Recently, there has been a lot of buzz and debate in the pet industry on what terminology we should use to describe “pet people”—pet owner, pet guardian, or pet parent? This is a label I struggle with daily working in the pet industry. I admit, I have not been blessed with a human child, but I do have three dogs and three cats that
live in have taken over my house.
For some people, including myself, the term pet owner sounds “cold and impersonal.” I own a computer, a home, and a car, but I don’t feel that my pets are in the same category as my other possessions. My dogs have emotions, feelings and need constant care. This leads many people, including myself, to think “owner” is not a good word to use. This issue over terminology has caused many people to draw a line in the sand, and it has played out online in debates and arguments. What do you think? Are you a “pet parent” or a “pet owner”?
Not long ago, our companion animals that we now cherish so much were viewed very differently. Nowadays, most people don’t allow their pets to roam freely in the streets fending for themselves, they don’t leave their dogs outside chained to a doghouse year-round in all types of weather, nor do they perform cruel at-home “euthanasia.” My dogs live in the lap of middle class luxury with toys, soft fluffy beds, good quality food, regular vet care, and even clothes to wear (yes, I am that person who dresses their dogs). Since our view of pets as a society have evolved, shouldn’t our terminology, too?
According to a recent study conducted by Kelton Research, 54 percent of those with dogs in the family say they are a “pet parent” over a “pet owner,” and “58 percent of those are comfortable calling themselves nicknames such as ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy’ when referencing their dogs.”
Pet brands have taken notice and started to use the term “pet parent” in many of their marketing materials. Meanwhile, spending on pets is increasing, too. According to the American Pet Products Association, they estimate that total U.S. spending on pets will top $55 billion this year. The fact that we (people with pets) continue to spend at this rate or even higher shows that we have to feel emotionally and financially invested in the care and well-being of our pets. The term “parent” emphasizes and represents the meaning behind our investment.
On the other side of the argument, non-pet people do not approve of us calling ourselves parents. Some feel it may demean their status as parents and trivializes their relationships with their kids. However, I truly feel that using the word “parent” is not a sign of disrespect to the human parents. Those of us who consider ourselves pet parents realize a human parent’s bond is completely different than our bond with our pet, and human parents have a much harder job. At the end of the day, we can put our dogs in a crate and leave for hours at a time, while human parents would have child protective services called on them if they did this to their children.
Of course, I am biased. I feel that by using the term “pet parent,” it shows the world that we take our responsibility of dog ownership very seriously. We realize that these are breathing creatures and we have to provide and take care of them in exchange for their companionship.
No matter how you choose to define your relationship with your pet, I hope you are committed to providing the care they need for their entire lifetime including food, shelter, vet care, and most importantly, love! Regardless, I know that the next time my dogs crawl into my lap or lay down beside me on the couch to watch a movie with me—they are my fur kids, and I am their mom.