Disowning the Term “Pet Owner”

Photo Credit: © Blair O’Neill

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been squeamish about using the word “owner” to describe my relationship with my pets. Ownership of a living, breathing creature with whom I share a rich and meaningful relationship simply doesn’t jive with my sense of how the English language should be used. Besides, one might argue that we don’t really own our pets, because in reality, our pets own us!

I feel so strongly about this that I have avoided using “owner” when writing about medical advocacy for pets (thusfar, two books and numerous articles). This has caused considerable angst for many an editor and, trust me, coming up with creative solutions has not been easy!

The term “guardian” sounds rather stodgy and I suspect it was created eons ago in order to describe legal responsibilities moreso than emotional attachments. “Pet parent,” “Mom,” and “Dad” are terms commonly used by people who share my distaste for “ownership”. Honestly, I don’t care for this terminology either. I am not the “parent” of my pets (although I have been referred to as a b%!ch a time or two). I certainly don’t fault those who refer to their pets as their children. It just doesn’t happen to work for me.

The problem is, I’ve yet to come up with a replacement word or phrase for “owner” that, for me, truly captures the relationship of a person to the pet he or she loves so dearly. For now, the word I like best is “caregiver” as it implies a commitment to caring for the physical and emotional well being of an animal. The meaning of caregiving is easily understood and harbors no religious, legal, or moral implications, at least none that I am aware of. For me “caregiver” respectfully speaks to the commitment that is part and parcel of the human-animal bond.

Please know that I am simply sharing how I feel. I am definitely not writing this with persuasive intent. As long as there is love, caring, and mutual goodness between humans and their pets, I’m okay with however the relationship is described.

How do you refer to yourself in relationship to your pets?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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55 Comments on “Disowning the Term “Pet Owner”

  1. I dislike the term owner but use it. I will also use guardian or parent, they all sound silly.

    Perhaps I should refer to myself as My Dogs’ Human?

    I also dislike the term rescue and prefer the term adoption. I think anyone who has a good relationship with a pet thinks the pet is rescuing the human at least as much as the human rescues the pet.

  2. I feel comfortable with the word owner, I have always felt very strongly that my pets are mine, and I am theirs. I have always had strays and feel that they may not mind being owned as opposed to the life they had before. Lisa

  3. For legal and historical reasons, I believe that ownership is a better term for our pets. It does nothing to diminsh the bond that exists between animals and people, but it protects owners from annimal rights activists and political discrimination. If you own it, you are responsible for it. If you are its guardian it can be taken from you if someone doesn’t like your breed.

  4. I refer to myself as their “Mama”. I am a vet tech and my boss called a special meeting one day and said we are no longer to use the term “Mom or Dad” in the office because they (the clients) did not give birth to their pets.