In The Economist, December 3rd-9th, 2016
We are witnessing a vast growing social change: animal rights and animals’ social agency is acquiring power and standing in an accelerated speed. This week The Economist’s report on Airbnb’s pet accommodation solutions reveals this change manifesting through language, specifically, in a lexical choice.
More and more Americans see their pets as family members and call themselves pet parents rather than owners, The Economist reports.While this is more limited to dog girls and boys, the numbers of those who identify themselves as a parent is on the increase.
This change is not particularly new, the first instance recorded of this use dates back to 1976, according to Google Ngram. However, it is clearly visible that the trend is on the increase:
The identity of pet parents is reflected in other areas of care for example raw and organic dog food, dental hygiene, and..
that’s right- costumes. According to The Economist, this year Americans spent more than £400m on Halloween costumes for their animal children.
The ethics of having a ‘pet’ remain questionable as many adoptive parents (both of humans and non-human animals) fail to provide their children with adequate care. Although services offered by Rover, such as the development of apps that enable customers to see how far their dog has been walked via GPS in the host’s phone, ensure better care when the parents are away, companies of this kind will most likely be used by those who are already caring, knowledgeable and protective parents, who want the best for their furry child. What about those who adopt but don’t bother to learn about their child, their needs and abilities?
To broaden the ethical debate of pets, we should also consider the gray area. In other words, those parents whose care is motivated by financial reasoning. Let me illustrate it with an example. When the Linguini was studying to become a vet, I worked at first in the veterinary school’s large animal hospital, which mainly cared for farm animals, but most of our clients were horses and cows. In fact, our real clients were not the animals, but their owners. Owners, at least under the European law, have a god-like stature. They can decide if their pet will live or die. It is legal in the eyes of the law for said owner to request the vet to euthanize their pet without a medical reason. One of the cases I witnessed was of a young racehorse who had their leg broken when their driver miscalculated the distance of an obstacle. Although costly, the fracture was treatable and the horse would have made a full recovery, although it may have affected racing performance, so the vet reported to the owner who decided, after weighing the pros and cons for half a second, that the horse wasn’t worth it, and opted for euthanasia.
Conversely, there is another type of parent who do care, but are nevertheless unable to provide adequate care, resulting in tragedies. In the summers between vet school, I would work for a local vet who mainly treated small animals: dogs, cats, rabbits (and the occasional wildlife: hedgehogs and deer). Sadly, most of the treatments I supported were responses to care mismanagement. Once an owner rushed her dog in because he had eaten panties from the dirty laundry basket and had not been able to do his business due to bowl obstruction. Another incident involved a dehydrated (thankfully, that’s all it amounted to on that occasion) cat who got tumble-dried by accident. Although accidents do happen, adoptive parents should be properly trained and be equipped with the appropriate knowledge, time and patience to care for their children.
Finally, the semantic change from owner to parent is a positive one and it is heartwarming to see the definition of a family is being extended to include non-human animals, as well as same sex parenting, as so lovingly exemplified by this extraordinary family: