When I was growing up, I had a friend in West Windsor who had a pet cat. He told me one day that it didn’t matter what he said to the cat as long as he used a soothing tone when he said it. He proceeded to demonstrate by saying some of the most ugly things I had ever heard a twelve year old boy say all with a cooing tone. I noted at the time that the cat didn’t seem to mind all too much.

Now it seems that even referring to my friend’s cat as his pet is an insult — and that we should not use terms such as pet because that is a demeaning term according to some academics.

[The study] argues that “derogatory” language about animals can affect the way that they are treated.

“Despite its prevalence, ‘pets’ is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers,” the editorial claims.

“Again the word ‘owners’, whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use without moral constraint.”

Perhaps I am just an insensitive pet owner — or, if you will go by the suggestion of the academics, an insensitive human carer of a companion animal. However, it seems to me that there are far worse things than the words which we use to describe the animals living in our homes. The academics say that the animals will be treated differently because of the words being used to refer to them — what about the fact that they are being cared for in the first place?

After all, for many an animal the life they led before being brought into the homes of their human carer was far worse than the one that they started living upon moving into their new homes. This is not only limited to the cats and dogs that I see in advertisements, the goal of which is to get you to feel sad for the animals that need protection and therefore fund the organizations which make the commercials. (I’m sure the organizations are worthy but I can’t afford to give money every time I hear Sarah McLachlan singing to me.) Rather, even animals that live in the best of shelter facilities do not have it as well off as animals living in proper adoption homes.

I asked my wife for her thoughts on this and she told me that in her family, they never referred to their animals as pets. For example, the other day I heard Elizabeth’s mother saying to one of their pets (that Elizabeth adopted many years ago) , “Fallon (her adopted cat’s name is inspired by the comedian Jimmy Fallon) your mommy is on the phone.” I have also heard Elizabeth telling Abby that her daddy was coming home soon.

I suppose that means that for some people, the ideas put forth in the article are natural. Elizabeth has told me that she and her family treat animals as though they were members of the family and therefore would not even consider using terms like pet and owner.

It seems foreign to me but I suppose that is just what I get for never having had a normal pet (animal companion) in my life — it was always something odd like a turtle or parakeet or even a school of sea monkeys. Now, however, I have my own little girl in the form of Abby. I just have to bear in mind that she’s just a member of the family — not always easy when she refuses to listen.

10 Comments

  1. I wasn’t aware of this naming issue and the Owner/Pet or Master/Slave issue when it comes to animals. I’m not sure it matters if it doesn’t matter to the pet/member-of-the-family. Our cat Jack had a sixth sense that he knew when he was being teased or mocked — even if you used the “cat voice” to speak to him. I think cats are more about instinct than labels. They know if you’re a good person or not. They know you must obey them if you ever hope for happiness.

    1. I think it’s yet another in a long list of studies that are completely unnecessary and unneeded. I think most animals have a better sense of what is going on than we sometimes think — though darn it all if I didn’t wish that Abby would just stop scratching that recliner!

  2. Such studies forget the single most important point – the difference between an animal and a human. I for one love my parrot Maddy and my cat Poxy (it was a vagrant cat that adopted us) and they may be in their own way intelligent, have that sixth-sense mentioned above – which is sensing our emotions (aggression, care, affection etc) but I NEVER will discredit either them or myself by affording them humanity.

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