PETA (UK) is calling on all pet owners to drop the word “pet” and “owner” from their vocabulary according to Pet Gazette.

PETA argues that such language implies that animals are “no different from cars or other possessions”, and claims this idea is supported by academic research.  It cited the Journal of Animal Ethics, which published a paper that examines how “derogatory” words such as “pet” and “pest” can “affect the way we treat animals”.

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 uses 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 as 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”.

Now What?

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.

PETA asks you to choose words that show respect for animals – don’t normalise abuse and exploitation. And tell those around you that our words matter.