The effort by activist groups to change the term “owner” to “guardian” in local ordinances and state laws relating to pets continues in a number of jurisdictions. While this campaign is marketed as a feel-good exercise, this “simple” change in language elevates animals above their current status as property – with potentially enormous legal implications.

There are 17 cities and 2 counties that have adopted such an ordinance. One state, Rhode Island, has included similar language in its constitution.

Guardianship designation agreed to:

Beverly Hills, CADecember, 2008
San Jose, CAJune 19, 2007
Imperial Beach, CAJuly 19, 2006
Santa Clara County, CAApril, 2006
Bloomington, INJanuary, 2006
St. Louis, MOAugust 9, 2004
Albany, CAJune 7, 2004
Wanaque, NJMay 13, 2004
Woodstock, NYFebruary 10, 2004
Marin County, CADecember, 2003
Sebastopol, CADecember, 2003
San Francisco, CAJanuary 13, 2003
Amherst, MAApril 24, 2002
Menomonee Falls, WIMarch 11, 2002
Sherwood, ARSeptember 24, 2001
State of Rhode IslandJuly 5, 2001
West Hollywood, CAFebruary 19. 2001
Berkeley, CAFebruary 27, 2001
Boulder, COJuly 12, 2000


City of Pasadena Agenda Report

On September 20, 2004 the Public Safety Committee of the Pasadena City Council voted unanimously to adopt a staff recommendation against changing the term animal “owner” to animal “guardian” in city law. Read the report (pdf)

LA City Asst. Attorney Letter
In the summer of 2002, the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission voted unanimously to replace the term “owner” with “guardian” in its documents and conversations. A letter dated September 18, 2002 from the Office of the City Attorney of Los Angeles to the Board of Animal Service Commissioners discussed the implications of changing the term “animal owner” to “animal guardian” in the municipal code and other city correspondence. In the end, the Los Angeles City Council did not vote on a proposal to expand this new policy to all citywide documents.

Other Items of Interest
Susan J. Hankin, Making Decisions About Our Animals’ Health Care: Does It Matter Whether We Are Owners Or Guardians?, 2 Stan. J. Animal L. & Pol’y 1 (2009).

AVMA Position Statement

AVMLA: Ownership vs Guardianship of Animals (pdf)

AVMA Task Force on Legal Status of Animals

AHI Issue Paper

Resolution on Animal Guardianship and Liability Legislation


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