Ownership v. Guardianship

Animals are ethically and legally regarded as property. As such, they can be used as their owners may wish, with notable prohibitions against cruelty towards some animals, the extinction of some animals, and the organized fighting of some animals. For example, killing a dog for sport is illegal, but not killing a fish.

Many have considered a philosophical shift in our approach to animals. This “new” approach is sometimes referred to as “animal rights.” The scope of this topic is vast, and the interested reader is referred to the Animal Legal and Historical Center for more information, and specifically the article by Gary L. Francione entitled Animal Rights Theory and Utilitarianism: Relative Normative Guidance ( 3 Animal L. 75 (1997) .)

Some advocates of animals rights have suggested that the laws related to domestic animals (at least) should eliminate the concept of ownership, replacing it with that of “guardianship.” The ethical and moral reasons for this proposal are interesting and compelling. However, many dog bite laws apply to owners, and those who lobby for this change have not provided a solution for the confusion it would create. Furthermore, a guardian does not have the legal right to exercise dominion over that which is the subject of the guardianship, raising additional questions about the duties and liabilities of guardians of animals. For example, as the owner of a dog, one can decide whether to give the dog a degree and quality of veterinary care that would prolong its life or just the opposite, to end its suffering; as the guardian instead of the owner, however, one might not necessarily have that right. This is one of many issues raised by the concept of guardianship.