An Examination of the Attitudes, Perceptions and Behaviors

Escrito por Nuria Querol i Viñas.

 FIREPAW, Inc. designed and conducted a national study examining the social and personal factors surrounding the movement to change the language from pet "owner" to that of "guardian.” FIREPAW, Inc. designed and conducted a national study examining the social and personal factors surrounding the movement to change the language from pet "owner" to that of "guardian.” The project surveyed members of the pet-owning public on their attitudes, perceptions and behaviors regarding their companion animals, their positions on the guardian-owner issue, and their beliefs, both for and against changing the language from pet “owner” to “guardian.”
FIREPAW
The Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research & Education Promoting Animal Welfare
Animals already get it. We teach people.



The Guardian Study:

An Examination of the Attitudes, Perceptions and Behaviors
of Companion Animal Guardians and Pet Owners



Summary Report
November 2004

The Foundation for the Interdisciplinary Research & Education Promoting Animal Welfare
FIREPAW, Inc. 228 Main Street, #436, Williamstown, MA 01267
Telephone: 518-462-5939; FAX: 518-658-0979
Email: Esta dirección de correo electrónico está siendo protegida contra los robots de spam. Necesita tener JavaScript habilitado para poder verlo. / www.firepaw.org


Overview


FIREPAW, Inc. designed and conducted a national study examining the social and personal factors surrounding the movement to change the language from pet "owner" to that of "guardian.” The project surveyed members of the pet-owning public on their attitudes, perceptions and behaviors regarding their companion animals, their positions on the guardian-owner issue, and their beliefs, both for and against changing the language from pet “owner” to “guardian.”

Also examined were what, if any, benefits participants perceived would result from changing the language from companion animal “owner” to “guardian.” The focus of the study was to examine the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of those animal caregivers who consider themselves "guardians" and those who consider themselves their pets’ "owners". The study sought to determine whether there were statistically significant differences between these two groups and what, if any, those differences were. The results of this research study statistically demonstrated distinct differences between these two groups in terms of the way they thought about and behaved toward their companion animals. Additionally, there emerged statistically significant differences between these two groups in their responses to the perceived benefits and shortcomings of changing terminology from companion animal “owner” to “guardian.” Additional insights were uncovered for those animal caretakers “on the fence”, reporting that they considered themselves to be both “owners” and “guardians.”



Research Results


The response rate for the present study was 42 %. After removing all incomplete and questionable surveys the total number of surveys analyzed in the study was 390. There were 305 participants (78%) for the study group and 85 participants (22%) for the comparison group. The source for participants in the study group was comprised of 178 participants (45.6%) responding from random mailings and 127 participants (32.6%) who were veterinary clients. The regional breakdown for study group participants included Midwest (18%), Northeast (28.9%), Pacific (9.5%), South (30.5%), and Rocky Mountain (11.5%) regions of the United States. The study also had a comparison group that was comprised of data derived from individuals answering the survey posted on the FIREPAW web site. The comparison group had to download the survey, print it and supply their own postage and envelope to return the survey.


Participants

For the study group 70% of participants from the random mailings were female and 30% were male, and 85% of veterinary client respondents were female while 15% were male. The comparison group participants were comprised of 88% female and 12% male. The average age of study group participants was 45 years of age for the random sample and 45 years for veterinary clients and for the comparison group the average age for participants was 42 years.


Guardians, Owners and Hybrids

The percent of all respondents from the study group who consider themselves to be animal guardians was 63.3%. Of those study group respondents considering themselves to be guardians 77% were female and 23% were male. The percent of all respondents from the study group who consider themselves to be owners was 22.3%. Of those study group respondents considering themselves to be animal owners 69% were female and 31% were male. Hybrids, or people who consider themselves to be both guardians and owners made up 14.4% of all respondents from the study group. Of those study group respondents considering themselves to be hybrids 82% were female and 18% were male.


