Pet Guardianship – Are You Sure Want To Be Your Pet’s Guardian?
by Lorie Huston, DVM on November 12, 2013
Many of us, as pet lovers, actually think of our pets as part of our family. We may refer to them as our “furry kids” or our “four-legged children”. We may call ourselves their “mom” or “dad”. I admit, I’m guilty of that too. And I don’t see anything wrong with it. But when I see legislation being proposed that would change our title from “pet owner” to “pet guardian”, I become concerned. I’d like to tell you why.
How Does the Legal System See Our Pets Now?
How we think of our relationships with our pets and how we refer to that relationship when we’re talking with friends or family is vastly different from how the legal system looks at our pets. Please understand I’m not speaking as a lawyer here. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV. But I’ll share with you my understanding of how the courts view our pets, based on my experience as a veterinarian.
Right now, in most instances, our pets are viewed as property. That doesn’t mean we view them that way, or that we should view them that way.
There are good and bad points about pets being viewed as property by the legal system. If something happens to your pet as a result of a negligent act on someone else’s part (a groomer, a veterinarian, a pet sitter, etc.), it makes it difficult, often even impossible, to receive compensation beyond what your pet’s monetary value is determined to be. While it’s difficult for those of us who love our pets to assign a financial value to our pet, it’s not difficult for a court to do.
On the other hand, because pets are viewed as property, we are able to make decisions regarding the type and level of care that they receive. I’m not talking here about basic care, like providing food and water. I’m talking about more complicated decisions, like choosing to pursue chemotherapy or radiation therapy for a pet diagnosed with cancer versus hospice care for that pet. Or even decisions about more routine care, like whether to vaccinate your pet, or whether to have your pet spayed or neutered. Those are just examples but I think you get the picture. We have the ability to decide what is in our pet’s best interest.
Why Not Call Ourselves Pet Guardians?
While the terms “pet guardian” and “pet guardianship” may conjure up a warm furry feeling about safeguarding your pet from harm, that’s not how the courts interpret the terms. The term “guardian” is strictly defined by our courts. And if we allow legislation to be passed that refers to us as “pet guardians” as opposed to “pet owners”, the legal definition of guardian will come into play in terms of our pets and how we care for them. No longer will you have the sole responsibility to choose for yourself what’s in your pet’s best interest.
I found this article published by the National Animal Interest Alliance about pet guardianship to be interesting. I don’t agree with all of the conclusions reached in the article. For instance, I don’t believe that “the ‘guardian’ term is just another of the animal rights movement’s many sneaky ploys aimed at taking animals away from us step-by-step.” But I do believe that there are repercussions to being legally defined as a “pet guardian” rather than a “pet owner”.
Currently, though there are some laws in effect that are geared to protect the public safety and/or discourage/punish animal abuse, pet owners still retain the right to decide what level of care their pet receives. That would change if pet owners become pet guardians. We would be told what our pet’s need and when they need it, in the same way that the guardian of a child is told how to care for the child.
Further, if the court determines that we are not meeting their expectation, our pet could be removed from our custody. Now, if a pet is being abused or neglected, that’s appropriate. But what about situations where the pet is suffering from a debilitating disease and we believe that the kindest option is to let that pet go peacefully through the act of euthanasia. What if a court decides that decision is wrong? What would happen in that situation? Frankly, I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t want to find out. I never want to find myself in a situation where I have to watch one of my pets, or someone else’s pet, suffer while a court or court-appointed representative decides what’s best. Again, this is just an example but one that, I think, illustrates the potential problem, or at least one of the potential problems.
I know my cats, I live with them and interact with them daily. I know what they need and I know when something’s not right for them. I love them and consider them my family. I take full responsibility for their care and make sure they receive the best care I can give them. I want to retain the ability to do that, without interference or supervision from someone who may not know what they need as well as I do.
Now, I want to know what you think. Are you in favor or against changing our legal status from “pet owner” to “pet guardian”?
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About Lorie Huston, DVM Lorie Huston is an accomplished veterinarian, an award winning blogger, a talented author and a certified veterinary journalist. She is available for writing assignments, blogging and social media consultation, and SEO strategy.
This article is posted and shared through the courtesy of the Pet Health Care Gazette