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11 October 2010


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David S. Greene

I was just given one of those flexible car magnets by my wife. It says "Dog Dad." That's exactly right. Dad or daddy. Pet parent feels like a letter from the mortgage company that starts "Dear homeowner."

Christie Keith

HAH! Exactly!


We use "pet parent" all the time at Embrace. Internally, externally, and when referring to ourselves and our friends and people who interact with us about their pet's health. I feel it is better than "pet owner" when it comes to the Embrace culture and the type of people who buy our products and our interactions with them. We don't address anyone though as pet parent directly (as in "Dear Pet Parent"). We always always use a person's name because that is who they are.

Liz Palika

Christie, I'm going to risk us going head to head again, as we've done on training previously but I want to explain why I DO use that phrase.

I used to use 'leader' as an explanation for a frame of mind - as in providing leadership for the dog. And I still like that phrase. My dogs are family but I like to think that I provide leadership for them; as in what is safe, what is not safe, what I prefer them to do and what I'd rather they didn't do. That's leadership in my (not so always) humble opinion.

However, various training techniques have given leadership a bad name; as in that leadership is somehow too rough.

At the same time, at Kindred Spirits (where we see 800 to 1000 dogs and owners every year) we were seeing too many owners who got a dog as a best friend (fine) but wanting a baby puppy to become their best friend with no guidance, training, leadership or anything; resulting in a spoiled rotten dog.

So in trying to convey a sense of what a baby puppy and then adolescent dog needs - until he can be grown up enough to become a best friend - is that of a sense of parenting.

A parent protects, teaches, guides, and pushes. A parent need not give birth - I haven't - but that doesn't mean I don't know what parenting is.

So for you and Heather, I won't ever call you dog parents. But I hope you can also see where I'm coming from.

Ingrid King

I struggled with what term to use when I wrote my book and still struggle with it on my own blog. Coming from the veterinary profession, pet "owner" was still very ingrained in me when I started writing, even though I never felt that we own these animals of ours. It also feels a bit too clinical to me to really express the role pets play in our lives. But pet parent just feels so artificial to me, and you definitely touched on some of the reasons why. My cats are my my kids, my family. But I'm not a parent (I don't have human children by choice, I never wanted to be a parent). But what term to use, when both "owner" and "parent" feels wrong? I've seen the use of "caretaker" in this context, but that makes me think of a janitor. I started using "human" - maybe that's what our pets would use when they think about us (as in "my human took me to the park today")?

Would love to hear thoughts from other pet writers and pet, um, humans?

Christie Keith

@Laura, yes, I know -- I think all pet insurance companies use it. I don't care for it, though.

Mary Mary


I also use "human." I take care of my elderly mother -- guide her, push her, argue with her doctors, buy vitamins and organic almonds for her, etc to the 10th power -- and it feels a lot like what I do for the various and sundry animals in my house. I am not my mother's mommy and I'm not Foo Foo's mommy either.

Words matter to me, a lot. I can be a pain in the neck about it!

Christie Keith

Liz, I understand, and it's probably like a lot of other things where there's no good solution in language, like using "partner" instead of "husband" or "wife." I mean, I HATE that term, and yet I use it, because it's often the best of an array of problematic alternatives.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite "Miss Manners" answers. Someone wrote in and asked her what the proper response was, in terms of etiquette, when one is introduced to a gay couple. Her answer was just this, with no other commentary:

"How do you do?" "How do you do?"

Liz Palika

Christie: YES! That we can agree on - there isn't so far a 'best' terminology. Maybe we need to think on that together and come up with another term that combines all the positive aspects of loving and caring for pets. We can promote it on PC.

A very good friend of mine is gay, and she and I have discussed the 'partner' terminology many times. She's not fond of it either.

One of the down falls of being a writer is that I get extremely frustrated when I - as one who uses words professionally - can't come up with the 'right' word to suit a situation. smile.....

Ark Lady


So, this post comes right in the midst of working to raise funds for the Pet Parenting School project--should I go hide now?

I am the auntie of many animals and don't view the term "pet parent" as heinous as some of the other terms floating around (guardian, custodian, etc.,).

Yes, it is more of a marketing term but more and more people are using it to convey their affection.

IMO Liz got it right--protects, teaches, guides, and pushes--when it is done right.

