Pet or Animal Companion?
How do you refer to the animals that you share your home with? Roy, my ninja panther, is my companion. And I’d say that the house that I pay a mortgage on is more his than mine, as he spends 24/7 of his life there. He is family, and my friends and my mom will often refer to him as “my boy.” I never call him “my pet” or “a pet.” The word “pet” dates back to the 16th century and can be traced to Scotland and Northern England. It was originally used to refer to “a domestic or tamed animal kept for companionship or pleasure.” But the meanings of words can change and I, amongst other animal geographers and individuals who advocate for animal rights, feel that the word “pet” does not necessarily have the same meaning it had in the past centuries. My master’s research focused a lot on how humans interact with non-human animals (yes, humans are animals), particularly domesticated animals, and what most research found was that the term “pet” tends to imply control, ownership and objectification of a non-human animal. When “pet” is combined with “owner” it recalls an era when animals were regarded as “property, machines or things to use without moral constraints.”
The alternatives are the terms animal companion or companion animal. Many animal rescues, including the Toronto Humane Society, academic journals, and even veterinarians try to avoid the term “pet” and use the alternatives to refer to the animals that you share your home with. I don’t completely condemn the use of the word pet, as long as is it used respectfully. Even though many people consider themselves “owners” of “pets,” they don’t necessarily view their companion animals as property. Whatever term you use to describe the non-human animals you share your home with, we hope that you appreciate them as much as they appreciate you.
Angela Dawn Parker, MSc
Founder & Director of Operations