Treatment of Companion Animals

Spay-Neuter:
When asked whether their animals were spayed or neutered 69.1% of owners responded that at least one of their animals was spayed or neutered, and 92.6% of guardians and 95.5% of Hybrids said that at least one of their animals was spay-neutered. The difference between these groups’ treatment of their pets in terms of spaying and/or neutering their animals was highly statistically significant (X²= 36.02; df = 4; p< .0001). Eighty-eight percent of participants from the comparison group reported they spayed-neutered their animals.

Lost Pets:
When asked whether/how often they had a pet go missing during the previous two years 30.9% of owners responded they had a pet become lost. (Of those owners who reported their pet had gone missing in the past two years 19.1% had a pet lost one time, 5.9% had a pet lost two times, 2.9% had a pet go missing four times, 1.5% had a pet lost five times, and 1.5% reported they had a pet turn up missing 10 times in the past two years.) The number of guardians who reported having lost a pet in the previous two years was 15.5%. (Of those guardians who reported having lost a pet 9.8% had lost their pet one time, 4.2% lost their pets twice in two years. One person reported losing a pet three times, another person reported losing a pet six times and one person reported losing their pet at least 20 times in two years.) The number of hybrids reporting losing a pet was 11.4%. (Of those hybrids reporting having lost a pet 9.1% had it occur one time in two years. One person reported losing a pet three times during that time period.) The difference between these groups with regard to losing pets was statistically significant (X²= 9.57; df = 2; p< .0083)1. On average, guardians and hybrids combined lost their pets an average of 0.30 times while owners lost their pets an average of 0.65 times. From the comparison group 10.6% of respondents reported they had lost a pet at least once during the past two years.

Registering:
When applicable to do so (that is, where it is legally required to register the specific type of animal the caretaker has) 32.7% of owners reported they did not register their pets while only 8.2% of guardians and 5.4% of hybrids reported they did not register their animals. The difference between these groups in terms of registering their animals was highly statistically significant (X²= 23.67; df = 4; p< .0001). Overall 12.5% of the respondents from the comparison group reported they do not register their pets where applicable.



1 A chi-square test was performed after reducing pets being lost to a bivariate yes/no variable.


Relinquishment
When study group respondents were asked how many times, if any, they had relinquished a pet due to personal or family problems such as moving or divorce, 33.8% of owners reported they had relinquished a pet, and 18.6% of guardians and 27.3% of hybrids reported that they had relinquished a pet. Of those who had relinquished their companion animals the most frequently reported number of times it had been done was “once”; 21% of owners, 11% of guardians, and 16% of hybrids reported they had relinquished their pets only one time. The difference between these groups’ treatment of companion animals in terms of relinquishing their pets was statistically significant (X²= 6.94; df = 2; p= 0.03)2 . Owners relinquished animals an average of 0.8 times while guardians and hybrids relinquished animals an average of 0.4 times.


Identification
When asked whether their pets had some form of identification such as an ID tag, micro-chipping, or tattooing, in cases where applicable (type of animal) 44.1% of owners’ pets did not have identification, 30.1% of guardians’ animals had no ID, and 20.5% of hybrids’ animals did not have identification. The difference between these groups with regard to assuring their pets had identification was statistically significant (X²= 7.64; df = 2; p= 0.02). Of all participants from the comparison group, 18.5% reported they did not have identification for their companion animals.



2 A chi-square test was performed after reducing pets being lost to a bivariate yes/no variable.


Living Indoors
How do owners, guardians and hybrids stack up when it comes to permitting their pets to live indoors with the rest of the family? The study group results indicated that 76.5% of owners allow their pets to live indoors while 97.4% of guardians and 97.7% of hybrids permit their companion animals to live indoors. The difference between these groups with regard to permitting their pets to live indoors was highly statistically significant (X²= 34.81; df = 2; p < .0001). The majority of all participants reported that their animals live indoors with the rest of the family. When looking by source an average of 93% of the study group participants permit their pets to live indoors and 96% of the comparison group allows their animals to live indoors.