I use the Pet Parenting School term not to refer to training but to a lifestyle--one where change is needed.

I just wrote a post on the differences between the two and I think the main problem these days is that people fail to discern (and respect) animals as other beings and cultures.

Many of the issues I see come from the excessive pampering and aberrant behavior that results from a disconnect.

But as always, well said--and thanks for bringing it up!

Susan Fox

I'm The Collie Mom. As in "Because I said so." I make no apologies for the being leader of my pack of one and he's learned that he can depend on me. But I am emphatically NOT a Pet Parent (yuk).

I have no problem with being a pet owner. Is it possible that all this terminology stuff is be being overthunk, even given that words have power?

Raising a dog from a puppy, as I have now done, certainly involves many of the same things as raising a human child (none of my own, but watching my step-son and his wife raise two daughters). In no particular order: teaching boundaries and self-control, discipline as needed, socialization to one's own and other species, giving affection and taking the time to just play and do stuff together ("quality time").

Our dog and three cats are absolutely family members, but they are loved for being exactly, no more and no less, a dog and cats. I've always love animals. If I'd wanted human children, I'd have had them, one way or another. As near as I can tell, though, my biological clock was never plugged in.

FWIW, the term "furkids" makes me want to cough up a hairball.

Amy Suggars

For me, being a parent means raising your child to become a responsible adult who will make good decisions on her own. It means that at some point in a child's life, she will live her own independent life, without her parents, with the freedom to make her own choices about what she wants to do all day, who she wants to mate with and how she wants to raise her own children.

I am not a dog parent because I do not allow my dogs to make all their decisions on their own and I don't plan on someday allowing them to live independently...even if they offer a me a "mother-in-law suite" in their doggie condo. I don't intend to allow them to choose their mates and so forth.

I also don't like the term "dog mom" because I have never had that "mom gene". I don't refer to myself as the mom of my dogs and I don't want my dogs to be given the status of children. I want to be able to make my own decisions about their healthcare and their reproductive activities and whether or not I take them to obedience school.

I guess "benevolent dog dictator" doesn't have the appropriate level of 'touchy/feely-ness' or 'political correctness' and therefore won't catch on. But that's what I am!


Hmmm. I suspect all of my animals (dogs, cat, horses) secretly refer to me as the 'Lunch Lady'!

David S. Greene

FWIW, the term “furkids” makes me want to cough up a hairball.

Comment by Susan Fox — October 11, 2010

Thank you thank you thank you, Susan.

Ingrid King

Susan, I'm with you on the furkids thing. Furbabies seems even worse to me. However, I do use "furry family members" in my writng, so maybe I'm not exactly being consistent...


I guess 'pet parents' doesn't bother me. I'm the caretaker and provider for my pets, and am responsible for the structure in their lives. And, I don't have children of my own, so it isn't as if my "real" children would feel less about themselves by the use of the term.

As others have noted, there are problems with other terms as well ("owner" seems rigid, "caretaker" is a bit janitorial, "guardian" has it's own set of problems), so it works for me. H. Houlihan's differentiation doesn't really hold water for me either because certainly people who adopt children consider themselves parents even though they didn't technically bring the child into the world.

If your problem is the bad marketing use of the term, don't get me started. As someone who works in advertising I am probably overly sensitive to the poor attempts at using phrases to pretend to be an "insider" but are just trying to sell me something I don't really need.

And yes to David, for some reason Furkids is just awful.


I actually don't like the whole pet-mom and dad thing in addition to disliking the pet parent moniker. With a parent and child, the goal is to raise the kids to be functioning adults. Obviously that is not going to happen with a cat or dog. We are their lifetime caretakers, we're not trying to teach them how to someday stand on their own two (four?) feet.

I refer to the three cats here as roommates - two of them are slacker, non-rent paying roommates. The other one made almost as much money as I did last year as an author, so she's actually kicking in her share (she has two books out under her own name). In her case, it's more of an employer-employee relationship (and I am the employee end of it). But cat mom? No way!

(The Other) Liz

Over on Dogster, there is a "Breed Matching" thread with a variety of questions intended to help the poster be matched with their "ideal" breed. The questions are very well thought out, and include this one that relates very much to the discussion above;

"In terms of how you generally interact with dogs, are you ok or uncomfortable with the "leader" scenario? How do these words make you feel (each of them) - you are your dog's MOMMIE, you are your dog's FRIEND, you are your dog's PARTNER IN CRIME, you are your dog's MASTER."

I personally would go with partner in crime.

And very much agreed, "fur babies" and "fur kids" makes me retch. Blech.


We use caretaker. They are on loan.


*gak* "Furkids" and "furbabies" are the worst of the worst! "Pet parents" definitely sounds like someone's trying to peddle something, and "guardian" is way too ARish.

My dogs are my companions. But we're not equals; I have no problem calling myself their owner (with all of the implied legality that confers), their leader (with all of the implied guidance and training that confers), or their human (with all of the wonderful differences between our two species that infers).

I rather like the term "Boss" even though it's politically incorrect. I've had several bosses I've loved working with, it was a term of respect and affection for them. Kinda like "Chief" only less obviously masculine.

I suppose "Supreme Overlord" is a bit too much, eh?

Kim Thornton

We call ourselves our dogs' mom and dad for lack of a better term, but when I'm writing I try to refer to a dog's "people" or "family" rather than use owner.

Phyllis DeGioia

I really, *really* want to know about the new Kindle, and I don't care if you said not to ask.

Ginger, Dodger, and Dickens's mom (not a pet parent...just mom, the term they use at the vet school)

Maria Shanley

I'm fine with being my dogs', cat's and horses' owner, although I think it goes both ways - who owns whom? I certainly don't see them as child substitutes, and am very glad they are not human! They are my dependents, and need some of the things that a human dependent would need, but they are adults of their species. Their otherness from humans is part of the point.


My vet's office sometimes refers to me in some variation of mommy. I also can't stand being labeled as being an animal mommy or a pet parent. Though I understand the necessity of the vet's office adding my last name to prescription labels, I'm even uncomfortable with that.

I love my pets, they are my family, but for me the label of pet mommy / furkid conjures up people like my dad who refused to train and give our dog boundaries because she wasn't a dog, she was a Person. Or the stereotypical pocket pet that's treated like a baby with fur instead of an animal.

My pets are animals and as such have their own needs and behaviors precisely because they are animals and not furry children. To be called a pet mommy puts me in with people who have poorly behaved animals or dogs made neurotic because they're treated like children and not animals.

I celebrate my pets for what they are, animals.

Christie Keith

Rawley says he's not sure what we have against "handmaiden," and Bernadette The Weather Duck® says "staff" is her preferred nomenclature and thus, she's certain, ours as well.


I consider myself Curator. Or, on occasion, Keeper of the Grounds and Keys :-)


I refer to us as "family"; they refer to us as "staff".

Liz Palika

From the thesaurus:

Leader: boss, captain, chief, general, commander, and many other military terms. Director, eminence, guide, forerunner, manager, mistress, officer, pacesetter, ringleader, shepherd, superior, and more.

Parent: ancestor, cause, center, creator, folks, forerunner, guardian, and more.

Guardian: keeper, protector, attendant, champion, custodian, escort, guard, overseer, shepherd, supervisor, vigilante, warden, and more.

Interesting directions these go - as well as the repetition of words.


Susan Fox says, Is it possible that all this terminology stuff is be being overthunk, even given that words have power?

And yet, also says:

But I am emphatically NOT a Pet Parent (yuk)

And also:

FWIW, the term “furkids” makes me want to cough up a hairball.

I'm thinking it might not be those of us who are comfortable with the term "pet parent" but also have no particularly strong feelings about other terms that other people might prefer, who are doing the "overthinking" or putting too much stress on the issue.


I've never liked the word pet to describe my dog or cat. Rabbit, cavy or some other herbivore, maybe, but a carnivore? And I agree with you all about pet parent, caretaker, custodian, guardian and the rest of the politically correct nonsense. I see nothing pejorative about being a cat or dog owner.

I tried the Thesaurus earlier both in book form and online and found no worthy synonym under owner or parent, but all you need do is type Thesaurus.com and look for yourselves. I think English with it's normally vast vocabulary is failing us.

I am rather partial to "dogsbody", 19th Brit sailor slang for a menial, a drudge. That moniker would be apt punishment as it seems some days that's how my dog pack views me- their Dogsbody. Catsbody though doesn't have the same ring to it.


Coming from the journalism side of pet writing, I have a hard time with the "pet parent/furkids/dog mom" personas. I also have a hard time using a personal pronoun to describe a dog or cat (other than my own of course, who is on par with a Roman Goddess).

When asked by a WSJ reporter if I considered myself a "dog mom," I said, "Why do you ask?" She was working on a story about pet marketing, and had been making the rounds of dog parks, agility fields, and on that day, was at the dock diving facility where I train. "Everyone seems to refer to their dogs as their 'furkid,'" the reporter said. I just smiled.

"I own dogs," I told her. "That does not lessen my responsibility to make sure they stay physically healthy and active and involved in dog sports that stimulate their brains and keep them emotionally engaged. Some people think that makes them a dog mom. I don't."

I don't know what to call it, but I don't call myself a pet parent dog mom.

Susan Fox

I only mentioned my own preferences/opinions, as is obvious from the quotes you chose, (since that is, in fact, the topic of this post) and did not dictate what I thought anyone else should do. You, of course, are free to be comfortable with whatever terminology you wish. But "pet parent" does not currently seem to be leading the field.


I kind of like Coach. But 12. benevolent dog dictator works too.

My Mom considers herself Grandma to the dogs, but I have noticed that when push comes to shove the human grandkids (my brothers children) get preferential treatment.

Friends refer to my roommate and I as the schnauzer ladies, and I'm ok with that too, even though the corgwyn and the havanese aren't.


My friends and I use pawrent. We all see our dogs as dogs and not kids in fur suits. Furkids - blech.

H. Houlahan

The first time I encountered this term was several years ago in a corporate annual report for PetsMart. It is their euphemism for "the kind of customer who will buy any useless overpriced crap for the dog if we can hit their guilt button over it." They discussed, in general terms, a marketing strategy that was aimed at not only exploiting the credulity of these customers, but at grooming more customers to this kind of sentimentality-based over-consumption.

That is the genesis of my visceral revulsion of the term. It is the commercial equivalent of political astroturfing.


I am pretty sure that the demonspitz considers me her minion and/or jailer, depending on whether or not the crate door is closed.

I like 3 Woofs & A Woo's soluiton - Food Lady. :)

Susan Fox

"Minion" has possibilities. Especially with the cats.

Dr. Tony Johnson


I am with you - I feel the emotion behind the phrase, and I agree with it (as well as the description of what Liz sees as the relationship between dogs and people) but the actual phrase makes we want to hurl.

It is sooooo koochy-koo treacly.

It seems very disingenuous, and I don't even know what that word means.

"Pet owner" falls off my tongue easily and is the lingo of our profession, but I can see where folks can take offense if it is read too literally.

Someone, please - someone with a thesaurus PLEASE develop an alternative to this phrase!

Susan Fox

And preferably something PETA would hate.

Christie Keith

Rori, if we cut Ms. Houlahan slack this time, where does it lead? What will she learn from the experience? Will it not just be yet more R+ in a never-ending cascade of R+ that teaches Ms. Houlahan that the world is her oyster, that we are her slaves, and that there are NO NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF ANY KIND FOR THIS TYPE OF BEHAVIOR?


I consider myself "Queen B*tch" in hopes that some day the cats will agree :) Until then, I'm "Food Dispenser", "Door Person", etc . . . The canine and feathered one seem to understand their/my place in the home, but the felines . . . {sigh}

They should really have a focus group populated by felines to test these PC marketing terms out on . . .


We use pet parent (it's even part of a URL... www.veterinarywisdomforpetparents.com) I think we went that way because it's a softer way of saying pet owner. (Pet Owner is offensive to some...)

PErsonally, I don't think of myself as a pet parent. I don't call my cats my kids (or furkids) either. I'm not a mom - cats or humans.

That said - I'm not offended by the term or anyone who wants to use it. I understand why people (us included!) use it... :)


However, whenever a commercial entity uses “pet parent,” I know it’s a cynical attempt to sell me something, whether it’s a line of BS (a la Blue Buffalo’s “Dear Fellow Pet Parent” recall notice) or some cheap Chinese pet toys.

Of course it is! That's what they do: sell things.

Either way, hearing “pet parent” from a company is a sign to turn on my brain and take a tight hold on my wallet.

Um. No.

The fact that they are directing any messages at you at all is a sign to turn on your brain and take a tight hold on your wallet, because they are in the business of selling things.



