Why I’ll Never Own a Dog Again

Honey the Golden Retriever is the Light at the End of the Tunnel

I don’t have to stay in this tunnel. You don’t own me.

Twenty years ago I owned my first dog. Two, in fact.

But I don’t own a dog now. And I won’t ever own one again.

Being a Dog Owner

When I read Alice Walker’s essay in The Bark’s Dog Is My Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World’s Oldest Friendship, about bringing home her first dog, Marley, I got it. Deep in my bones, I felt the truth of her words.

Walker wrote about how she could not call herself Marley’s owner. Being the descendent of slaves, the idea of owning someone she was building a relationship with didn’t feel right.

And I don’t feel that “ownership” describes how I feel about Honey.

Yes, I know that legally I am her owner. That the rights I have under the law are property rights. But if I try to call myself her owner, the words stick in my throat.

These ideas make writing Something Wagging This Way Comes challenging at times. I struggle for words. I use the phrase “dogs we live with” or something like that instead of dog owner.

Is it important?

Honey doesn’t care. Most people I meet would wonder why I was making such a big deal over such a dumb thing. But words are important. And the words I use affect how I feel.

Honey Never Heels

Honey and I will never earn obedience trophies.

I admire teams that compete together. Rally and obedience work is a great way to build a bond and give a person and her dog skills to work on.

But I’m not into technical precision when Honey and I are walking. We just need to be paying enough attention to each other to have an enjoyable walk.

As long as Honey isn’t pulling on the leash, I don’t care where she is—behind me, ahead, or by my side. 

When I need her to come closer so we can pass an obstacle or give someone room on the sidewalk, I tell her “with me” and Honey walks alongside me. When I say, “go sniff,” she is free to leave my side and continue walking where she wishes.

What’s the difference between asking Honey to heel or saying “with me?”

I guess it comes down to tone. I can sing out “with me.” But heel always sounds like a command. Try it. Try saying “heel” in a friendly, lilting tone of voice. You can’t do it, can you?

It’s precise, it’s quick. It isn’t friendly.

And that’s okay. Once again, your dog doesn’t care what words you use.

But I feel like our walk is more fun if I use verbal cues that sound friendly.

Nicknames

Does anyone call their dog by his name?

When I need her to pay attention, I call my pup Honey. But the rest of the time, she’s H-Boo, Fuzzy, Pooder Girl, Wooly Boo, Sweetie, Lil Blonde Girl, Cutie Patootie, or something else.

Honey the Golden Retriever at Ithaca Falls

This is not a waterfall. It’s a Zoomie Cascade.

When my husband is being affectionate with Honey, he calls her Dummy. I have no idea why.

He says it very gently and with a lot of love. But I don’t know why he has to use that word.

It reminds me of when my sister started dating the man she later married. After spending the weekend with my family, he told her, “Your family is mean.”

You see, I’m related to a bunch of “teasers.” We don’t hug and kiss and say “I love you” all the time. We show our affection by teasing. And we let someone know we consider them part of the family by including them in our teasing.

But hearing Bob’s comment, I knew he was right. And I thought back to times in my life when I could have used some comfort but was teased instead. Just because it’s meant with affection doesn’t mean it always feels good.

Once again, Honey doesn’t mind being called Dummy. She’s having fun with Mike and she’s happy for the attention. But I feel weird listening to it.

Words Have Power

Words define us. That’s why the U.S just elected 20 women to the Senate, not 20 girls or ladies.

And words can change our moods. I’ve learned to tell myself, “I feel sad” instead of “I am sad.” For some reason, “I feel sad” describes a temporary event. While “I am sad” is just the first statement followed by “I’m always sad,” “I never do anything right,” and “I’m such a loser.”

So even though Honey doesn’t care if I “own” her or if I ask her to “heel” or walk “with me,” it matters to me. It makes me feel differently depending on the words I’m using. And my feelings affect my relationship.

So you can own a dog if you want to. It doesn’t matter to me.

But I don’t own a dog. And I’ll never own one again.

