What’s the Difference Between Pet Ownership and Pet Guardianship?

If you’ve ever thought of your pet dog, cat, rabbit, bird, or other animal as a member of the family, then perhaps you should consider becoming an animal guardian to your furry friend. Currently, from a legal standpoint, you are the “owner” of your pet. Similar to the way we own our cars and homes, we own our pets as property. With that being said, the law currently recognizes that pets are not the same kind of property as cars and homes. Individual states have humane care laws protecting pets from abuse and neglect.

But many people feel that pets are more than just property. For many families and individuals, pets are children whose identity and role transcends that of simple ownership. If you feel like your pet is one of your children and treat them as such, then you’re effectively acting as parent, or “guardian,” of your pet. Here’s more information to help you make the transition from one status to the other, should you so desire.

becoming an animal guardian

The Legal Difference Between a Guardian and an Owner

Under the United States Constitution, an “owner” has legal rights of their property under due process of the law. The government can’t seize a pet from an owner without stringent legal procedures.

A “guardian,” on the other hand, doesn’t have as much independence. With guardianship, the guardian shares legal responsibilities with the courts and other third parties.

The Shift From Ownership to Guardianship

As the language about how we view our pets begins to change, many legal questions are presented. When we think of our pets as more than just property, we begin to see the pet as more than just an asset of the owner—instead, we begin thinking of the best interests of the animal.

When we become guardians of our pets, we become the caretakers, interested solely in nurturing the wellbeing of our animal friend. The ASPCA has now acknowledged and recognized the term “guardianship” to better reflect the relationship between many humans and their pet companions.

Legal Complications and Complexities

While the idea of acknowledging your pet as a member of the family rather than as an object to be owned seems simple, there are some complexities to be aware of when it comes to putting this change in language into practice.

For example, when we acknowledge a guardian/child relationship as opposed to owner/property relationship, a lot of pressure gets put on the way healthcare and treatment is administered to animals.

Currently, if you decide that you don’t want to provide your animal with medical treatment, by law that is not illegal. But if you were the legal guardian of your pet, you would be liable for all necessary medical treatment, including x-rays and surgeries.

Many pet owners out there cannot afford to give their pet the medical treatment that they would give their child, and so might be forced to go into debt to pay for treatment, or worst case, euthanization procedures.

How Does the Debate Between Pet Ownership and Guardianship Change the Way We Think of Animals?

The shift to using language of guardianship around our pets raises questions about how we view all animals. If an animal is not a pet, does that mean that it doesn’t deserve the same rights as an animal that is a pet? Is it moral to consider some animals our children while we still use animals for testing human products and for consumption?

Before we can truly uplift the status of our pets, we must grapple with moral questions about where animals fit into our society in general. In deciding whether to use language of guardianship with our pets, we must confront the status of all animals, pets and otherwise.

So Should You Become a Guardian to Your Pet?

With all of the legal jargon about ownership versus guardianship put aside, the relationship between you and your pet can transcend that of ownership and property. Pets are so often part of our family—we often feel the same love, compassion, and empathy towards our pets as we do our children.

So while the language of guardianship versus ownership presents many complications, there’s nothing wrong with thinking of your pet as a child. The word “owner” can’t begin to describe the loving relationship you have with your pet. The legal status of animals may not become clear anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep treating your dog like your child.

Author: Giano Panzarella