Why PETA Wants You to Stop Saying ‘Pet’
PETA’s headline-grabbing call for people to stop using the word “pet” is leading to interesting discussions online – here’s what it’s all about.
Simply put: if we have the opportunity to use kinder, more respectful language towards other living, feeling beings, why wouldn’t we?
The Problem With ‘Pet’
People who love their dogs or cats often refer to them as “pets” and to themselves as their “owners”, but this implies that the animals are no different from cars or other possessions. Referring to – and thinking of – animals not as sentient beings who have personalities and emotions but rather as inanimate objects can affect our treatment of them.
This speciesist worldview, which using words like “pet” and “owner” helps perpetuate, is part of the reason why some people think nothing of acquiring a dog in the same way they would get a fancy handbag and then discarding him or her once the novelty wears off – because they see animals not as individuals but as objects or commodities. Likewise with puppy mills: they promote purchasing dogs who’ll be treated like fashion accessories.
The idea that our word choice matters is backed up by academic research. The Journal of Animal Ethics published a paper highlighting how derogatory words such as “pet” and “pest” affect the way we treat animals.
The researchers suggested we should use language that shows mutual respect between humans and the animals who live among us – that’s why, instead of “pet”, we recommend using “animal companion”, and instead of “owner”, we say “guardian”.
Referring to and thinking of animals not as sentient beings who have families, personalities, and emotions but rather as owned objects allows humans to justify using them in any way they see fit.
The associations we have with the language we use are strong. And when we refer to an animal not as “she” or “he” but “it” – the same word we assign to an object – it implies that animals are possessions, like bikes or video games, not individuals.
No animal exists for our entertainment or pleasure – they aren’t a substitute for a burglar alarm or an excuse to go out for a walk. They aren’t ours to use as decorations or toys – they’re living beings. Our language should reflect that.
The way we think about other animals continues to evolve. And the more we learn about them, the more we’re amazed by their intelligence, self-awareness, communication skills, social structures, and unique abilities – and most importantly, by their undeniable capacity to suffer and feel pain, which we can no longer ignore if we strive to be an ethical society.
We understand that this is a new concept, but our language has always evolved, and so, really, changing the way we talk about animals so it better reflects our treatment of them is a natural step.
There are many words and phrases that were commonly used 50 or more years ago that most people wouldn’t dream of using today, because – thankfully – we’ve come to understand how hurtful and harmful they are. So, as we learn more and more about animals – their personalities, emotions, and ability to feel pain and suffer – it’s time we started phasing out harmful words that perpetuate the idea that they’re objects.
Choose words that show respect – don’t normalise abuse and exploitation. And tell those around you that our words matter: