The welfare of companion animals, which are classified by U.S. law as property, is protected by special legislative measures, including anti-cruelty statutes and pet trust arrangements. While a companion-animal veterinarian's only contractual obligation is to the pet owner, the profession has the additional duty to protect and advocate for the pet's well-being. Hanging in the balance between these two commitments are such ethical issues as convenience euthanasia of healthy animals, feline onychectomy, and canine ear trimming and tail docking.
A current debate sparked by societal concerns about pets' rights focuses on legislative conversion of the term pet owner to pet guardian. Should such a change occur, it would significantly impact the relationship between people and their pets and place an undue burden of moral and fiduciary responsibilities on guardians. Under this new concept of a pet's best interests and rights, such well-accepted practices as in-house or leash confinement, neutering, and animal buying and selling would have to be curtailed or even banned. Furthermore, respect for a pet's right to medical care would obligate a guardian to assume full responsibility, regardless of his or her economic standing.
John Albers, DVM
Executive Director, American Animal Hospital Association
12575 W. Bayaud Ave.
Lakewood, CO 80228