Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pets or Companion Animals?

via The Daily Mail:  A recent article published in the Journal of Animal Ethics states that the language used to describe animals is derogatory and should be replaced.

The Journal of Animal Ethics, which is published by the University of Illinois Press, has been launched with the goal of widening international debate about the moral status of animals. The journal's editors, who are associated with the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and Penn State University, state that a change in vocabulary is essential to update our understanding of the relationship between humans and the natural world.

"Our existing language about animals is the language of past thought – and the crucial point is that the past is littered with derogatory terminology," the editors state. "We shall not be able to think clearly unless we discipline ourselves to use less than partial adjectives in our exploration of animals and our moral relations with them."

The editors argue that words such as brutes, beasts, and critters are derogatory terms - and even the word animals is a term of abuse because it doesn't adequately describe a "range of differentiated beings of startling variety and complexity."
They also believe that the words pet and owner hark back to a time when animals were seen as property and should be replaced by companion and caretaker.  In addition, they believe wild animals should be called free-ranging or free-roaming because "for most, wildness is synonymous with uncivilized, unrestrained, barbarous existence."

What do you think? Is a change in vocabulary necessary to improve our relationship with animals? Would changing our terminology about our pets help reduce animal cruelty and the number of homeless animals, or is it just an exercise in semantics?

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  1. Caretaker! Much better! I always cringe when saying or writing "owner". This brings up excellent points - thanks!!

  2. I think that is a good idea. We've all been guilty of using the wrong terms for yesrs.

  3. I worry that this will make people who might be indifferent now take us less seriously. I mean, look at when they tried changing "French fries" to "freedom fries." If people wish to refer to themselves as a caretaker instead of owner, I support that. I believe words are important, but I just don't think that people likely to abuse animals are going to change that behavior just because of terminology.

    And as a dog who lives in the wilderness...well, I've observed animals in the "wild" for many years and their existence IS uncivilized and unrestrained. Then again, I don't particularly view uncivilized and unrestrained as being derogatory ;)

  4. Thanks everyone for your comments. Max - I guess I agree with you. The people who really care about how we refer to animals are also the ones who really care about animals.

    I have no problem with using the words "companion" and "caretaker" because I think it accurately describes my relationship with my animals. But I don't see it changing the behavior of others, especially those who mistreat animals.

  5. The term "people" should also be replaced with "ignorant bipeds" "captors" or "oppressors." Time to stop incarcerating us and rationing our food.

  6. I'll let you lead that charge Mikey! :-)

  7. Changing language has always worked to change perceptions throughout history. In the shelter world, companion animals are often confused with service animals, and companion animal while a far more appropriate and respectful designator is unhandy for the general public and doesn't seem to stick well. We've been trying to make it stick for over a decade. Same with guardian - legal types find guardian impossible to work with, making every animal the possible end responsibility of the State. Caretaker is much better than owner, but I do prefer the warm and fuzzy family connection in this area over the arm's length feel that caretaker can confer.

    But yes, it is time to take a more serious and global look at how we relate to other species, understand their needs in relation to ours, and respect those needs as no less than our own. Changing vocabulary is a good beginning, and many things will change and grow because of it.

  8. Mary - thanks for your thoughtful comment.One thing I've noticed in the online pet community is that many people refer to the pets as their "furkids" and call themselves "pet parents". I think this reflects their view that their animals are part of their family and not property. So yes - the words we choose are important.