Birthday Celebrations, Gift Giving, & Greeting Cards
Questions were asked to determine whether respondents’ treatment of their pets was similar to how many Americans typically treat family members. For those respondents reporting they did celebrate the birthdays of family members only 26.5% of owners reported they celebrate their pets’ birthdays. In contrast, 61.7% of guardians and 56.8% of hybrids reported they celebrate their pets’ birthdays. The difference between these groups in terms of who celebrates their pets’ birthdays was highly statistically significant (X²= 25.28; df = 2; p < .0001). An average of 53% of the comparison group reported they celebrated their pets’ birthday.

Of those participants who give gifts to family members 48.5% of owners also give gifts to their pets. In contrast, 80.8% of guardians and 77.3% of hybrids reported they give their pets gifts. The difference between these groups in terms of gift-giving to companion animals was highly significant (X²= 35.14; df = 4; p < .0001). By source the number of study group participants who reportedly give their pets gifts averaged 73% and the average number of comparison group participants who reportedly give their pets gifts was 74%.

Of those participants who reportedly give greeting cards with all family members’ names on them 29.4% of owners include the pets’ names along with other family members’ names on the cards. By comparison, 69.4% of guardians and 65.9% of hybrids reported they sign their pets’ names along with other family members on greeting cards. The difference between these groups in terms of including pets with other family members on greeting cards was highly statistically significant (X²= 34.30; df = 2; p < .0001). By source, 60% of the study group participants included their pets’ names along with other family members on greeting cards and 68% of the comparison group did so.


Family Photos & Family Outings
Are the family pets included along with other family members in the family photo album? For those respondents who have a photo album 65.6% of owners have their pets included, while 93.6% of guardians and 87.8% of hybrids have their pets’ photos along with other family members in the family photo album. The differences between these groups with regard to including the pets along with other family members in the family photo album were highly statistically significant (X²= 33.31; df = 4; p < .0001). When examining this factor by source, 86% of the study group participants and 94% of the comparison group reported they include their pets in the family photo album.

Who takes their pets along on family walks, picnics, outings or vacations? Where applicable 52.9% of owners take their pets along on family outings. In contrast, 76.2% of guardians and 79.6% of hybrids reported they take their companion animals along on family outings and vacations. Again, the difference between these groups with regard to including their pets in family activities was highly statistically significant (X²= 14.95; df = 2; p = .0006). When looking at the source, 71% of respondents from the study group and 78% from the comparison group reportedly take their pets along on family trips and outings.


Expressing Affection
The final question concerning the treatment of companion animals asked respondents how often they show affection toward their pets each week. For owners, 45.6% reported they showed affection toward their pets between once a day to once a week (1-7 times a week) and 38.2% of owners reported they show affection toward their pets more than once a day (8 times or more a week). Sixteen percent of owners reported they never show affection toward their companion animals. For guardians, 25.4% reported they showed affection toward their pets between once a day to once a week (1-7 times a week) and 65.8% of guardians reported they show affection toward their pets more than once a day (8 times or more a week). Nine percent of guardians reported they never show affection toward their pets. For hybrids, 29.6% reported they showed affection toward their pets between once a day to once a week (1-7 times a week) and 63.6% of hybrids guardians reported they show affection toward their pets more than once a day (8 times or more a week). Seven percent of hybrids reported they never show affection toward their pets. The differences between these groups with regard to the frequency with which they show affection toward their companion animals was highly statistically significant (X²= 16.59; df = 4; p = .0023).

A secondary measure was performed to determine the differences between the groups with regard to how often they showed affection toward their companion animals. Guardians and hybrids (who had no significant differences in the affection they showed their pets) were merged together and compared to owners to determine if they differed in the amount of times they told their pets they loved them. The two groups were compared using an unpaired, two-tailed t-test assuming unequal variances (tests for equality of variances between t-test groups yielded significant differences). The results appear to indicate that guardians and hybrids express affection toward their companion animals significantly more often than do owners. The results were highly significant (t = -5.75, df = 176, p < .0001) with guardians-hybrids having a mean score of 37.19 times a week expressing affection toward their pets and owners having a mean score of 13.77 times per week expressing affection toward their pets. Did the study group differ from the comparison group? When looking by source, 10% of the study group and 8% of the comparison group reported they never show affection toward their pets.


