of life.
Let us purge this pejorative saying out of our lexicon and use scientific, humane and compassionate terms that accurately portray our relationships and love we have for animals. Science evolves. Even the foremost researcher on wolves, the famous Dr. David Mech who coined the term Alpha, no longer uses or recommends using the term and instead refers to “Alpha” wolves as mother and father or parents. Dogs are neither pack animals nor wolves, but they do devote their lives to us daily, are our best friends, have an ineffable adoring quality about them, are wonderful and deserve no less then to be treated as family both legally and verbally.
“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” – Confucius
I am not a dog or cat owner, I am a pet parent. No one owns me and I don’t own anyone. I may own things (temporarily), as in a car, a jacket or a fan but not living breathing, feeling, sentient beings. Beings are not to be owned, inanimate objects, maybe. Words mean a lot, how language shapes thoughts are paramount to our culture and communication. Words are what separate beings from life, freedom, bodily integrity or slavery, exploitation, rape, oppression and death, at least in a civil court of law. Who knew a word such as owner vs. guardian or pet parent could mean the difference between life or death and having rights or being the equivalent of a brick and having none!?
With words come laws, with laws come justification, rationalization, separation, ego, speciesism, discrimination and on it goes.
An interesting anecdote, The American Heritage dictionary defines Justify as:
- To demonstrate or prove to be just, right, or valid: justified each budgetary expense as necessary; anger that is justified by the circumstances.
- To free (a human) of the guilt and penalty attached to grievous sin. Used of God.
- To demonstrate sufficient legal reason for (an action taken).
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” –Yehuda Berg
We Own Things Not Beings
In American court of law, the owner has rights but not the owned. The owned, in the eyes of the law, lacks the capacity to possess any legal right. Just as a ceiling fan has no rights, a nonhuman animal does not either. Crazy right? I think so!
Conversely, being a guardian or pet parent connotes, taking care of another living, breathing, sentient being with feelings the same as you and I. A living, breathing soul with a capacity to feel and suffer just as you and I. Pet parents and/or guardians take care of sentient beings which should be afforded rights, just like any person or family member has – personhood. Heck, if trusts, religious institutions, and corporations are considered personhood under the law why the heck aren’t our family members?!
Since words are so integral to this conversation and quite literally the difference between slavery, exploitation and freedom and possessing rights let’s define what the United States Common Law considers a person or personhood. Because the law means something different then in our common vernacular. Only a legal person has the capacity to have a legal right.
The Nonhuman Rights Project expands upon this in the following: “A So what the heck is so special about having the rights of a person or personhood? Well, first you should know that many things are considered/labeled personhood and that are NOT actual people. Under the legal definition of personhood by civil courts in America, personhood is afforded to: religious institutions, trusts, companies, municipalities, cities…etc. When it comes to the law our courts afford the rights of liberty and equality to these entities that are called persons. But without a personhood label, you are just an inanimate object/ thing. Things have no rights whatsoever, no more rights to freedom and equality than a ceiling fan. Yes, as ludicrous as it sounds, in the eyes of the law, your family dog and cat has no more rights than your ceiling fan. Pissed off? Read on…
“All lives have equal value” – Bill & Melinda Gates
Nonhuman animals, domesticated and non-domesticated, are viewed by the law as things to be owned by human beings. Nonhuman animals are looked on by the courts as nothing more than bricks to be used, abused, taken advantage of, exploited, manipulated, to our content and to disregard and kill at our will. This is also called speciesism and the foible of human exceptionalism. And IMHO a load of bullshit.
Speciesism is the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership/looks or as the American Heritage Dictionary states “intolerance or discrimination on the basis of species, especially as manifested by cruelty to or exploitation of animals by humans.” The same rationalization that was used for slavery, the oppression of women, racism, bigotry, homophobes and on and on. At one point in time in humanity’s short history on this planet, we have collectively discriminated against everyone and anyone. When looked back, it will be as appalling and obvious that our treatment of others (nonhuman animals) is as horrific and shocking as it is when we look back at the above oppressions and discriminations towards other humans. The ties that bind all earthlings together is our feelings. We all feel pain, stress, anxiety, love, joy and a rich variety of emotions. Focus on our similarities not our differences.
