Bruce Zeman brought a lawsuit against his former apartment landlord on behalf of his family and twenty other tenants of the building to enable them to keep their companion animals. After winning the suit, he went on to campaign in his city, Wanaque, New Jersey, to change the language of city ordinances from "pet owners" to "guardians." In 2004, Wanaque became the first "Guardian City" in New Jersey, and the new law was called "Nathan's Law" after Bruce's dog friend (see above). As active participants in IDA's Guardian Campaign, Bruce and Nathan make presentations to school children to raise consciousness about respect for animals. Bruce also deals with animal issues extensively on the radio show he hosts. This essay is part of a longer one Bruce is publishing in pamphlet form.
Bruce and Nathan
Change is coming, and for the animals, it can’t happen soon enough.
Whether it’s the 8-10 million perfectly adoptable animals euthanized in
the United States each year, the 660,000 slaughtered for food every hour, or
the appalling cases of cruelty where perpetrators get little more than a
slap on the wrist, the time has come to change the way we speak about, and
perceive, non-human animals. Animal rights and welfare organizations have
existed for years, and yet even today, one of the most daunting challenges
remains how to alter perceptions. The question remains, “How can our vision
of animals transcend the antiquated view of treating them as “things” or
“commodities” rather than sentient beings, with needs and complex emotional
and intellectual lives of their own?
Part of the solution rests in countering the archaic and incorrect
assumption that animals are non-thinking, non-feeling objects to be used,
exploited and objectified. The remainder of the solution, more than likely,
lies within each of us - if we are willing to look at ourselves, and change
our own behaviors. Humans are but one species on the planet, and our mere
presence by no means entitles us to unquestioned superiority. The time has
come for change - in actions, thoughts and language. The time has come for a
paradigm shift with respect to ending stereotypes and human authority over
another species. History is providing us with an unmistakable call to action
- to create a moral and ethical imperative embracing our responsibility for,
and towards, animals.
Education - The Prescription for Change
Throughout history, education and semantics have played a vital role in
every social movement, and the growing push for animal rights is no
different. It was not long ago African Americans, women and children were
regarded as property. In the case of animals, altering the way humans speak
of (and view them) is even more critical. Animals cannot speak for or defend
themselves, and must rely on those who believe there is a moral, ethical and
legal obligation to protect them from abuse, exploitation and neglect -
members of one species protecting the rights and well-being of another.
In Defense of Animals (IDA), an international animal protection
organization based in California, whose singular mission is to protect the
rights, welfare and habitats of animals worldwide, has worked tirelessly for
over 25 years to end animal exploitation, cruelty and abuse. In 1999, IDA
launched the “Guardian Campaign,” to elevate the status of animals above
mere property, commodities or things, by changing perceptions of animals
through subtle, but critical change in language. In the past, animals had
legal standing as commodities or property, and often their exploitation,
neglect or abuse was ignored, rationalized, and even justified. At the dawn
of the 21st century, IDA and its visionary founder, Dr. Elliot Katz, DVM,
set out to revolutionize those views.
The “Guardian Campaign” was created to reflect growing public support for
a redefined public standard of relating to animals. With animal-companions
taking an ever-increasing, and more important, role in families, more and
more people began to refer to themselves as “guardians,” instead of
“owners,” recognizing the deep personal relationships humans develop with
non-human animals. Replacing the term “owner” with “guardian” may seem like
an insignificant play on words, something trivial, but history has shown
that movements are spearheaded by words, and this very change in semantics
can stir people to action, and alter history.
Since 2000, when Boulder, Colorado, became the first “Guardian City,” the
campaign has spread across North America with the realization it was time to
embrace the powerful idea that we respect and honor animal lives as
distinctly their own, as well as acknowledging the profound bond that exists
between humans and their animal companions. Currently, almost 6 million
Americans and Canadians are officially recognized as “guardians,” and the
number is growing. In cities across North America, state and local
governments, community groups, and schools, along with child and animal
welfare organizations, are adopting “guardian language” since it is a more
accurate representation of the connection between people and their animal
Guardians - Why Words Matter
Here are a few of the benefits “guardians” bring to their communities and
the animals who live there:
Guardians Recognize Animals as Individuals, Not Objects
Making a conscious effort to use the term “guardian” instead of “owner,” imprints upon a community’s consciousness the importance of animals. By viewing, treating and speaking about animals from the perspective of a “guardian,” a person demonstrates that he or she respects and recognizes animals as individuals with needs and interests of their own.
Guardians Recognize Changing Public Attitudes
Society’s changing attitudes toward animals is reflected in language people use to write and speak about them. Numerous studies indicate the majority of people living with animal companions see them as family members. Using the term, “guardian” exudes respect. Adults, using the term, set an example to help children appreciate dogs, cats and other animals as living creatures who depend on us for care and protection.
Guardians Reduce the Number of Animals in Puppy Mills
Most animals sold in pet stores come from puppy mills. Every animal purchased equals one euthanized at a shelter or humane society. Buying that adorable puppy or kitten seen in the pet shop window, directly affects the tragic over-population problem by taking a potential home away from an animal about to be euthanized in a shelter. Buying an animal also funds puppy mills, and contributes to the perception of animals as marketable commodities. When someone says he or she “owns” animals, it encourages others to see these “owned” animals as having only monetary value. When people call themselves a “guardian,” they communicate the emotional value of animals.
Guardians Help Decrease Abuse and Abandonment
Adults have the opportunity to teach young people that being a “guardian” is a valued personal characteristic. When adults lead by example, children will be less likely to abuse or abandon their animal companions. When adoption agencies, shelters, and rescue organizations work with the community to reinforce the idea of being a “guardian,” people in the community will far more likely feel they are adding a family member, as opposed to purchasing a disposable piece of property.
Guardians Positively Impact Local Communities
It is a community-based effort to legally recognize citizens as “guardians.” A community of “guardians,” working together, can have a positive impact on animal issues facing the municipality, such as shelter overpopulation, barking dogs, dog fighting and animal abuse. Calling residents “guardians” empowers communities to work together toward common solutions. Updating a community’s codes to include the term “guardian” is a symbolic change demonstrating a new attitude of public concern for animal welfare. Though updated legal language does not affect one’s legal rights, responsibilities, or liabilities, the psychological and sociological impact of the language change helps advance positive and encouraging views toward animals and their care.
Changing people’s perceptions about animals won’t happen overnight, but
it will happen. The key to facilitating such change lies in humane education
and fostering an awareness that animals exist for their own reasons, not
simply to benefit humans. Many open-minded and compassionate adults have
already embraced the idea of being a “guardian” instead of an “owner,” but
the impetus for permanent change lies in educating future generations about
animals, and our responsibilities to them. Children must be empowered to
make the world a better, more compassionate place. Once these children
become adults, they will pass on experiences to their kids, and so on. The
cycle of compassion needs to begin now. With the right educational support
and parental reinforcement, it can and will perpetuate itself.
Remember - one person can make a difference! Be part of the solution, not the problem.