This is a hot button topic. I ask that you please take the time to read the post before firing off a comment. My goal is to start a discussion about a topic that I find interesting and I would like to try and understand if there’s a way to celebrate dogs, help homeless dogs, and work with both rescue and professional breeders as a blogger.
I’ve been calling myself a mommy to my pets most of my life. I was also the mom to Jackson Joel Stripe Morris Barnes (yes, that was his name) when I was 10 years old. I rescued my first dog, a Doberman Pincher, when I was 12 years old. I named him Dobie. His owner found him (I have a feeling my mom found his owner) a week later.
I’m a dog lover. Rescue, professional breeder – doesn’t matter – I love dogs and I love people who love dogs. So imagine my disappointment when I received the following message from a critic on my Facebook page…(the message has been truncated, you can see the entire message HERE)…
Do you have any idea how much damage you can do by offering this kind of information without the training and experience to back it up. Much of the language you use is that of the animal rights extremists – “furbaby”, “pet parent”. They are DOGS and I am their OWNER. I am not the mother of a dog…
This was the start of a long day on Facebook as I watched the drama that resulted in my choice to call myself a “dog mom.” Turns out that this was a continuation of another discussion about my use of the terms “hobby breeder” and “puppy mill.” Then I was informed that I was quoted (unnamed) in an article entitled Killing our dogs with blogs, one word at a time, in which the author failed to share the name calling that resulted in me discontinuing our dialogue – but I guess it’s about perception.
Proud to be a Dog Mom!
When I refer to myself as The Fur Mom or a dog mom, my intent isn’t to humanize our dogs. I use the terms to show my love and affection towards these amazing animals whom I have the pleasure of caring for every day; they’re my family. I also refer to myself as a dog owner, because according to the law if my boyfriend and I split up, the dogs come with me, because I pay for their care.
That being said, why are people upset about the use of the term “dog parent” or “dog mom?” Joan Hunter Mayer, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of Inquisitive Canine LLC shared that although she refers to herself and others as a dog parent, she recognizes that there are those who aren’t comfortable with this term and she uses the term “owner” if that’s the person’s preference.
Joan goes on to share that we’re seeing this transition from ownership to parenting as our “dogs are becoming more integrated into personal and professional lives. There’s a trend in the increase of dog-friendly places and opportunities, compared to decades past.”
So, To Each Their Own?
Okay, so I will call myself a dog mom while my neighbor calls himself a dog owner, and we all remain friends. Or is this societal faux pas (to some) destined to raiser barriers and create conflict in the dog lover community?
Nikki Moustaki, a professional writer who focuses mainly on pets, has seen the language change over time – going from owner to guardian. She says “the tides are turning.” However, Nikki doesn’t “appreciate the ‘pet parent’ designation.” She went on to share that by calling ourselves “guardian” and “companion,” we’re expressing that our pets have been entrusted to us; while the term “pet parent” says that we’re their mother (or father), which we’re not.
But Denise, of Sunny-Dog Ink, made a great point when she added that she feels “using the term “Parents” is important is that humans really need to understand adoption is for life. That when you make the commitment to take a cat or dog (or any animal) into your heart and home, it is for the lifetime of that pet.”
Why All the Hate?
I was most confused by the anger. I still don’t understand why my blog was labeled “anti-breeding”, because I call myself a “fur mom” and wrote a few blog posts about puppy mills; I would think that makes me anti-puppy mills. Nikki Moustaki helped me understand why…
“There is a political bent to calling a “pet” a “furkid” and an “owner” a “pet parent.” It is indeed a subversive attempt to use language to change the ideology surrounding animals, to make them as human as possible, so that animal rights legislation will be easier to pass. Changes in ideology happen at the language level all the time, manipulated by political strategists. I’m not saying that “pet parent” is wrong, but it is certainly a manipulation. Whether you are pro or con animal rights, you did not give birth to your dog.” ~ Nikki Moustaki
But I happen to think comments like “appreciate your dogs while you can still own them” are equally manipulative. Ruth Steinberger, Director of SpayFirst.org shared that the negative energy I experienced is due to the fear that some have of losing the right to treat their ‘property’ as they see fit “and therefore they are invested in keeping the status of dogs low.”
