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Pet guardian vs. pet owner

When I mentioned my former foster dog Cosmo was doing well with his new owner, someone suggested I should’ve used the word “guardian” instead of “owner.”

Perhaps someday I will call myself a pet “guardian.” Not today.

I am very aware of the words I use to describe my relationships with my pets. I’ve used the term “foster mom” and “dog mom,” and I do so lightheartedly.

I do not really believe Ace is my child; I don’t want him to be. I do not believe my parents are his “grandparents” even though we use the term for fun.

These kinds of beliefs deprive Ace of his dog-hood. He is not a human, he is a dog. He knows he’s a dog, and he’s happy being a dog!

A cat “guardian”? Ha!

My cats are an even better example.

I love my cats very much, and one of the things I love about them is their wildness. They don’t depend on me, at least not as much as I’d like to think. Most cats could survive just fine without people.

Beamer the creme colored tabby cat closeup

Beamer is a survivor. Pure animal.

When I need a reality check, I look to him.

Beamer doesn’t need me. I am not his guardian. If he could comprehend that statement, he would probably weave around my ankles politely and say, “Oh, you poor human. It’s OK.”

When Beamer was allowed outside, he caught and killed all kinds of small animals – bunnies, mice, moles, birds. He would be gone for days, even in January. We figured he slept in window wells, under vehicles or whored his way into other homes.

We live in an area now where our cats need to be indoors or closely supervised outside. I guess we are being their “guardians” in that sense.

I know Beamer was much happier when he was allowed to roam. He was free to hunt and run and climb and have sex and scratch and kill. I look forward to the day when we move to the country so my cats can be outside again. I hope this happens sooner rather than later.


My mutt Ace, on the other hand, is very much dependent on me. Maybe that’s why people believe they are guardians of their dogs. The love I feel for Ace is different than the love I have for my cats, and I think it’s because of this dependence on me. In that sense, I am like his guardian.

In another sense, though, Ace is my guardian.

When Josh, Ace and I are out backpacking, Ace will keep us both in sight, even if we separate. If Josh is setting up a tent and I am off gathering wood or taking photos, Ace will sit somewhere in the middle, watching us. If trees block his view he will travel back and forth between us. I like to think he’s watching out for his pack, but I don’t know what he’s really doing.

It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then when we are out late at night or early in the dark mornings, Ace will spy or smell a shadowy figure and growl. Maybe he’s scared. Maybe he’s protecting me. Maybe he’s only protecting himself. I don’t know.

Would Ace fight for me? I don’t know. Would I fight for him? I already do.

I will continue to do everything I can for this dog for the rest of his life. He is in many ways my best friend. He reads me like no one else can. He predicts my movements, senses my frustrations, seems to read my mind.

Maybe part of my problem with the term “pet guardian” is that Ace is better than that. I am not his guardian. We are partners in crime.

Legally, what is a pet guardian?

Used as a legal term, “pet guardian” is an attempt to change society’s relationship with companion animals. The idea is we shouldn’t own another living creature. That all sounds nice, but legally it’s not so simple. What it really does is remove the rights of pet owners.

As a pet owner, I have the freedom to decide what is best for my pets. As a pet guardian that freedom is taken away. Choices are made for me.

A pet “guardian” is required to act in the “best” interest of an animal according to a court system. So if someone decides you are not acting in the best interest of your pet, you will be forced to act accordingly.

Think these situations will never apply to you? I wouldn’t be so sure.

What about when you face decisions about euthanasia? The choice may be made for you. What if you decide to kennel your dog during the day to keep him safe? Not going to happen if the court decides this is not “best” for your dog. What if you decide to use a choke collar? What if you want to tie your dog in the yard for an hour? Allow him to stick his head out the window of your car? Allow him off leash?

As someone who works in the pet industry as a pet sitter and dog walker, these examples are scary. If pet owners are no longer owners but “guardians” I can only imagine what my insurance costs will be. I can only imagine the lawsuits that vets, boarding kennels and groomers could potentially face. Costs will go up for everyone, and there will no longer be such a wide variety of pet services. It will be too much of a risk for business owners.

I understand where people are going with the whole “guardian” concept. I’m just not sure I want to be a part of it.

I believe in a humane life for every animal, not just dogs. I believe people should treat animals with respect and dignity and kindness. This does not mean treating them like people or assuming our emotions are their emotions. It means acknowledging them for the animals they are.

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