Monday, November 19, 2007

New Language

What do the new words guardian and companion animal mean in our relationship to the animals in our lives?

Language is powerful because it influences the way we think. People who adopted animals were owners and their companion animals, pets. New wording is coming into play, and it's already in use by our very own Multnomah Library system.

In most jurisdictions (although this is slowly changing), owner pertains to property. When people divide their household goods (e.g., divorce), animals are treated as property. (So the judge decides that one party gets their sofa and the other their Golden Retriever.) Hard to believe, but true.

The word guardian shifts our perception about our relationship to animals who are our companions. We are caretakers; it is not only our legal reponsibility but also our moral responsibility to provide for their physical and emotional needs. The animals who share the greater web of life with us are sentinent beings. Just like us, they are capable of feeling pain and suffering. So, just as we are guardians of our children (not owners), we are guardians of animals.

The other new term is companion animal for the word, pet. While pet is an easy, three letter word, again it has to do with our relationship. When people took animals into homes, they domesticated them to suit their lifestyles, their preferences, and their needs. But the reasoning behind The Guardian Campaign is that the word pet confers ownership, which may or may not include respect for the animal's inherent nature. Of course, cat people (and some dog people) recognize we can only go so far in molding the expected behaviors of these furry creatures we live with. And of course, dogs, just like children, need to be socialized, or trained, living in a society with others.

Our Multnomah Library system should be commended for incorporating this new language. Hopefully, others in places of authority will do so as well, as we shift our thinking from being owners of pets, to trusted guardians of our companion animals.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Little did I know

Littld did I know at age ten that my first paid job, pet sitter for a French poodle, would become my profession several decades after college. My primary task was to keep Chouchou ("brussel sprout" in French) from whining. I didn't have to walk her, so it left a pretty skewed impression of work, and the realities of pet sitting.

In 2004 my pet sitting hobby became my full time business. I'm learning it's a lot more than hanging out with the cute and cuddly. Like all jobs, it has its joys and challenges.

Tory was adopted from Golden Bond Rescue. We met when she nine years; by age 14, her health was deteriorating, but then she would rally. Her veterinarian called her "wonder dog." This summer I was with her on a long house sit. It was a bittersweet time, since I suspected it would be our last, so I was more present,more in the moment. When informed of her death, I cried deeply. I still remember her joyful "woo, woo" as she jumped in the air, anticipating a walk. She will always have a special place in my heart.

Sometimes clients leave Portland. Some let me know; others simply drop off the radar. It's easy to bond to many of the animals I care for, and at the end of a stay, I sometimes feel a little heart tug, not knowing when I'll see them next. But I'd rather have my heart engaged than not. That's how I came up with the name Heart & Hands Animal Care: combining my heart & my massage trained hands to care for and comfort animals, when their people are absent.

Now I'm on an overnight job for two kitties. Francesca is a delicate, pretty tabby who drools and kneads; likely, she was taken from her mama too early. She and Audrey, her kitty companion, enjoy the "In & Out" game. They sit at the side door waiting for me to open it. About two minutes later, they want to return indoors, only to repeat that over and over.

Their guardians return home soon, and I will return home to my Main Coon, Porter. Tonight I will snuggle with him, and will wake to his love bites & sandpaper kisses. Soon I'll be packing my bags again, to care for more animal friends.