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What is the problem with calling my dog a ‘pet’

Often, people who share their homes with dogs or cats think nothing of using the words “pet” and “owner,” because these are terms everyone grew up using. However, according to PETA, this type of language is unkind to your friends. If people can stop using ‘pet,’ they say, it would make for a kinder, more animal-loving approach to having companions.

A world in a word

PETA says that thinking of animals as ‘owned,’ or equivalent to things, perpetuates the harmful notion that animals are objects. This is the explanation behind why some people buy dogs and then discard them soon after when the demands of caring for a sentient being become too much of a burden.

This creates several problems; first, it promotes a culture of apathy about life in general. When you can easily rid yourself of a dog like it were a coat from last year, you become more likely to numb yourself to other issues involving animals.

Second, it leads to the displacement of animals. While some people are sensible enough to find new homes for their friends, others merely leave them on the street, adding to the population of homeless animals.

Third, this culture of buying and discarding leads to consumerism and high demand for store-bought animals. Unfortunately, some pet retail stores are actually animal mills; they don’t have high ethical standards for breeding domestic creatures.

Speak to power

In a study published by The Journal of Animal Ethics, words like “pest,” “vermin,” and “pet” colour the way people view animals. These terms are derogatory, the journal claims, and objectify animals.

When a dog is called a ‘pet,’ and a human is its ‘owner,’ it implies that the human can do anything to it, because the dog is property. Because of that, they also justify cruel behavioural modification practices. Thinking of animals as pets or vermin reduces their living experience to stimulus and response and disregards the fact that animals have emotions, can remember their companions, and are capable of empathy.

Moving forward

The researchers and PETA agree that the way humans think of animals is constantly evolving. When PETA first came out with their appeal to stop using derogatory language, a lot of people reacted negatively. Some people say it does not matter what people call their companions because what matters is how the animals are treated.

Other people accused PETA of hypocrisy, linking to tables of data on the organisation’s involvement in animal euthanasia. Many people have strong opinions on the subject, which is understandable, considering it has to do with domestic animals. People share great bonds with their animal friends.

From a public relations perspective, PETA might have done well with more forethought, and better handling of the tweets that came after their announcement. However, it does not change the fact that there are people out there who absolutely treat their companions in a horrible way.

On a related note, there are words that people from 50 years ago used normally, which people today would not because we have grown to see these words as hurtful. After all, when we speak, when we use terms like ‘pet’ and ‘pest,’ the ones who immediately understand us are other humans. They are the ones for whom this type of language is normalised. Choosing words carefully shows respect for everyone around you and shows you think of the welfare of other beings. Meanwhile, if you cannot help but use the term, always be mindful of its effects.

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