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  • Writer's pictureClaire Corridan

Dog Owner, Keeper, Caregiver or Guardian?

This is a concept I have been thinking about lately, because I think it does have an influence on the perception given?


Owner- "a person who owns something, it belongs to you."

Keeper- "a person who manages or looks after something or someone."

Caregiver- "a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly or disabled person."

Guardian- "a person who protects or defends something. A person who is legally responsible for the care of someone who is unable to manage their own affairs."

As a veterinary practice owner I registered new clients and completed various forms for consent, for pet owners, without giving too much credence to the terminology used.

Most of the legislation relating to the responsibilities of dog ownership either consider the dog owner or the "person responsible" for the dog at the time of any incident or assessment, who does not necessarily have to be the official 'owner.'

I have deliberately omitted the term "pet parent" for a number of reasons: biological, ethical and on welfare grounds. For me- this is a step too far and does not necessarily equate to improved welfare for the animal involved.

I have studied and probably come across quite a wide spectrum of dog owners, at one end, those who did not show particular concern nor care for their dogs, and then thankfully, the larger majority who do. There are others who spend more time and profess more love and care, for their dogs compared to anyone else in this world. Both ends of the spectrum can have serious consequences for the welfare of both the dogs and people involved. The same legal responsibilities apply to all, but what about ethical and/or moral responsibilities for the dog. Dogs are not asked, nor can they really give consent, to participate in their human: dog bond (hence, my use of bond as opposed to relationship), so the one- sided weighting of this particular 'relationship' should surely come with greater weighting on the protection and care of the vulnerable party?

The Irish Veterinary Behaviour Association are currently drafting our "pet contract" document, which aims to advise and better equip the general public when researching and acquiring a new pet. Which of the various options should we be using for this exercise- pet owner, keeper, caregiver or guardian.

I think, for me personally, caregiver is too soft a term, in that it considers provision of need but not necessarily responsibility. If an animal keeper, manages the animal, they provide for needs but also assume a degree of responsibility both for and to, the animal, which I think I prefer. Guardian sounds like provision of safety and protection, as well as responsibility, but they may be safeguarding that needs are met, without actually being the person who provides those needs. So- for me, there does not appear to be an ideal term that encompasses all of the above. I would love to hear what you think?

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