The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) just published its new Guidelines for Responsible Pet Ownership (Journal of the AVMA, 2012 Jan 1;240(1):11-12), parting ways with the California VMA’s Golden Rules of Pet Ownership that it had previously endorsed. It’s interesting, and instructive, to compare the two. I’ve rearranged them so the most similar rules are side-by-side. In some cases, rules have either been combined or separated; and some do not seem to have a corresponding rule in the other set.

The joy of pet ownership also brings responsibility. As a responsible pet owner, I WILL: Owning a pet is a privilege and should result in a mutually beneficial relationship. However, the benefits of pet ownership come with obligations. Responsible pet ownership includes:
Avoid making an impulsive decision about getting a pet. I will learn about and carefully select a pet suited for my home and yard, and my lifestyle. Committing to the relationship for the life of the pet(s).
Avoiding impulsive decisions about obtaining pet(s), and carefully selecting pet(s) suited to your home and lifestyle.
Recognizing that ownership of pet(s) requires an investment of time and money.
Adhere to local ordinances including licensing and leash requirements. Adherence to local ordinances, including licensing and leash requirements.
Control my pet for its own safety.
Keep only pets for whom I can provide a pleasant and safe environment, adequate food and shelter, and companionship. I will be a responsible caretaker throughout my pet’s life. Keeping only the type and number of pets for which an appropriate and safe environment can be provided, including adequate and appropriate food, water, shelter, health care and companionship.
Have my pet spayed or neutered, or take responsibility for my pet’s offspring. Controlling pet(s)’ reproduction through managed breeding, containment, or spay/neuter, thereby helping to address animal control and overpopulation problems.
Do my part to help solve animal control and overpopulation problems.
Provide identification for my pets by using I.D. tags or other means. Ensuring pets are properly identified (i.e., tags, microchips, or tattoos) and that registration information in associated databases is kept up-to-date.
Provide regular health care as recommended by my veterinarian including rabies vaccination and other inoculations. Establishing and maintaining a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.
Providing preventive (e.g., vaccinations, parasite control) and therapeutic health care for the life of pet(s) in consultation with, and as recommended by, its veterinarian.
Recognizing declines in the pet(s)’ quality of life and making decisions in consultation with a veterinarian regarding appropriate end-of-life care (e.g., palliative care, hospice, euthanasia).
Clean up after my pets and appropriately dispose of their waste. I will prevent my pet from being unnecessarily noisy or aggressive. Preventing pet(s) from negatively impacting other people, animals and the environment, including proper waste disposal, noise control, and not allowing pet(s) to stray or become feral.
I will respect the living environment.
Providing exercise and mental stimulation appropriate to the pet(s)’ age, breed, and health status.
Socialization and appropriate training for pet(s), which facilitates their well-being and the well-being of other animals and people.
Advance preparation to ensure the pet(s)’ well-being in the case of an emergency or disaster, including assembling an evacuation kit.
Making alternative arrangements if caring for the pet is no longer possible.

Both sets of “rules” are promulgated by veterinary associations, but the new AVMA guidelines are far more specific, as well as massively more verbose! They are also far more self-serving; there are many more points that involve–and give considerable authority to–veterinarians. The California rules are relatively general, simple, and innocuous, while AVMA clearly had both its legal and marketing departments involved. CVMA kept their list short, but AVMA evidently thought a lot more rules were needed. A couple of CVMA’s rules are, well, very Californian…such as, “I will respect the living environment.” What does that mean, exactly? It’s a nice sentiment, but how exactly are pet “owners” supposed to accomplish that?

AVMA definitely kept its eye on the money. Its guidelines refer to the necessary “investment,” as well as specifically directing that investment: vaccinations, parasite control, therapeutic health care, and the all-important “veterinarian-client-patient relationship.” But geez… these rules might have the opposite effect: any rational person would think twice about even having a pet, given all the onerous responsibilities and expenses that are so thoroughly spelled out! I wonder how many veterinarians actually comply with all of these rules! (I’m doing fair-to-middling on most of them, except for that vaccination-parasiticide thing; though I must admit that, despite living right next to a canal, my “evacuation kit” is not up to snuff!)

It’s interesting that all these are phrased in the positive: DO THIS. No mention of things you shouldn’t do, like treat your pets cruelly, or surgically mutilate them for fashion or convenience. (Of course, veterinary associations have different ideas about those details than some of us!)

Problematically, both sets of rules consistently and pointedly use terms like “ownership” When Jackson Galaxy and I started Little Big Cat nearly a decade ago, we vowed to use the term “guardian” or “parent” or “caregiver” and avoid the word “owner” whenever possible. “Guardian” (and similar terms) implies a relationship that is more complex, heartfelt, and yes, more responsible, than “owning” a toaster or a sofa or a dog would be. The veterinary profession, as a whole, is highly opposed to using any term but “owner,” due to fear of higher malpractice rates if pets are valued more than a toaster or a sofa (even though these fears have not materialized in the nearly 20-year existence of the guardian movement, which is spearheaded by In Defense of Animals; for more information, please visit their Guardian Campaign page.)

So, I’m really curious…what do you all think about these rules and guidelines? How are you doing with these “requirements”? Would you pass or fail as a “pet owner” under each of these standards? What’s missing here? What’s too much?

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