Any change in terminology describing the relationship between pets and owners does not strengthen that relationship and could, in fact, diminish it, according to a position statement approved by the Executive Board at its May 1-4 meeting.
This is the AVMA's official response to several cities and one state—Rhode Island—designating pet owners as guardians.
Advocates of pet guardianship, such as the animal rights group In Defense of Animals, claim "owner" overemphasizes the property status of animals. Guardianship, however, could reduce animal abuse, they say, while encouraging pet owners to provide better care for their animals.
IDA has stated that the goal of its guardianship campaign is to shift the legal status of animals from property to personhood.
Veterinarians worry, however, that if pet guardianship were eventually defined along the same lines as guardianship for humans, then pet owners might be limited in choosing from among various health care options for their pets. Moreover, veterinarians could be placed in the difficult position of trying to determine who is ultimately responsible for owners' decisions regarding patient care.
The position approved by the Executive Board reads:
Ownership vs. Guardianship
The American Veterinary Medical Association promotes the optimal health and well-being of animals. Further, the AVMA recognizes the role of responsible owners in providing for their animals' care. Any change in terminology describing the relationship between animals and owners does not strengthen this relationship and may, in fact, diminish it. Such changes in terminology may decrease the ability of veterinarians to provide services and, ultimately, result in animal suffering.
The AVMA Committee on the Human-Animal Bond submitted the statement, which was developed after a review of case law and court decisions, lengthy discussion among committee members, and consultation with a representative from the American Veterinary Medical Law Association.
Input was also sought from several AVMA entities: Legislative Advisory Committee, Animal Welfare Committee, Council on Veterinary Service, Judicial Council, Council on Public Relations, Animal Agriculture Liaison Committee, American Board of Veterinary Specialties, Council on Research, Council on Education, and the PLIT.