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In Defense of Animals' Guardian Campaign seeks to improve our relationship with companion animals


By changing the language we use to describe something, we change the way we view what we are describing.  The Guardian Campaign, created by In Defense of Animals (IDA) in 1999, is a strong step forward in helping people to view non-human animals as more than mere property, commodities or things, and to value them as what they are: fellow beings worthy of respect, care and love.  To achieve this, IDA asks cities to simply change the word "owner" to "guardian" in animal-related legislation.  This may sound like an insignificant change, but the effects can make a world of difference for companion animals.

Bumper Sticker Wisdom: Humans Aren't The Only Species On Earth - We Just Act Like It

Mankind's notion that we own everything, including animals, is the underlying rationale for many forms of exploitation and abuse.  These include the exploitation and abuse of our fellow humans, non-human animals and the very planet upon which we all live.  With the ultimate goal of alleviating the unnecessary suffering and death of non-human animals, the Guardian Campaign encourages those who value animals to turn language into action by working to have their cities replace the term “owner” with "animal guardian" in animal-related ordinances.

As we would with our children, thinking of ourselves as "animal guardians" rather than "pet owners" suggests that the non-human animals with which we have chosen to share our lives and our homes have more value and inherent worth than some disposable possession we might get rid of on a whim. When our friends and neighbors hear us use such language, they begin to rethink their attitudes toward their own companion animals.  In this way, small but significant strides are being made in reducing animal abuse and neglect.

A recent example of animal neglect resulting in death illustrates a need for improvement in our attitudes toward non-human animals.   Boca Raton schoolteacher Allison Dinsmore was charged with felony animal cruelty after allowing her cats to starve to death while left unattended for several weeks in her otherwise unoccupied apartment.  Treating her cats as if they were furniture suggests a lack of understanding that these were living beings requiring care and nurturing, not mere objects to be looked at and dusted on occasion. 

After such an event is publicized, some debate invariably ensues as to whether it is important to fight for animal rights when there is so much human suffering in the world.  "After all, they're only animals" is a common refrain.  I would like to respond to such comments by saying that, while I am passionate about human rights (as are all of the animal rights advocates I have met), my personal choice is to be a voice for the voiceless.  In many cases, humans are able to do such things as prepare food, say "no", use telephones and ask for help.  In no case can a non-human animal do any of those things.  Therefore, in my opinion, it is incumbent upon animal guardians to either provide responsible care for these dependent beings or to not keep them in their homes.

“Because so much animal abuse and neglect stems from viewing animals as disposable property, (the Guardian Campaign) is an important step in changing people’s consciousness and respect towards the animals with whom we share our lives.” – IDA President Elliot Katz

Dr. Katz has been on the forefront of the movement to replace the terms “pet” and “owner” with “animal companion” and “animal guardian.”  He calls this change in language part of a social “revolution” and compares this cause to the women’s suffrage movement and the emancipation of human slaves.

"The Guardian Campaign strives to bring about a more just, humane world by modeling responsible, caring and respectful language and behavior toward the animals and the people we encounter at home, in school and in our community." - The Guardian Campaign Mission Statement

The Guardian Campaign Goals

The goals of the Guardian Campaign can be found here and are as follows:

• To reinforce and improve levels of respect, responsibility and compassion toward all beings by encouraging children and adults to consider themselves and others as "guardians" of the animals in their community, rather than "owners" of property.

• To acknowledge through this verbal change the deep bond that forms between people and their animal companions.

• To recognize and appreciate the persons who consistently provide a safe, healthy, and loving environment for animals.

• To raise a new generation of children who have strongly internalized these ideals, and who will in turn better serve their communities as responsible guardians and citizens.

• To reconnect neighborhoods by restoring the values of empathy, protection, care and consideration toward family members, neighbors, children and animals in each community.

• To accomplish a historical shift toward a more humane public standard regarding animals by incorporating the term “animal guardian" into local and state ordinances.

• To render animal abuse, neglect, and abandonment socially unacceptable and to help increase child abuse and animal abuse case cross-reporting.

• To affect an increase in the number of animals rescued and adopted into good homes, a sustained reduction in the number of animals killed in shelters, and a sustained reduction in the number of animals sold for personal and/or commercial profit.

