The folks who often visit Pictures of Cats.org (PoC) love their kitties and the majority of kitty guardians consider their cats as family members. Sharing our hearts and homes with these delightful animals gives us a great deal of pleasure and in this writer’s opinion; nothing beats the unconditional love that feline companions give us.
This said I am having a hard time understanding why cats are often referred to as “it” rather than “he” or “she” and why they are legally considered “property” (incidentally, Michael who owns PoC, always refers to cats as “he” and “she”. He makes a point of it). After all, do we “own” our children or our spouses? The answer to that absurd, rhetorical question is a no-brainer; children or spouses are people so they aren’t legally considered property.
At the same time how many of us often refer to our cats as “fur-kids”? In fact, according to an article on National Geographic published in 2014, in 2013, pet guardians spent $55 billion on the animals with whom we share our lives, and over 80 percent of them would probably risk their lives for them. This sounds like “family” to me. For most kitty lovers cats are not considered “property”, and I have yet to hear anyone who is owned by kitties refer to their “fur-kids” as “its”.
Fortunately, the good news is that times are a-changin. This may lead to our cats (and dogs) being rightfully referred to as “he” or “she”. The majority of pet guardians (aka “pawrents”) are growing mightily uncomfortable with the law that continues to consider our pets to be no different in status than a car or TV set.
When it comes to our cats’ arcane legal classification, what appears to be happening more and more is the emergence of a variety of changes in the law which are beginning to blur the line between “human” and “animals” and “persons” and “property”; i.e. cats and dogs.
For example, in custody cases some judges are now taking into consideration the cat’s well-being and which home would be more suitable for the kitty. Additionally, in some states pet guardians may be able to sue for “loss of companionship and emotional suffering” if a cat or dog is killed. At one time this possibility was only available in regard to children or spouses.
But the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is opposed to the idea of giving pets legal “personhood” status. I would think that since it gives companion animals greater respect, the organization would be in favor of this change.
Apparently the AVMA may be considering if pets are no longer property and “its”, veterinarians may be worried that if they make a mistake, a client could more easily sue them for malpractice. Since pets are considered property, suing for malpractice is almost impossible unless the “owner” can prove veterinary negligence or incompetence. The most an “owner” can expect in compensation would be the pet’s monetary value. But if pets are finally awarded legal “personhood” status, it would considerably up the amount of financial award should the guardian wins his or her case.
There are also some who think that “personhood” for pets might somehow devalue being human. Additionally, if pets are to be considered “people” would it be ethical to have them neutered or spayed; or for that matter, bought and sold?
I wonder if our beloved cats will forever continue to be referred to as “it”? But whether or not cats eventually do attain “personhood” status; isn’t it time to stop referring to them as property? What do you think? Share your opinions in a comment.
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Note from MikeB: this article was first published in 2016. It deserves a republish as I thoroughly agree with it. The law is behind in terms of attitudes towards companion animals compared to what it is happening and has happened in homes. The law regards cats as inanimate property. Cat caregivers don’t. They are sentient beings to all good caregivers. Interestingly even top authors from around 10 years ago refer to cats as ‘it’. It is noteworthy that the four vets who authored Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook refer to cats as ‘she’ throughout. They refuse to take the ‘it’ approach. Dr Bruce Fogle DVM for all his fantastic writing refers to cats as ‘it’ as does Dr Desmond Morris in Catwatching and Cat World. I don’t think they would do it now. It is an old-fashioned way of referring to companion animals. It is outmoded. It is over, dead and buried, as a term of the English language. And if you are writing about an abstract cat chose one sex or the other. It does not matter. I alternate between ‘she’ and ‘he’ about equally.
Below are some more pages on the human to cat relationship.