Debate: Is the term pet derogatory?

British academics suggest you start calling your cats and dogs "companion animals," saying the term "pet" is insulting and outdated.
May 03, 2011
By staff

You've probably heard your veterinary clients call their pets many names: Cuddle Bug, Fluffernutter, Sweetie Pie, etc. And you certainly refer to your clients’ pets as, well, pets. But have you ever considered that the word pet might not be politically correct? British academics say domestic dogs, cats, hamsters, and so on should be rebranded as "companion animals," and pet owners should be called "human carers." Even terms such as "wildlife" are dismissed as insulting to the animals concerned. These academics suggest "wildlife" should be known instead as "free-living" animals.

The call for all the name changes come from the editors of the Journal of Animal Ethics, a new academic publication devoted to this topic. Professor Andrew Linzey, a theologian and the director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics edits the journal. In its first editorial, the journal—jointly published by the Oxford Centre and the University of Illinois—condemns the use of terms such as "critters" and "beasts."

They argue that derogatory language about animals affects the way that they're treated. The editorial claims: "Despite its prevalence, 'pets' is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers. Again, the word 'owners,' whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines, or things to use without moral constraint. We invite authors to use the words 'free-living,' 'free-ranging,' or 'free-roaming' rather than 'wild animals.' For most, 'wildness' is synonymous with uncivilized, unrestrained, barbarous existence. There is an obvious prejudgment here that should be avoided."

Professor Linzey and his co-editor Professor Priscilla Cohn, of Penn State University, also hope to see some of the more colorful terms in the English language stamped out. Phrases such as "sly as a fox," "eat like a pig," or "drunk as a skunk," are unfair to animals, they claim.