You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, May 7, 2013 : 3:49 p.m.

Is using the term 'pet owner' such a bad thing?

By Lorrie Shaw


Lorrie Shaw | Contributor

Being so immersed in the culture of pets, I find no shortage of ways things are changing and evolving when it comes to our relationships with companion animals.

One sticking point I'm often caught in the middle of is the use of terms like "pet owner," "guardian" and "pet parent."

In fact, I interjected this conundrum and my own thoughts about it on social media several weeks ago, and the responses were sometimes scathing.

It wasn't surprising — that level of emotion often accompanies the idea of referring to our pets in a way people feel is more or less than they deserve prompted me to raise the topic then, and to write about it now.

I guess as someone who works with pets and their people every day, I find it natural to fall somewhere in the middle. I'm not trying to please anyone with the words that I personally use.

The only ones I have a desire to ultimately appease are the animals themselves. I'm all about mindfulness, relationship building and care-giving when it comes to my interactions with pets.

Do I use the term "mum and dad" when referring to my own gang? Yes, albeit loosely, but that's a personal preference. I realize that others feel differently about the terminology: there are some that abhor the reference, which has historically been used for humans only, while others vehemently defend their use of the words.

One could say that both sides are understandable.

I've used it when referring to clients, and I know that other pet sitters and clinicians do as well.

The phrase "pet parent" has created quite a stir recently. As I noted on Twitter and Facebook, I notice more people using it when referring to others with pets mostly, and companies that are geared toward pets are using it to sell their goods — appealing to the sensibilities of caring people who have pets.

"Wise pet parents choose this product because they care about their dog's well-being..."

Some pet professionals have started using the phrase, and that's understandable, given the overall shift that is being seen.

It's interesting to note that we are in a unique state of flux when it comes to how our culture views companion animals.

What I find is that much of it can be generational. Previously, many members of our society saw animals like dogs and cats quite differently. Animals were in most cases not treated poorly, necessarily, but the culture of sharing life with pets has gotten much more attention now.

The fact is that we've come to understand companion animals better. That, coupled with the standard that pets are largely kept indoors — the shift in how pets are referred to is natural, I think. They're woven in our everyday lives. Plus, they need a fair amount of attention, care and mindfulness from us.

I have to say that for me, I don't have the same angst as others do when it comes to using the phrase "pet owner." I've been chided for that.

I do admit to finding the reference "pet parent" cringeworthy. A recent blog post by JC Little (who is an amazing visual storyteller) really helps illustrate why.

Despite my being childless, I understand that raising a child is far different than sharing life with a pet, no matter the species, or the sleepless nights or the training or the care or money that is put into our furry and feathered family members.

I will never equate the role that I have in my pet's life to that a human does in the life of a child that they are raising. Ever.

I think that references such as calling myself Gretchen's "human" or "caregiver" or "person" are just swell. That's what is comfortable for me.

But at the end of the day, it is the actions of someone who shares life with a pet that speak louder than any word or title. Maybe we just need to focus on how we are caring for our pets, asking, "Do they have everything that they need to thrive? Am I spending enough time with them? Am I doing all that I can to nourish our relationship?"

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.



Thu, May 9, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

The terminology I use depends on who or what I'm referring to. I have no problem saying that my dog has "mommy issues" when he's upset about being separated from me. But I don't refer to other dog owners (there it is) as "mommy" or "daddy" because I think it's disrepectful. I don't know how they would feel about it so I take the high road and hope that formality trumps terms of endearment. If I see an unescorted dog, I might ask it, "Where's your human?" I never get an answer but that's usually because the dog is busy enjoying his/her freedom for a few moments.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 5:55 p.m.

Yes it is. You don't own it. Yes, it is property but how can you own your own child? Pet children is more suitable. Pet parent?

Sarah Rigg

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

I have a number of thoughts about this, some maybe conflicting. First, I agree that there's a generational aspect to this. I find that older people see their role a much more of a caregiver and owner, while younger generations see pets as "part of the family." I think the older generation attitude isn't necessarily a bad one. It's related to the Biblical idea of humans being the stewards of the earth. A steward takes careful care of the household and all in it, including the animals. Secondly, I agree that whatever term is used (i.e. "pet owner" vs. "dog daddy" etc.) what's much more important is the day-to-day interactions and the way the person treats the pet. However, I do believe that words shape our reality, and that the words you choose to use have an effect on others. The idea of "pet ownership" clearly makes animals a commodity, something I have issues with (same reason that while I find pet adoption to be a noble cause, I don't like "two for one" deals at shelters). That doesn't mean that I would jump down someone else's throat for using the term, just that I personally don't like the connotation.

Ann English

Sat, May 11, 2013 : 11:30 p.m.

I think the veterinary hospital that treated my dogs had receipts with blanks for Owner and Animal to be filled in. Certainly not Parent and Furry Child followed by blanks to be filled in. I once took part in a "baby shower" for someone who got a new kitten. The more I watched him open his kitten-care presents, the more right such a party looked. It's been over a decade since and I imagine others hold such "new pet showers" in the meantime.

J. Sorensen

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 8 a.m.

True you can't compare having a pet to raising a child, but also having never had kids, I did adopt my girls, who look to me for food, shelter & love, so in my own way I consider myself their human mom, and they are my furry kids. Let the negative remarks begin, I'm not going to love my "kids" any less or disrespect anyone elses relationships with humans or animals!

tom swift jr.

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 9:28 p.m.

Bottom line, words are just words. People's relationship with the animals that live with them should be judged on the quality of life they provide.