Pet 'guardianship' vs. ownership: Ft. Lauderdale tries it again
This issue keeps raising itself like a mummy from the same darn tomb in that awful movie you’ve likely seen thirty times over. I thought they killed it the last time, you mutter as you gnaw away at your microwave popcorn. How many times can this one really come back to life?
The issue is seemingly intractable. This time the City of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is considering legislation to change the designation of pet “owners” to “guardians” by way of improving the lives of animals within its city limits.
This change in language is intended to shift the “pets as property” paradigm, where your pet’s life is worth no more than what you paid for “it” to one where pets are considered more like children under the law. They’d have intrinsic rights the municipality would need to protect by law.
It’s a laudable goal, but it’s a big job with enough ramifications to sprout a monster Bougainville bush within seconds of its passage.
You’d think they’d have learned from the detailed discussions in a myriad of US municipalities that this issue is a minefield. A Pandora’s Box for which even a city like Ft. Lauderdale can’t muster enough hubris.
“Guardianship” denotes child-like responsibility for all current owners towards their pets. And though I’m capable of taking care of my pets in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed, very much like children, not everyone can afford the kind of care my pets get.
If this law were passed, how would the guardianship police feel if I failed to spend the $4,800 on the surgery my Sophie required two months ago? If I wasn’t a veterinarian with access to a surgeon at cost, my Sophie would have lived the rest of her life on ineffectual pain relievers. No way would I have found the room on my credit cards to cram in that kind of expense. CareCredit would’ve turned me down flat at my level of indebtedness.
As it is, she’s a new dog. But does that mean that every client who can’t afford this kind of surgery is being cruel because we’d never expect they allow a child to languish in pain when a procedure is available to relieve it?
How would the guardianship police feel about failing to repair a leg when amputation would relieve the pain with a fraction of the expense?
Have a dog with severe hip disease? What’s wrong with you!? That hip replacement should’ve been done two years ago!
That’s exactly the kind of can of worms this legislation cracks open.
Prove you can’t pay for it isn’t good enough. Do it or else is more like it.
Sure, you’d think a guardian designation for pet owners might help for those who would abuse their creatures. But laws already exist for neglect, abuse and cruel treatment. What will guardianship buy us that these laws haven’t already?
On the surface, you’d think vets would love this legislation. It forces people to seek veterinary care for their pets, threatens them if they don’t choose the best methods and chastises them continually for their lapses in seeking out proper care.
But what’s the flip side for us? Bigger lawsuits? More paperwork? For sure. But we could live with that. The question is, can you? Can the City of Ft. Lauderdale even begin to pay for it?
In my estimation, the ultimate flip side is a decline in pet care. Fewer clients exposing themselves to scrutiny. Fewer pets total, especially among low to middle income individuals who might even abandon their charges.
And you might think that’s OK—if they can’t pay for ‘em they shouldn’t have them. But that’s a recipe for pet loss for all of us. It represents the tip of the iceberg for we who would love to everything possible for our pets but cannot afford to.
The US isn’t yet ready to consider “guardianship” of its pets. It takes a lot more than words to make something true. And we haven't yet proved, as a society, that more legislation around the issue of our pets' welfare does anyone any good--least of all our pets.
I know there’s more to this story than the movie I’ve just replayed. But I’m tired of it for now. I’ll leave it to you to agree with me, add to the storyline or contradict my plot. I’m game; go for it.