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Animal Owner or Guardian?

July 06, 2002

Re "Barking Up the Wrong Tree," editorial, June 30: I applaud your stance on the pet guardian issue, but let's take it one step further. If your dog or cat is stolen and you no longer "own" it once you are its mere guardian, can you prevail in a court of law as its rightful owner? If you no longer own your dog(s), can anybody force you to license them? Vaccinate them? And can animal control enforce barking and other nuisance complaints against "nonowners" of pets?

Becoming a pet guardian sounds cute, but it disenfranchises pet owners with respect to their basic legal protections and rights, while posing interesting problems for government agencies charged with holding pet owners responsible for the conduct of their pets. Do we need lawsuits to test the validity of these implications?

Here's hoping our city leaders put on their thinkers before they go for what sounds like a silly, if charming, change in reclassifying L.A. city pet owners as guardians.

Ruth Weddle

President, Pet Owners

Protective League,

West Hills


At the Animal Services Commission meeting where they voted to change all the department's forms so that residents of L.A. are no longer the owners of their pets but merely the guardians, there was no discussion to clarify how "guardian" (a legal term denoting temporary custodial care) can be equated with "owner," which carries full and permanent title and accountability. Animals are considered personal property under the law for good reason--they will never be able to be emancipated and care for themselves as can a human; thus the one who makes a pet his or her "own" can be held responsible under the law for its welfare and protection for its entire lifetime.

To proclaim that merely changing a word will change the behavior of those who abuse, neglect and abandon millions of companion animals each year is naive. It would be wonderful if we could eradicate human violence, oppression and irresponsibility by merely giving the perpetrators a new warm-and-fuzzy name, but unfortunately that is not how evil is corrected. L.A. has serious, unresolved animal issues that must be addressed with the full force of law so that the residents and pets of this city can be safe. This is not the time to obfuscate terms and create confusion on documents that must be used to determine responsibility and obtain prosecutions.

Phyllis M. Daugherty

Director, Animal Issues

Movement, Los Angeles

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