Mind Over Miller: Cracking the code: Who's taking care of our pets?


Mind Over Miller: Cracking the code: Who's taking care of our pets?

Sep 01, 2013

Robert M. Miller, DVM
Our clients no longer "own" their pets. Our patients do not have "owners" any longer. A well-known radio pet show host calls them guardians. A popular dog magazine refers to people who have dogs as parents.

And what if one owns a guard dog? Can one be a "guardian" of a guard dog? Who guards whom? And whatever happened to the term watchdog? Does a watchdog need a guardian?

How about disabled pets? Are we owners or guardians or parents to them? Or are we caretakers? Assistants? Nurses? Which is it?

No, the little one is my watch dog. The big one is my pet. I am his guardian.
If I must choose, the term parent seems more logical to me. I don't think a guardian is automatically responsible for the medical bills of his or her guarded individual, whereas a parent is responsible.

But wait! According to the dictionary, a parent is a father or mother, or it is someone who has begotten or borne a child. Can one, therefore, parent a pet? Isn't that against the law? In fact, isn't that physiologically improbable? If it were possible, wouldn't the offspring be known as a hybrid, rather than a pet?

All of this confuses me, especially since my pets own me. It used to be clear to me—it was back in 1927 when I was born, and it was still clear in 1956 when I became a veterinarian. But now I don't know.

These changes in terminology have legal implications, too. For example, if the owner/guardian/parent of a dog bites somebody, that owner/guardian/parent is legally responsible. So if a child bites a stranger, is the child's parent similarly liable? What if a child bites someone else's dog? Who's responsible for the veterinary bill? The parent? Which parent?

And here's another problem: If we are now parents to our pets, whose name goes on the registration papers—the sire's, the dam's, or the owner's? Excuse me, I mean the parent's. No wait, the guardian's.

You see, all of this was created to separate ownership of things from ownership of living things. So we can own a house, a car, a motorcycle, or an endoscope, but henceforth we can't own a dog or a cat. We can parent them or guard them, but no longer can we own them. And what about horses, goats, or hamsters? What about cattle or chickens? How about goldfish? They're all living things, too. I guess you could even ask about rosebushes or elm trees. But now you're just being silly.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at http://robertmmiller.com/.