I have not thought of my animals as pets for years. Fur kids, companion animals, mute wards … but “pet” doesn’t really come close to describing either of my two current fur kids.
Conrad has way too much personality for me to refrain from anthropomorphizing him. He is most definitely not just a pet. I have even contemplated getting the paperwork to officially making him a working dog and name him as my “emotional support” dog. There are all kinds of things people do related to their pets that I would NEVER do to Conrad, such as flying an animal in the cargo hold of a commercial airliner, or leaving him unattended in the backyard. The thought of him feeling abandoned, feeling fear, or even just worry leaves a vacuous cavern of despair in my chest. Of course I am sure he worries all the time about regular dog things, like a car door slamming or how many cookies is he going to get today. But voluntarily placing my animal in a situation I would never subject myself or a child to? Probably not ever.
With a horse, obviously the dynamic changes. Any of us who ride probably don’t consider our horses as just pets. But I also don’t consider Eli just a companion animal, either. He’s my partner in sporting pursuits … like doubles tennis … but not. He doesn’t get to snuggle up on the couch next to me because horses’ needs are different than dogs’ needs when it comes to human interaction. Remember that horses, like dogs, are domesticated animals and have been for millennia. Horses rely on humans–that is the nature of domestication. You can’t set Hidalgo free into the desert and expect him to make it a week (that ending was so freaking stupid and I saw it coming the first fifteen minutes into the movie). But at the same time, horses can’t curl up at the foot of your bed (except maybe minis?). This makes me no less responsible for making sure Eli’s needs are met. As my partner in sport, I also must make sure he is fit mentally and physically for the level of competition I expect out of the both of us.
So for me, the relationship I have with my animals is not one of owner/pet, although for the most part that would be how the law treats it, and as an owner the law requires I take on certain responsibilities regarding my animals’ welfare. But even in the eyes of the law, animal welfare, and whether animals are property, and whether animals are sentient, emotional beings (we all say, duh, of course they are but the law doesn’t work that way) are being called into question and pushed into unknown territory, liberating some animals from horrifying circumstances. Under the law, animals’ rights are expanding.
Compassion is powerful. Empathy is powerful. I feel these for my animals. They are not my property, not my pets. Honestly, without my animals, my emotional depth simply wouldn’t exist like it does today. Animals are truly innocent beings, and to consider them anything less than loving companions and partners would fall short of my emotional commitment to them.
If you are interested in exploring the legal landscape of animal rights, I suggest starting with this LLRX post.
Most recently, the Oregon Supreme Court found that dogs are not merely property.