Love is not enough; be a responsible dog owner

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 06:34 PM

    As an American Kennel Club Canine Ambassador, I'm given information and booklets to share with children when I offer dog care, child safety programs at libraries, schools or our local shelter. One of my favorite things is an old AKC bumper sticker that read: "Love is not enough.  Be a responsible dog owner."  

        My dictionary tells me that "responsible" means "to be answerable or accountable ... for something within one's power, control or management."  In short, responsible means to respond.

        We respond to the needs of our animals in many ways: food, water, shelter, grooming, companionship, training, health care.  Owning a pet is a big responsibility: it's certainly something within one's control or management.  I'll bet many of us heard exactly those words when, as kids, we first asked for that pony, puppy or kitten.  As adults, we've most likely told our own children the same thing: owning a pet is a big responsibility.

   What happens if you don't "own" your pet?  I've noticed dog and cat products being advertised as something that "pet parents" buy.  Another term I find perplexing is the use of "guardian" instead of  "owner" which was first introduced in San Francisco by an extreme animal rights group (the folks who lobby for animals to have the same legal rights and status as humans).  Some claim that the term "guardian" promotes better treatment of animals without any legal ramifications.

  Well, for openers, labeling an irresponsible or abusive owner a "guardian" or a "pet parent" will not suddenly make that person treat his dogs better.  Enforcing existing animal cruelty laws does address such problems.

     And there are legal ramifications to consider -- beginning with public safety.  If we remove the classification of dogs as property, there could be legal challenges.  Legally, "guardians" might not be ultimately held responsible for their dogs' actions, making animal control enforcement more difficult.  If a dog is not technically "owned" by someone, legal questions can be raised about whether that person can travel with or sell the dog or even be able to protect it from theft, unwarranted seizure.

The veterinary profession would also be impacted.  If people do not "own " their dogs, it could follow that they are not legally responsible for properly protecting and caring for them.  Who would legally make decisions regarding immunizations, sterilization, or euthanasia?  Who would be ultimately responsible to pay medical expenses?  Such a scenario could lead to veterinarians needing to obtain more extensive insurance -- a cost that could be reflected in their bills.

      For centuries, responsible owners have been able to protect the dogs they love because lawmakers and the courts have treated animals -- whether livestock or pets -- as property.  If that classification were to be changed from owner to guardian, the end result could be the end of our legal rights to keep and enjoy our much loved pets.

The AKC position statement "Guardian" V. Owner states: "The American Kennel Club supports the use of the term "owner" rather than "guardian" when referring to the keeping of dogs.  The AKC believes that the term guardian may in fact reduce the legal status and value of dogs as property and thereby restrict the rights of owners, veterinarians, and government agencies to protect and care for dogs.  It may also subject them to frivolous and expensive litigation.   The term guardian does nothing to promote more responsible treatment of dogs.  We strongly support efforts to educate the public about responsible dog ownership to ensure that all dogs receive the care, love and attention they deserve."

  Most of us do, indeed, love our dogs.  Let's also continue to be responsible dog owners. 

• Visit Maggie Blutreich at her website: www.BravoMinoan.net