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Terms elevate pet relationship

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Saturday February 24, 2001

A rose is a rose by any other name. Sure, but in Berkeley, Shakespeare wouldn’t be able to apply his famous saying to the special relationship between humans and their furry companions – the family dog or cat. 

Tuesday, in an attempt to reduce animal abuse through the power of language, the City Council will consider changing the legal terminology of the relationship between humans and their pets. The Citizen’s Humane Commission has recommended the council change the term “owner” in Berkeley’s Animal Ordinance, to “owner/guardian.”  

The new term will appear on license applications and even when owner/guardians receive citations for their misbehaving wards. 

The commission approved the recommendation on Oct. 18 by a vote of 4-0-3 (A temporary commission secretary did not record which commissioners voted for the proposal and who abstained). 

“The purpose is not to change the law,” said Sarah Barnes, chair of the commission. “The purpose is to make a philosophical change in how we perceive our pets.” 

According to the proposal, the commission supported the change because it wants pet owners/guardians to recognize pets as members of the family with value that extends beyond monetary worth. 

“Changing the word “owner” to “owners/guardians” may move people’s thinking of companion animals as property to an understanding that pets are almost members of one’s family and they have to be protected,” according to the proposal. 

Barnes said the idea to change the terminology was brought to the commission’s attention by the nonprofit In Defense of Animals, founded in 1983 by veterinarian Elliot Katz to end the institutionalized exploitation and abuse of animals. 

Rita Anderson, director of the IDA campaign to change pet-ownership terminology in cities around the country, said Berkeley will be the third to change its animal ordinance. Boulder, Colo., was the first last year and West Hollywood changed its ordinance terminology last week.  

Anderson said there was some opposition to the proposal in Boulder from the American Kennel Club. “They were afraid they were going to lose ownership rights, the right to trade animals for money,” she said. “Which is what we advocate, people should adopt and rescue pets not buy and sell them.” 

Barnes said there was no opposition to the proposal in Berkeley. 

She said the change in language will hopefully reduce all forms of abuse and neglect. “Basic things like not walking dogs on a regular basis to throwing puppies out of moving cars,” she said.  

Deputy City Attorney Matthew Orebic said the change to the Berkeley Municipal Ordinance will not be difficult and will have no financial impact. 

“The only change to the ordinance will be one of language,” he said. “There will be no change to the letter of the law.” 

Berkeley dog owner Ruth Hinds, who was watching her 8-month-old companion, Cosmo, romp with other dogs at the Ohlone Dog Park on Friday, said she supports the idea.  

“The idea of ownership is wrongheaded. Dogs aren’t possessions, they’re not television sets, they’re not automobiles, they’re not things,” she said. “They’re our friends and companions.” 

Moniz Franco, who was at the park with her 3-year-old collie, Bella Luna, sounded a note of skepticism. “I call myself her mom but it’s all semantics,” She said. “I could think of a few more important things the city could be doing.”