Sadly, one does not need to look far to see evidence of animal neglect and abuse in cities throughout the United States. 

Some of the cities that have recently passed ordinances to use guardian language include Santa Clara County and Imperial Beach, California; Bloomington, Indiana; and San Jose, California.  With 19 cities so far, IDA is aggressively working to put more Guardian Cities on the map.

You can help your community become the next Guardian City by working with local officials to incorporate "guardian" language into city ordinances.  Visit IDA’s Guardian Cities page to see whether your city is there.  If it is not, please call (415) 388-9641, ext 225 to speak with IDA President, Dr. Elliot Katz or email him.  He will send you a Guardian Pack with information to help guide you in how to make your city a Guardian City.

To date, over 5,941,602 Americans and Canadians have been officially recognized as "animal guardians."  With your help, this number can become even higher, as can our society’s consciousness wherever non-human animals are concerned.
For more info: In Defense of Animals homepage


  • Jennifer 5 years ago

    What an eye-opening article. From now on, I will consciously use the term "guardian" instead of "owner". Thank you!! Can't wait for your next piece :)

  • GAYLE 5 years ago

    Wonderful article! You make a better pet guardian than some parents to children!!!
    Looking forward to your next article. Thanks

  • Jeannie 5 years ago

    Well done, Keith! I'd much rather consider myself a guardian of my furry companions rather than their owner. I loathe the notion of slavery of human beings, why should it be any different for our non-human beings?

  • Christina Parodi 5 years ago

    You've really opened my eyes! Bravo...I agree with changing words, changes attitudes. Thanks for your advocacy for those who cant advocate for themselves.

  • Cheryl 5 years ago

    Very enlightening, Keith! As a conservation practitioner who deals with sensitive issues at the environment-public interface, I wholeheartedly endorse the notion that language is everything! Still, I cannot consider myself as my cat's guardian. He considers himself superior to me in every way. I guess he's *my* guardian.

  • Nina Council 5 years ago

    Thank you for promoting the idea that we are guardians rather than pet owners. I personally always considered animals my best friends and today especially horses who are listed as livestock. That catagory must be changed to domestic to present thousands from going to slaughter as food. I work with animal rights group and we all look upon animals as our dear friends

  • Lisa 5 years ago

    I've always considered myself as my cats guardian. Actually, I feel privileged to have them. I don't have any children, so,in a sense, they ARE my children and I would put my life on the line for any of them.

  • Joni 5 years ago

    Hopefully your very well written article will help to open the eyes, minds, and hearts of all people and will bring a true sense of understanding of just what a guardian is. Keep up the good work and continue, please, to speak for those that cannot speak for themselves.

  • Dave 5 years ago

    I remember reading about this concept a few years back, and ever since I've tried to implement it. I'm glad to finally find out who started it. Way to go!

  • johanna pizzo 5 years ago

    Great article Guardian is a good word

  • Sharon Pet Rescue Examiner 5 years ago

    What a great story to cover about IDA. I had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Katz last week. He is such an inspiration. I hope I can do half the job you did in your story for the article I will be writing about the group. Did you know they posted your story on their website?

  • Keith - Boca Raton Animal Rights Examiner 5 years ago

    Thanks, Sharon (and everyone else)! I saw that IDA linked to my article in their IDA News a week or two ago, but I had no idea I made the website, too! I'm honored...

  • Louche 5 years ago

    mmm.. Keith, I appreciate this article, and the respect it offers to nonhumans. What others call "pets," I call animal companions. Though "guardian" may be an accurate term, I question the concept of perpetual guardianship as opposed to companionship. I am not objecting to it; I just think it should be examined further.

    I would love to think that legally changing the term from "owner" to "guardian" would open people's eyes, and maybe it will. However, I think we're treading on very dangerous ground. The fact is that animals ARE property on the law books, and simply changing what we call our ownership status without actually changing that ownership status could be a linguistic disaster. Then people will say, "I don't own my pets. I am their guardian. Don't try to tell me about changing that now!"

    I dunno, frankly. I would just never mention the idea of changing the word without changing the actual law. You want to fight for guardianship? Fine. Then do it; don't just slap on a new