Summary of Findings: Treatment of Companion Animals

Treatment Owners Guardians Hybrids
Spay-neuter at least one of their pets 69.1% 92.6% 95.5%
Lost a pet in the past two years 30.9% 15.5%. 11.4%.
Register their pets 67.3% 91.8% 94.6%
Relinquished a pet due to personal or family problems 33.8% 18.6% 27.3%
Identification for pets (ID tag, tattoo, microchip, etc.) 55.9% 69.9% 79.5%
Permit pets to live indoors with the rest of the family 76.5% 97.4% 97.7%
Celebrate pets’ birthdays 26.5% 61.7% 56.8%
Give gifts to pets 48.5% 80.8% 77.3%
Include pets’ names on greeting cards w/ other family members 29.4% 69.4% 65.9%
Include pets’ pictures in family photo album 65.6% 93.6% 87.8%
Takes pets along on family outings, walks, picnics, vacations, etc. 52.9% 76.2% 79.6%
Show affection towards pets more than once a day 38.2% 65.8% 63.6%
All results were statistically significant.


Attitudes about the Family Pet

Satisfaction with Pets
How do the groups compare with regard to being satisfied with their animals? In the study group 82.4% of owners reported being satisfied with their pets, while 95.3% of guardians and 90.9% of hybrids reported being satisfied with their companion animals. The difference between these groups in terms of their satisfaction with their pets was highly statistically significant (X²= 43.08; df = 12; p < .0001). An additional test was performed to determine the level of differences between the groups with regard to how satisfied they are with their companion animals. Guardians and hybrids (who had no significant differences in the satisfaction levels of their pets) were merged together and compared to owners to determine if they differed in the level of satisfaction they had with their pets. The two groups were compared using an unpaired, two-tailed t-test assuming unequal variances (tests for equality of variances between t-test groups yielded significant differences). The results appear to indicate that guardians and hybrids are more satisfied with their companion animals than are owners. The results were significant (t = 3.01, df = 92.5, p = .003) with guardians-hybrids having a mean score of 6.5 on a 7-point scale of satisfaction with their pets and owners having a mean score of 5.9 on a 7-point scale of satisfaction with their pets. Ninety-six percent of respondents from the comparison group reported being satisfied with their pets.


Pets as Members of the Family
The study group differed in how they responded to whether they considered their pets members of the family. For owners, 86.8% reported they viewed their companion animals as members of the family. In contrast, 99.0% of guardians and 100% of hybrids reported they viewed their pets as members of the family. The difference between these groups with regard to beliefs that their pets are full-fledged family members was highly statistically significant (X²= 23.45; df = 2; p < .0001). For the comparison group, 96.5% reported they viewed their pets as full-fledged family members.


Pets as Property
We know where respondents from the study group stand on perceiving their pets as members of the family but do they still believe their pets are property? Even though 86.8% of owners stated they believed their pets are full-fledged family members, 80.9% said they believed their pets are property. In contrast, only 10.4% of guardians said they believed their companion animals are property. Hybrids came in down the middle with 52.3% responding they believed their pets are property. Once again, the difference between these groups was highly statistically significant (X²= 124.24; df = 2; p < .0001). When looking by source, overall 32% of the study group respondents and 40% of the comparison group respondents stated they view their pets as property.


Attachment to Pets
What sort of relationship do people have with their pets? For owners participating in the study 76.5% said they were attached to their pets. In contrast, 99.0% of guardians and 100% of hybrids said they were attached to their pets. The difference between these groups in terms of their attachment to their pets was highly statistically significant (X²= 55.43; df = 6; p < .0001). Did the study group differ from the comparison group? Overall, 94% of the participants from the study group and 98% of the comparison group reported being attached to their pets.