What Are The Legal Implications of Being a Dog Owner vs. a Pet Parent?
In dyadic conspecific relationships, even though your pet is part of your family, if someone walked into your home and killed your dog the penalty is at maximum the cost of what you paid for your pet. Because nonhuman animals (aka dogs, cats, birds, horses, bunny rabbits, snakes, gerbils…etc.) are perceived as things, not beings, breathing, feeling, integral parts of your family. We all know deep down that this is absurd, and that our bonds and love extend to our pets the same as all of our children and family. Yet until we create the change we wish to see in the world this tragedy will persist. We can begin by referring to pet parents as such, not as owners.
Pets go to war for us, risk their lives for us and are loyal to the death for us. They make us smile and laugh every day, they give us great introspection, warmth, mental and physical health. We form bonds that are some of the deepest known to humanity. Because of animals, our lives are more rich, diverse, deep, dynamic, profound and joyful. More so than any inanimate object, it, or thing could ever possibly provide. There simply is no comparing a breathing, feeling, sentient being best friend with the same neurochemical makeup as us and the ability to feel profound love, pain, joy, happiness, sadness, and depression with a cinderblock. This broken law of animals being treated as things for ownership and exploitation with no rights needs to be fixed.
Ownership, is a travesty of justice and must be stopped. Having no rights is the number one reason why animals are raped, exploited, tortured and abused every day. It is also what sets up slave camps and killing machines otherwise known as the dairy and meat industry or animal agriculture and why so many people get sick. This paradigm shift of treating animals with rights and as persons, will seem obvious in years to come but as the adage goes, “it’s hard to see the picture when you are inside the frame.” It is important to remember; at one time black people, homosexuals and woman were also not given rights. At that time it was “normal” to discriminate and subjugate others, until it wasn’t any longer and we woke up. It will take brave souls to change the course of history for nonhuman animals. Some say that it will take a Lord Mansfield. Until then, nonhuman animals are continued to be the most abused and vulnerable population by any standard including: the holocaust, slavery, genocides, oppression…etc. that we choose to measure it against. This coming of age is in the making, be part of the change.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. pronounced, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Do NOT remain silent.
What May I do to Help Make a Difference in the Suffering of Others?
The easiest, hands down way to make the greatest impact in your lifetime is to live a vegan/compassionate life. There simply is no stronger, more effective way to save the planet through environmental impact, to improve your health and to practice compassion to all living beings who suffer. Consider expanding your circle of ethics and compassion. Next, make small conscious changes. Refer to your dog cat or pets as family members where you are the pet parent or the guardian not the owner. Choose your words wisely; stand for something greater than ourselves. The most abused population of beings needs us and depends on us for our voice. Dogs have been domesticated for tens of thousands of years; we feel their love every day, yet we slight their lives with our words and laws. We owe it to them to change these laws and begin having a new perspective of others. We are all one, there is no separation. View the commonalities not differences in beings around us. Practice empathy and compassion. What more noble calling in the world could there be but to defend the defenseless and most abused of our time?
Sticking up for animals and the environment is synonymous with sticking up for ourselves and all of humanity! We are all one and the same. Killing others and the environment will only kill off humanity. Labeling dogs as family just as we label all of our family members is not only the most logical and practical way to refer to them, but are words spoken from the heart. There is no separation and duality. We are as one with all of life as the ocean is to the waves. Adopt a pet today into your family and feel the joy an adopted family member brings to your existence. Ownership of others belittles and separates us from the vital energy and multitudes of life and existence.
Can they suffer is the real metric we need to measure our fellow animals against!
“The veil that clouds your eyes shall be lifted by the hands that wove it”- Khalil Gibran