The term "pet parent" has been around for a while. Often I hear people refer to their dogs as "fur children" or "children with four legs" and there may be other similar references. The reference to our dogs as children and members of our family is powerful and I would say a standard of acceptance in our society today. This is in part demonstrated by the money we spend on our dogs apparently increasing every year. But also by the love we feel toward our dogs. People are often vocal about their dogs and how much their relationship with their dog means to them.
Despite this obvious statement of love and commitment to our dogs viewed as members of our family, it seems our reference to ourselves is still often as a "pet owner". You might be saying there really is no difference between a pet owner and a pet parent. So let's discuss these two references and how they may indeed be different from each other.
PET OWNER - a pet owner is a term that has been used for years and years to describe human beings who "own" have a dog in their life. It has been perfectly acceptable and carries with it the responsibilities a human being has to a dog whom they consider belonging to them. The sense of a dog "belonging" to someone is reinforced by a few things.
-- We purchase dogs - we pay money for a dog. We purchase them in an interaction with money that exchanges indicating we now own this dog. Often times people will pay an lot of money to purchase a purebred and often the expectation is that the dog will make money for the human as a result of this financial investment in the dog. Perhaps become a winning show dog, or breed the dog to sell the puppies. This reinforces the concept of "ownership" of a dog. At some level most people are influenced by this way of thinking about a dog as an object that is owned as a result of being purchased for money. We equate dogs to a monetary value. We equate ourselves to "owning" our dog.
--Grammar objectifies all animals - Our grammar objectifies all animals. When I was writing my first book whenever I referred to dogs as he or she the software I was working on would automatically correct me and tell me to be correct I had to refer to the dog as it or that. I spoke with my editor about it and she suggested I write a disclaimer at the beginning of the book to satisfy the grammar critics, which I did. I wanted to refer to dogs throughout my book and in all my writing and conversations as the sentient beings they are.
--Laws define dogs as property - our laws define dogs as property and many divorce situations find this challenging in the process of settlement. Dogs are often fought over for who will retain custody because our laws are black and white about them being property only. Dogs are found to be at risk in other legal situations as well. Being regarded as property is opposite to the sentient beings our dogs are.
Food for Thought - When we think of dogs as objects or property we purchase and refer them as objects like it and that, on some level it just makes it easier to surrender a dog or treat them as more of an object versus the sentient being they are.
PET PARENT - When people refer to themselves as a pet parent, they are saying they regard their dog as a member of their family but more importantly they view their role as a pet parent as different from that of a dog owner. The term pet parent focuses on the human being more than the dog.
--Integrates the dog into the family as a full fledged family member - a pet parent embraces their dog as a true family member. The dog is respected and loved as a the sentient being they are. Acknowledging the dog experiences feelings is much different than viewing a dog as an object. Developing a bond and a relationship with the dog built on trust and respect is critical to a parent-dog relationship. Providing the dog with socialization and training using only positive training techniques is key. Educating yourself about your dogs physical and emotional needs is essential. A pet parent does all these things and more. A pet parent views them self as the responsible partner in the relationship to provide food, shelter, love and medical care in addition to love and building a relationship with their dog. A pet parent also commits to their relationship with their dog until the very end. A pet parent lives up to their role in the relationship.
--Language is important - a pet parent refers to their dog as he or she. They know the power of language and also know language can change behavior. If we shift our thinking to dogs as sentient beings and not objects and we refer to them in the sentient sense of he or she, we will have an impact on not only our own thinking but that of others as well.
Food for thought - as pet parents we make a shift in our thinking from pet owner to pet parent. We think of ourselves differently. The focus is primarily on our role in the relationship with our dog. We are responsible to be informed, educated, and loving in all we do with our dog. Our dog benefits from our shift in thinking from owner to parent. This shift needs to be intentional. I remember when I first began considering what I wanted to refer to myself as in my relationship with my dogs. I found myself saying pet owner without thinking. I didn't have to work long to change it to pet parent but it was definitely a conscious effort. My hope is that others who view themselves as pet parents will make this same conscious effort to address them self as "pet parent" at all times. This will promote others to think about how they perceive themselves in their relationship with their dogs and more and more people will refer to themselves as the pet parent they genuinely and already are.
Being a pet parent is so much more rewarding than being a pet owner. Your dog will thank you!
Woofs & Smiles!