Identify with Pets
Can people relate to their companion animals? Again there was a distinct difference within the study group. For owners 70.6% reported they can relate to their pets. By contrast, 96.9% of guardians and 95.4% of hybrids reported they identify with their companion animals. The difference between these groups in terms of their ability to identify with their pets was highly statistically significant (X²= 49.70; df = 6; p < .0001). Overall, 91% of the study group respondents and 93% of the comparison group said they identify with their companion animals. Summary of Findings: Attitudes about the family pet

Attitude Owners Guardians Hybrids
Satisfied with their pets 82.4% 95.3% 90.9%
View their pets as full-fledged members of the family 86.8% 99.0% 100%
View their pets as property 80.9% 10.4% 52.3%
Attached to their pets 76.5% 99.0% 100%
Identify with their pets/can relate to their pets 70.6% 96.9% 95.4%
All results were statistically significant


General Beliefs & Perceptions about Companion Animals

What do pet caretakers think about companion animals in general? The survey asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with several general statements about companion animals. The table below offers a breakdown of participants’ responses.


GENERAL BELIEFS/PERCEPTIONS

About Companion Animals &

Use of Guardian & Owner Language

% O Agree

% G

Agree

% H

Agree

STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE—DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GROUPS

Comp

Grp % Agree

Long-term chaining of dogs should not happen

63%

93%

84%

X²= 34.22; df = 2; p < .0001

79%

Spay-neuter of pets should be done to stop overpopulation and suffering of animals

60%

96%

95%

X²= 62.43; df = 2; p < .0001

73%

Pets should not live long-term in cages

66%

97%

95%

X²= 53.73; df = 2; p < .0001

84%

Viewing pets as possessions is wrong

46%

97%

93%

X²= 109.94; df = 2; p < .0001

75%

De-clawing cats for convenience of people is wrong

47%

80%

70%

X²= 27.30; df = 2; p < .0001

73%

We should not make a big deal out of protecting pets

32%

1%

0%

X²= 72.42; df = 2; p < .0001

6%

We should help animals because they are dependent on humans/helpless

68%

97%

98%

X²= 61.65; df = 6; p < .0001

84%

Animals are sentient beings with needs/interests of their own

65%

97%

91%

X²= 55.89; df = 2; p < .0001

85%

Guardian term makes statement about responsibility, respect & compassion people have for their animals

50%

99%

98%

X²= 117.78; df = 2; p < .0001

68%

Believing it is OK to “own” animals allows people to think they can do what they want w/ pets & increases incidence for violence and/or neglect of pets

22%

80%

56%

X²= 73.82; df = 2; p < .0001

60%

People considering themselves guardians are less likely to abandon or relinquish pets

35%

93%

80%

X²= 99.70; df = 2; p < .0001

65%

Viewing pets as mere property is related to exploitation and abuse of companion animals

32%

94%

68%

X²= 107.14; df = 2; p < .0001

68%

The term “owner” makes it difficult to hold people accountable for neglecting animals

12%

77%

34%

X²= 96.11; df = 2; p < .0001

45%

Teaching children to be “guardians” of their animals rather than “owners” of property will inspire compassion and reduce mistreatment of animals

47%

99%

95%

X²= 127.05; df = 2; p < .0001

72%

The term “guardian” reminds people of their responsibility to the animals who are dependent upon them & will foster better care of pets

32%

94%

75%

X²= 111.60; df = 2; p < .0001

62%

Red lettering connotes Highly Statistically Significant
O = Owners; G = Guardians; H = Hybrids; Comp. Grp. = Comparison Group




Beliefs about the Benefits of Changing Terminology to “Guardian”

How do owners, guardians and hybrids compare when it comes to their beliefs about the benefits of changing the language from pet “owner” to “guardian”? The survey asked participants to respond to four possible benefits of changing terminology to “guardian” and to choose all the statements they believed to be accurate. Participants were also given the opportunity to choose the option that they see no convincing reason to change to the term “guardian.”

The most convincing reason(s) for changing to the term “guardian” is…

It will increase respect for animals, thereby reducing animal cruelty.
Of the participants identifying themselves as owners 13% responded they believed this was a convincing reason for changing terminology to that of “guardian.” Of the participants identifying themselves as guardians 81% thought this was a compelling reason for changing the language to “guardian” and 64% of respondents identifying themselves as both owners and guardians (hybrids) believed this a convincing reason for changing the language to “guardian.” The difference between these groups in terms of their belief that using the term guardian will increase respect and reduce cruelty toward animals was highly statistically significant (X²= 98.87; df = 2; p < .0001). Overall 63% of the study group and 46% of the comparison group said they thought this was a convincing reason for changing to the term guardian.

