Are You Your Dog’s Owner or Guardian?

By Rita Rice, NADBR VP of Research

In a few cities in the United States, advocates for animal rights are attempting to change laws so that pet owners become pet guardians. Maybe such a change is being considered in your city or town.

Boulder, Colorado, has made the change. So have San Jose and West Hollywood in California. The State of Rhode Island has even made pet guardianship part of its Constitution.

So should you care whether your state or city adopts a pet guardianship law? Would you lose anything if you became a dog guardian, rather than a dog owner?

Advocates for the change believe that guardianship will result in a higher standard of care for dogs and make it easier for the courts to step in when the rights of dogs are being violated. They argue that dogs have rights and that guardianship is a better way to protect those rights than treating dogs as property and requiring owners to meet standards of humane treatment

In a society in which many Americans feel great affection for their dogs and call them fur babies and fur kids, advocates for guardianship already have an argument with strong appeal to many dog owners.

The word guardian has positive connotations and changing from owner to guardian can be made to seem like a small matter.

However, it isn’t. Ownership and guardianship are distinctly different in the eyes of the law, and dog owners should understand those differences before they give up one status for the other.

Guardians can be relieved of their duties based upon a finding by a court that they are unfit. Pet owners who become guardians may find that those who deem them unfit can take their dogs away more easily in a world without dog ownership.

The other argument that advocates for pet guardianship make is that guardianship will somehow improve the way dogs are treated. Think about that. Will it? Will the person who is abusive as an owner be any better as a guardian?

What would giving dog guardianship do to veterinary medicine? Would the added complexity, cost, and liability risk for veterinarians really result in better care for dogs? I think it is apt to produce less choice of care, wasteful defensive medicine, and less care because veterinary care will cost more.

Dogs are property, but they are a special kind of property because they are sentient beings. We cannot do with them as we will. We have a duty to treat them humanely and with kindness.

Dog owners should celebrate the progress toward objective, scientifically validated standards for the care of dogs. At NADBR, we applaud the work that is underway at Purdue CAWS and other schools of veterinary medicine to better define humane treatment and to set standards for dog breeders.

All of would like to see a world in which dogs are treated humanely and shown kindness. The best path to that world is not to give dogs rights and make humans their guardians. Instead, we should set and enforce clear standards for the humane treatment of dogs.

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