Professional Breeders, Puppy Mills and Stereotypes
One question that I have pondered since this began is – why would a professional, reputable breeder be offended by the term “puppy mill” when that isn’t reflective of what they do?
A local professional breeder (she chose to remain unquoted) was kind enough to explain that the terms “backyard breeder” and “hobby breeder” were once positive and represented different types of professional, reputable breeders. Today, these terms are lumped into the bucket with “puppy mill” and have a negative bent, which is why they’re seen as offensive to some professional breeders.
Having been on the receiving end of someone else’s stereotype, I can empathize.
I’m a Dog Mom and a Dog Owner
But “pet parent” doesn’t feel at all the same to me as “dog mom” or “cat dad.” Those terms feel casual, warm, friendly and only half-serious. “Pet parent” lacks any feeling of authenticity, of being a genuine, spontaneous description of how we feel about our pets. It sounds like what it is: marketing language.
Guardianship or Ownership
Once I opened this can of worms, I realized that I needed a nap. Barbara Pflughaupt suggested that I speak with Patti Strand of NAIA. After my recent experience, I was terrified to speak with Patti and broke out in a cold sweat when this nice woman answered the phone. I identified myself and my beliefs and we had a pleasant conversation.
The NAIA website has a section on guardianship that explains that the concern about changing from pet owners to pet guardians results from the change in the laws in a few a few cities and one state (Rhode Island) where “animal ownership has become a fuzzy issue that may lead to situations where government can revoke guardianship for violation of an ever-increasing list of forbidden or restricted practices.” You can read more about the impact of Rhode Island’s laws HERE.
Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a holistic veterinarian whom I respect immensely, feels that “it is a slippery slope if we do away with the property distinction. If we are changed to being designated our pet’s guardians, versus their owners we would be opening up all sorts of pet professionals to potential law suits as well inviting scrutiny and more government involvement into our personal lives.”
Pet companionship laws are being raised around the country as cases are being taken to court for “loss of companionship” when a pet owner loses a cat or dog. One concern over a change is how it’ll impact veterinarian care. If vets have to carry a form of malpractice insurance as protection against lawsuits, that’ll raise the cost of veterinarian care and increase the number of unnecessary procedures as our vets cover their butts. Is this a true potentiality? I don’t know, but it has made me wonder.
Censorship or Sharing
One thing I took offense to was the repeated request to stop using terms like dog mom, pet parent, reputable breeder, hobby breeder, puppy mill followed immediately by insults. What resulted was a growing chasm between two sides.
I don’t think of myself as a popular blogger. I don’t have hundreds of thousands of visits to my blog. I just write about my dogs. But maybe it’s not just about me anymore. I have a growing audience, social media presence, and radio program. Do I have influence too?
I take offense at being compared to an animal extremist or told that I’m like a drunk and abusive husband, but maybe it wasn’t the message, but the delivery that I need to take issue with. Rudeness aside, what is a dog blogger’s responsibility when it comes to language and sharing in an anti-breeding political environment?
Someone Will Always Take Offense
Professional dog trainer Val DeSantis told me “when you enter the public arena, you leave yourself open for some kind of attack…[there is a] lack of empathy towards our fellow man. Should it be any wonder that that spills over into the dog world?”
I have a better understanding of why certain terms are offensive to dog breeders. Calling a dog owner an animal extremist, because she publicly expresses her love of her dogs is extreme. We can’t move forward by tearing each other down. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but we have got to find a better way to communicate disagreement.
So what are your thoughts?
Do you think we, as a dog loving community should rethink our language? And do you think popular bloggers are held to a different standard, because they have a larger impact on the online, dog loving community?