It will create an increased sense of responsibility, thereby reducing the number of abandoned, unwanted animals.
Again, a sizeable number of owners (18%) said they believed this was a convincing reason to change the terminology to “guardian.” As expected, there were many more guardians (86%) who thought so. There were 61% of hybrids who thought this was a convincing reason to switch to the term guardian. The difference between these groups in terms of their belief that changing to the term guardian will increase responsibility and decrease abandoned pets was highly statistically significant (X²= 107.44; df = 2; p < .0001). Overall, 67% of the study group and 52% of the comparison group said they thought this was a convincing reason for changing to the term guardian.

It will teach children and adults that animals are sentient beings with feelings and preferences, thereby increasing better treatment of companion animals.
A surprising 22% of owners responded that they believed this a convincing reason for changing to the term guardian. Of the guardians 85% thought this a convincing reason, as did 66% of the hybrids. The difference between these groups in terms of believing that changing to the term guardian will increase appreciation that animals are sentient beings, leading to better treatment was highly statistically significant (X²= 93.97; df = 2; p < .0001). Overall, 69% of the study group and 53% of the comparison group said they thought this was a convincing reason for changing to the term guardian.

It teaches people that animals are not objects or property and that they are dependent on us to care for them.
Again, a surprising 18% of owners believed this was a convincing reason for changing the language to “guardian.” A much larger 90% of guardians and 66% of hybrids believe this is a compelling reason to change to the term guardian. The difference between these groups in terms of believing that changing the language to “guardian” will teach people animals are not property and are dependent on humans was highly statistically significant (X²= 127.61; df = 2; p < .0001). Overall, 70% of the study group and 59% of the comparison group said they thought this was a convincing reason for changing to the term guardian.

I see no convincing reason to change to the term “guardian.”
Not surprisingly, the majority of owners (76%) agreed with this statement. Only 4% of guardians agreed with this statement. For hybrids, 30% responded they believed there was no convincing reason to change the terminology from “owner” to “guardian.” The difference between these groups in terms of believing there are no compelling reasons to change to the term “guardian” was again highly statistically significant (X²= 148.96; df = 2; p < .0001). Overall, 24% of the study group and 35% of the comparison group said they thought there was no convincing reason for changing to the term guardian.


Beliefs about the Shortcomings of Changing Terminology to “Guardian”

Participants were asked to respond to five possible shortcomings of changing terminology to “guardian” and to choose all the statements they believed to be accurate. Participants were also given the opportunity to choose the option that they have no concerns about changing to the term “guardian.”

The issue(s) that most concern(s) me about changing to the term “guardian” is/are…

It is just more political correctness and will not help animals.
This was the most significant concern study participants had about changing the terminology to “guardian.” The results indicated that 66% of owners, 24% of guardians and 52% of hybrids believe this to be a valid concern for not changing the language to animal “guardian.” The difference between these groups with regard to believing that the guardian movement was just political correctness and not actually helping animals was highly statistically significant (X²= 42.09; df = 2; p < .0001). Overall, 38% of the study group and 45% of the comparison group stated they believed this was a valid concern for not changing to the term “guardian.”

It is an unimportant and trivial issue.
Respondents reported that this was the second most important concern they had about changing to the term “guardian”. The response included 46% of owners, 7% of guardians and 20% of hybrids reporting that the unimportance of the issue was a valid concern for not changing to the term “guardian.” The difference between these groups with regard to their response on this issue was again highly statistically significant (X²= 53.21; df = 2; p < .0001). Overall, 17% of the study group and 20% of the comparison group stated they believed this was a valid concern for not changing to the term “guardian.”

