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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Pets" Is A Four Letter Word

Some headlines just grab you. Last week I saw one in my daily veterinary email list: "Calling animals 'pets' is insulting, academics claim". HUH? So of course I followed the link to the article (check it out here).

Apparently there is a new publication, the Journal of Animal Ethics, that discussed the "proper" terminology for animals. They came up with some surprising answers!

“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.”
It goes on: “We invite authors to use the words ‘free-living’, ‘free-ranging’ or ‘free-roaming’ rather than ‘wild animals’
“For most, ‘wildness’ is synonymous with uncivilised, unrestrained, barbarous existence.
“There is an obvious prejudgment here that should be avoided.”

"Pets" is a derogatory term?  Since when????  In my own practice we deliberately call our patients "pets" rather than "animals" because the former has an inherent connotation as a companion animal that shares our homes and is cared for by us.  It's a good term, not a derogatory one.  Frankly, I'd like to see how and why the authors came to think of it in a bad way.

And I'm sorry, but if you look at so-called "free-roaming" animals, I'm pretty sure that they qualify as "uncivilised" and "unrestrained".  Plus, "wild" has meanings other than the definition these authors give.  How many people enjoy a "wild night out"?  How many people describe a thrill ride as "wild", having obviously enjoyed it?

Domestic dogs, cats, hamsters or budgerigars should be rebranded as “companion animals” while owners should be known as “human carers”, they insist.

Okay, I can see a certain sense in getting away from the term "owners" and use "caretakers" or something similar.  I agree that the term goes back to when animals were only seen as property and not as companions.  But at the same time, this term is commonly used with no apparent negative intent or influence. 

Prof Linzey and his co-editor Professor Priscilla Cohn, of Penn State University in the US, also hope to see some of the more colourful terms in the English language stamped out.
Phrases such as “sly as a fox, “eat like a pig” or “drunk as a skunk” are all unfair to animals, they claim.
“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," they say.

I read things like this and I have to call bulls***.  This is political correctness gone rampant, and will do nothing to improve the perception or care of our pets and other animals.  Such PC thinking really irritates me, as it does nothing to further our society or understanding of animals or each other, and is mostly a waste of time.  I get just as bothered by PC talk and attitudes between humans and in politics as well, and think it can hamper our relationships and discussions more than help them. 

For example, let's take the debate on what to call people with dark brown to black skin.  We can't say "colored people" anymore.  So what about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People?  We can't say "negro" anymore, but there is the United Negro College Fund.  PC says that we're supposed to use the term African-American (here in the US, at least), yet Africa is a contient and not a country, and most people in Africa don't see them as long-lost relatives.  Plus, many of those people may have come from some of the Caribbean islands more recently than from Africa.  And what about Australian Aborigines?  They have similarly colored skin but we can't exactly call them of African descent.  I guess not many people get upset about saying "black".

We should be respectful to each other and to the pets and other animals in our care.  But if we get over-sensitive about certain terms we are going to be far too afraid to talk to each other or say anything remotely honest or negative.

And I have PETS, thank you very much!