What's that furry critter next to you? Once again we seem to have a prestigious group of
individuals telling us that being a pet just isn't good enough.
The latest is from reverend Andrew
Linzey, PhD, DD, and his fellow editors of the Journal of Animal Ethics have put out a call for us to change the language that we use to describe our pets
and other animals. Apparently, at least according to this group of
individuals, most of the words that we use to describe animals are
insulting and demeaning, and send the wrong message.
They begin their
argument by saying that derogatory words like "vermin" and "pests"
should be eliminated altogether and "pets" should be replaced by "companion animals." So far, I agree...though I am unconvinced "pets" is insulting or demeaning.
I do agree that companion animals (which I have no been using for years, but I also continue to use "pets") is a great term. The suggestion is that they have value as our companions is on target with what at least most Americans think, but let's be honest - they are also animals.
"Guardian" is a term I thought I would endorse, as a search began several years ago to replace the term "pets." At first, the "guardian" suggestion seemed fine, that we are responsible for them much like we are responsible for watching, supervising and guiding children. But then with more research, I soon learned the legal implications of the word, include legal culpability.
That also seems fine, at first. The problem is that elevating the
legal status of pets or companion animals in this way will mean that
veterinarians, dog day care, dog training, grooming and all pet services
will be as easily sued as our doctors. Their insurance will skyrocket
overnight. And the clients/consumers will pay the difference. Or those services will just go away, go out of business.
Taking one example, the cost of veterinary care goes up by leaps and bounds. And
people will then visit the veterinarian far less often, and those with
low incomes won't go at all.
You see, this awful system forcing doctors to pay enormous costs of legal protection is in great part
what go us into the human health mess. The lawyers benefit - but not those who require human health care. Even there, overpriced as we know it is, if you need care the
government will pay for it, or your insurance will kick in. With pets,
currently only a meager percent have insurance (though I wish more
people had pet insurance), and the government sure isn't going to back
pet owners' pocketbooks. Pets just wouldn't get medical care. Everyone
loses, mostly the animals we sought to help by using the term "Guardian"
in the first place. That terminology is NOT the answer.
Services, which are today relatively reasonable, like dog day care or dog grooming will also increase significantly in price. Fewer dogs trained could mean more dog bites - which means fewer dogs owned, which means more euthanized. All this - killing dogs at shelters and dealing with dog bites has a societal cost. And you better learn fast how to groom your own dog - if "Guardian" were to become legally acceptable (which is happily unlikely).
However, I agree, there is no downside to the term 'companion animal.'
The claim that the term "pets" brings "pet owners" along with it. And I'd agree with their statement, there is something that also rubs me the wrong way about owner (though that is what we are). The idea that pets are mere property is somehow wrong philosophically. Certainly, if your dog is stolen, and bad guy killed the animal, and is caught - the value of the loss the bad guy should pay should should far exceed the cost paid for the animal. Nevermind that theft in of itself is a crime We're talking ethically about a living, breathing thing. And emotionally, we're talking about a member of the family.
But is that cost the same as the value of a person? Is there an "in-between?" I think that's what we're searching for. After all, that bad guy should go away for murder, for life behind bars. On the other hand, reimbursing $50 paid for that dog is hardly right either.
Interestingly, if you happen to read antiquarian books on about pets, dating to the the turn of the last century - say a book about dog training, you might see the word "brute" to describe a dog, or "beast." Consistently you'd read how important it is to "command" or "dominate" the dog. All these terms lessen the importance of companion animals and enhance the importance of people "over them" as a dominant species. (In my opinion, though off topic - that's what the resurgence - by some - of dominance training is all about. It must be - it's certainly not based on science).
Also language is fluid, always changing, perhaps words like "brute" or "beast" had a slightly different meaning back in the day.
It's important to point out , that this Professor Linzey dude is no California crackpot, but is
the respected Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, with 20 books and more than 100 articles to his credit. In 2001, he was
awarded a DD (Doctor of Divinity) degree by the Archbishop of Canterbury
in recognition of his 'unique and massive pioneering work at a
scholarly level in the area of the theology of creation with particular
reference to the rights and welfare of God's sentient creatures'. This
is the highest award that the Archbishop can bestow on a theologian and
the first time it has been awarded for theological work on animals.
For those who say, well none of this matters - it's only semantics we are bantering about. True, it is only semantics. But it does matter - semantics can drive laws, and also words do define our emotions, our feelings - in this case our attitude toward those animals we share our homes with.