It will cause confusion about who is responsible for pets’ care.
This option appeared to be less a concern for respondents. In total, 32% of owners, 5% of guardians and 16% of hybrids chose this option as valid concern for not changing the language to “guardian.” Nonetheless, there was still a highly statistically significant difference (X²= 33.74; df = 2; p < .0001) between these groups with regard to believing that the guardian terminology would lead to confusion over who was responsible for the care of companion animals. Overall, 13% of the study group and 26% of the comparison group stated they believed this was a valid concern for not changing to the term “guardian.”

It may lead to limitations on the ability to buy/sell animals.
Again, this option appeared to be less of a concern for respondents. All together 22% of owners, 6% of guardians and 5% of hybrids reported that they believed this to be a concern. The difference between the groups with regard to their belief that the term “guardian” would lead to limitations on buying or selling animals was statistically significant (X²= 17.47; df = 2; p = .0002). Overall, just 9% of the study group and 21% of the comparison group stated they believed this was a valid concern for not changing to the term “guardian.”

It may cause pets to be seized by the government.
This option appeared to be less a concern for respondents as just 16% of owners and 4% of guardians said this was an issue. There were no hybrids who said they were concerned about pets being seized by the government as a reason not to change to the term “guardian.” Again, the difference between these groups with regard to their concerns about this issue was statistically significant (X²= 17.49; df = 2; p = .0002). Overall, 6% of the study group and 29% of the comparison group stated they believed this was a valid concern for not changing to the term “guardian.”

I have no concerns about changing to the term “guardian.”
Surprisingly, 15% of owners stated they have no concerns about changing the language to animal “guardian.” Equally surprising, only three-quarters of the guardians said they have no concerns (75%). As for hybrids, 50% said they have no concerns about changing to “guardian.” The difference between these groups with regard to having no concerns about changing the terminology to guardian was highly statistically significant (X²= 76.74; df = 2; p < .0001). Overall, 58% of the study group and 46% of the comparison group said they have no concerns about changing to the term “guardian.”




Discussion

The present study offered scientific validity to issues that previously have been limited to only anecdotal observations. The most meaningful finding was that there appears to be clear differences between those who consider themselves to be owners of their pets and those who consider themselves to be animal guardians with regard to their attitudes about their own pets, their beliefs about companion animals in general, and their treatment of their companion animals. Also of interest was the emergence of a third group—those people who consider themselves to be both owners and guardians. Those people who consider themselves both owners and guardians (or hybrids, as they were referred to in the present study) were by and large far more similar to guardians in their attitudes, beliefs and treatment of companion animals than they were to owners.

How do the owners, guardians and hybrids stack up with how they obtain their pets? The results indicate that owners are far more likely to purchase their animals than either guardians or hybrids as well as to be more likely to have offspring from their animals. Guardians and hybrids are more likely, according to the results, to adopt their animals or to take in stray animals than people who consider themselves to be owners.

When it comes to treatment of their companion animals guardians and hybrids were far more likely to spay-neuter their pets and far more likely to register their pets than owners. Guardians and hybrids in the present study were more likely to have identification on their pets and less likely to have lost their pets than people who consider themselves to be owners. Guardians were also less likely to have relinquished a pet for personal or family reasons than owners.

Guardians and hybrids were far more likely than owners to permit their pets to live indoors with the rest of the family. Additionally, guardians and hybrids were more likely than owners to treat their pets as actual family members through such actions as celebrating pets’ birthdays, giving gifts to their pets, and signing pets’ names along with other family members on greeting cards. For those who had an album, guardians and hybrids were more likely than owners to have pictures of their pets in the family photo album, and were more likely than owners to take their pets along on family walks, picnics, outings and vacations. Guardians and hybrids were also more likely to express affection toward their companion animals than were their owner counterparts.

When it comes to attitudes about the family pet the distinctions continue. The results appear to indicate that guardians and hybrids are more satisfied with their companion animals than are owners. Additionally, the results indicate that both guardians and hybrids are more likely than owners to believe that their pets are full-fledged members of the family and far less likely than owners to view their pets as property. And finally, guardians and hybrids were far more likely than owners to be attached to their pets and to identify with their companion animals.

