Do You Have a Pet or a Companion? Words Matter
When writing about animals and all things veterinary, I struggle with something pretty basic — word choice. For example, should I call the people who have brought animals into their homes and are responsible for them “owners,” “pet parents,” or “caretakers?” Each term carries with it a whole host of baggage.
Do we truly own our animals? From a legal standpoint, yes we do, but the moral and ethical debate is ongoing. Personally, I find the phrase “pet parent” a little too cutesy for everyday use, to say nothing about the fact that “parenting” children and animals are two very different experiences.
And what about the word “pet”? I’m not a big fan, but I haven’t found a good alternative. “Companion animal” is the most accurate replacement, but whenever I try to use it more than once or twice in a post it starts sounding contrived. Doing away with “companion” and sticking with just “animal” wrongly removes people from the equation. When I’m talking about dogs and cats, I can say “dogs and cats,” but that gets a little old after awhile and certainly doesn’t work when I’m talking about issues that involve dogs, cats, horses, chinchillas, birds, rabbits, potbelly pigs, and so on.
Should I refer to an individual animal as “it”? From a grammar standpoint, I like the fact that “it” eliminates the awkward use of “he or she” and “him or her,” but I don’t like referring to everyone with masculine pronouns (that’s the feminist in me coming out, I guess). On the other hand, when I use all feminine pronouns I feel like I’m trying to make a point better addressed in a different discussion. For awhile, I referred to all cats as “she” and all dogs as “he,” but that didn’t fully solve the problem.
Picking between “who” and “that” is another point of contention. My grammar checker hates it when I say something along the lines of “all cats who have feline leukemia” and wants to change it to “all cats that have feline leukemia.” I’ve dug my feet in on that one, though. I definitely like “who” better.
Check out these two paragraphs:
If an animal vomits more than once or twice in a 24 hour period, its owner should call a veterinarian. Without appropriate care, the animal could become dehydrated, and its condition could rapidly deteriorate. Animals that vomit may need to be hospitalized to be cared for appropriately.
If a pet vomits more than once or twice in a 24 hour period, his or her caretaker should call a veterinarian. Without appropriate care, the pet could become dehydrated, and his or her condition could rapidly deteriorate. Pets who vomit may need to be hospitalized to be cared for appropriately.
Which version do you think sets a more appropriate tone when we talk about our pets … or should I say “fur kids”?
Dr. Jennifer Coates