I suppose the problem is that it's not specific enough.

I agree that "fur baby", "pet guardian" etc. seem to be trying to create a particular kind of sentimentality that's not necessarily good for the actual animal.

H. Houlahan

“Pet,” of course, is a very old English word for animals who are not kept solely for their practical usefulness, but rather are members of the family. And as such, applied to dogs and cats (who came into the house, and weren’t ever going to end up on the dinner plate) long before it was applied to any herbivores (of whom only horses were not usually scheduled to become dinner at some point.)

"Pet" was likely first applied, not to dogs and cats, but to bottle-raised lambs. Early uses of the term seem disproportionately to refer to a favored human being, often a child of the servant class (free or slave), and to carry a tut-tutting pejorative implication, whether applied to a "cute" (another word that started out as a mild pejorative) child or a spoiled and not-very-useful dog.


I grew up in the era when pets were still pets and we owned them. A lot has changed and if certain groups ever get their way we can expect more changes. That said, the terms "pet parent" and "pet dad/mom" and all the others make me cringe. Also, I cringe when people say "the little woman" or "the wife" in reference their spouse or mine, it removes partner, lover and friend from the relationship.

It's my dogs and me, plain and simple.

Gina Spadafori

We’re parents when we’re consumers - when we’re victims we’re owners of property.

Comment by Kim — October 12, 2010


This is the heart of the issue.

Phyllis DeGioia

I see a lot of email sent to the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) since I'm the editor of www.veterinarypartner.com and work with the news service. I absolutely *cringe* when someone writes to a company and says "furkids" or "furbabies." That's far worse than "my babies." I understand the use among friends, although I don't use them. But to write to a corporation using these kinds of endearments is just WRONG - if you want your communication to be taken seriously, use more formal and universally acknowledged terms (such as pet or owner). I'm just sayin'....

Gina Spadafori

I do refer to myself as their "Mom" around other pet people, and otherwise as their "owner," and I'm fine with either -- it's contextual.

However, whenever a commercial entity uses "pet parent," I know it's a cynical attempt to sell me something, whether it's a line of BS (a la Blue Buffalo's "Dear Fellow Pet Parent" recall notice) or some cheap Chinese pet toys.

Either way, hearing "pet parent" from a company is a sign to turn on my brain and take a tight hold on my wallet.


I’ve never liked the word pet to describe my dog or cat. Rabbit, cavy or some other herbivore, maybe, but a carnivore?

What does being a carnivore or an herbivore have to do with it? Seriously. Why is "pet" okay for herbivores, but not for carnivores?

"Pet," of course, is a very old English word for animals who are not kept solely for their practical usefulness, but rather are members of the family. And as such, applied to dogs and cats (who came into the house, and weren't ever going to end up on the dinner plate) long before it was applied to any herbivores (of whom only horses were not usually scheduled to become dinner at some point.)

And I agree with you all about pet parent, caretaker, custodian, guardian and the rest of the politically correct nonsense. I see nothing pejorative about being a cat or dog owner.

Yeah, "political correctness" is absolutely the only reason why anyone would use terms to describe their relationship with their pets that you don't happen to prefer yourself.

I also have a hard time using a personal pronoun to describe a dog or cat (other than my own of course, who is on par with a Roman Goddess).

Your pets are individuals; other people's pets are objects.

That is the genesis of my visceral revulsion of the term. It is the commercial equivalent of political astroturfing.

I can totally understand that. But you know what? I assume that anything a retailer directs at me is marketing, and I don't much care. Petsmart and Petco don't make most of their money off the people for whom their pets are objects; of course they try to manipulate our emotions. Major department stores also try to convince me I'll be horridly neglecting, even abusing, my family if I don't spend all my money there, too.

I call myself mom to my dog and cat. I feel it describes our emotional relationship quite well, and it does't change the fact that legally I am their owner and that ownership creates its own raft of obligations and considerations in how I relate to other people regarding my dog and cat.

I call them my pets, my babies, my little girls. I don't call them my children, because that feels, to me, like a step too far, or kids, because to me that creates confusion about who's being referred to. To other people, it doesn't, and I'm fine with that.

I have no problems with what other people feel comfortable with in talking about their pets. What bugs me is when other people feel compelled to explain how WRONG other people's choices are.

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