How did the groups stack up with regard to what they think about companion animals in general? The results of the present study indicate that relative to their owner counterparts, guardians and hybrids are more likely to disapprove of long-term chaining of dogs and keeping animals living in cages, more likely than owners to insist on spay-neutering of pets to reduce overpopulation, and more likely than owners to believe that viewing pets as possessions is wrong. Guardians and hybrids were also more likely than owners to believe that de-clawing cats for the convenience of people is wrong and less likely than owners to believe people should not be so concerned with protecting companion animals. And finally, guardians and hybrids were more likely than owners to believe people must help animals because they are helpless and depend on us and more likely than owners to believe that animals are sentient beings with needs and interests of their own.

When it comes to the movement to change current terminology from animal “owner” to “guardian”, again the distinction between owners and guardians was striking. In the present study guardians and hybrids were more likely than owners to believe that the term guardian makes a statement about responsibility, respect and compassion toward companion animals, and that the term guardian reminds people animals are dependent upon them which will ultimately foster better care for pets. Guardians and hybrids were more likely than owners to believe that when people think they own animals it can increase the incidence of abuse, neglect and exploitation of companion animals and that the term “owner” makes it difficult to hold people accountable for neglecting animals. Guardians and hybrids were also more likely than owners to believe that teaching children to be guardians rather than owners of pets will inspire compassion and reduce mistreatment of animals and that people who consider themselves guardians are less likely to abandon or relinquish their pets. All of these differences were found to be statistically significant.

Not surprisingly, the groups differed in their beliefs about the benefits of changing the terminology from pet “owner” to “guardian.” When it came to the most convincing reasons for changing to the term “guardian”, guardians and hybrids believed far more often than owners that changing to “guardian” will increase respect for animals, reduce animal cruelty, increase a sense of responsibility, reduce abandoned and unwanted pets, teach people that animals are sentient beings and not objects and will increase better treatment of animals overall. Likewise, the majority of owners said they believed there were no convincing reasons for changing the terminology to “guardian”, differing significantly from their guardian and hybrid counterparts.

The groups also differed in their beliefs about the shortcomings of changing the language from pet “owner” to “guardian.” Owners were far more likely to believe that the campaign to change the terminology to “guardian” is just more social engineering for political correctness than either guardians or hybrids. It should be noted that while the differences between these groups was highly statistically significant, nonetheless nearly a quarter of guardians and over half of the hybrids said they believed the guardian movement was just political correctness and will not actually help animals, acknowledging that this was an issue that concerned them.

Owners also tended to more frequently believe that changing to “guardian” was an unimportant and trivial issue. Again, while significantly more owners believed this to be true than guardians or hybrids, there were still one-fifth of hybrids who said this was a concern for changing to the term “guardian. Additionally, far more owners than either guardians or hybrids tended to believe that a change to the term “guardian” would cause confusion about who is responsible for pets’ care, may lead to limitations about the ability to buy and sell animals, and may cause pets to be seized by the government.

A surprising 15% of owners said they have no concerns about changing the language to animal “guardian.” While significantly more guardians and hybrids said they have no concerns it is noteworthy that so many self-described “owners” appear open to the change. Equally noteworthy, one-quarter of guardians and one-half of hybrids said they do have concerns about changing to the term “guardian.”

The most frequently occurring objection to using the term guardian was that the term is simply more political correctness and will not help animals. This issue clearly appears to be the greatest stumbling block that needs to be overcome for “owners”, with over two-thirds of owners indicating that this was an issue for them. In fact, it was the only objection that was marked by a majority of owners. It was also clearly the most prevalent objection to the guardian campaign among people who considered themselves “guardians”. Nearly a quarter of the guardians indicated they had this concern—more than triple the amount that marked the next most common objection. The second most common concern among both “owners” and “guardians” was that it was an unimportant and trivial issue. On the other hand, very few people were concerned about the government seizing pets or limitations on purchasing animals occurring as a result of the guardian campaign. Interestingly, the various perceived benefits to the change in terminology showed much less differentiation than the concerns, with respondents selecting benefits with roughly the same frequency. Among “owners”, the most commonly acknowledged benefit was that it would teach people that animals are sentient beings.


We would like to thank In Defense of Animals for funding this study.