 

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Comments

  1. This was fabulous. People don’t realize the power that words have. They can never be taken back and they remain in our memory.
    I never say I “own” a cat or a dog…but…I am on the other end of the spectrum where people think I am nuts because I say “I am a dog Mom” or “I am a cat Mom”…….I don’t have kids of my own (other than grown stepkids) and pets have filled that void for me.

  2. What an interesting article. I really had never thought about the word pet owner like that before. You’re absolutely right!

    • I started thinking about this because I “felt” something weird in my stomach when I tried to use the word “owner.” It’s funny how our bodies can get our brains churning.

  3. This was a wonderful post. I struggle with words constantly to talk about my fur babies. The word “Owner” for our relationship with our animals has all struck me wrong. You articulated that struggle so well.

    • Sometimes we need to invent new words. Pet parent seems to be popular with many people now. But I don’t find it works for me.

      Maybe I should take a survey to see what term most people like.

  4. Great post. As it happens, I’m doing a story about pet trusts for a veterinary newsletter and interviewing a lawyer today. I’m interested to learn the latest thinking on this issue because I know a lot of people balk at the use of the term.

    • Please put a link to your post on FB. I’d love to read it.

      Law is slowly changing. I think many judges don’t find property to be quite the right designation for the animals we live with. But legal changes in the status of dogs and cats etc. can have a huge effect.

      For instances, can’t you just see PETA bringing lawsuits on behalf of dogs who don’t want to be neutered?

      • It won’t be a post but if there’s an online version of the story in one of the newsletters (I’m writing for both CatWatch and DogWatch), I’ll definitely link to it.

        I can definitely see PETA doing something like that. Ugh.

  5. I loved this post. I taught English for years and always found that people use words indiscriminately sometimes because of their limited vocabulary, sometimes because they don’t care. But words mean something and the connotation is just as important as the actual meaning.
    The word heel always sounded harsh. if it’s okay with you and Honey, I’m going to adopt it. Besides, BJ never seemed to “hear” it anyway.

    • I wish I could remember the dog trainer I read who first questioned the use of the word “heel.” It got me thinking about what I wanted to happen on a walk. And I think that’s improved my relationship with my dogs.

      BTW BJ was probably waiting for you to find a phrase that sounded more fun. :)

  6. Love that. It’s so true. Dogs are part of the family, and family isn’t owned. If I raise my voice at either dog, the look on their faces is awful.

  7. I think we used that word “own” because we don’t really know another way to describe it. But I’m picking up what you’re putting down.

    How do you like partner? I think partner is a good word to define my relationship with my dogs. Of course I could always say they were my “domestic partners” which would also be accurate, or I could say, “I’m in a committed relationship with my dog” but I think partner works for me.

    I think you and I would walk beautifully (along with our dogs) together, because I don’t care if my dog is by my side or not, as long as they are enjoying themselves.

    As always, a very thought provoking post Pamela, I do hope you have recovered from your bout with food poisoning.

    • Bwa ha ha, in a committed relationship, huh? I’d love to hear what your husband would have to say if you started using that phrase to describe Sampson and Delilah. :)

      I’m feeling back to normal. I actually think it was “mouse poisoning,” not food poisoning. I toasted some bread my husband left on the counter without thinking about our mouse problem. Yes, we’re still trying to get rid of the little fellas without killing them. Honey almost caught one yesterday.

  8. Great post, and a very interesting topic (and thanks for covering it without delving into the realm of “furbabies”). It’s something I’ve thought on as well, and you’re so very right: words do have power.

    • Ooooh, I could see quite a discussion on who thinks of their dogs as youngsters or babies and who thinks of them as adults.

  9. I do refer to myself as the owner of my dogs, but not in the sense that I own a car or a house. I think dog owner has whole different connotations from home owner and I have little emotional attachment to my car.

    I live in California where there is a silly movement to refer to us as “guardians.” I don’t have an emotional attachment to something I am guarding. Behind the movement is the implication that the government owns the dog and has the right of removal if we’re not good little humans.

    My human children objected years ago to me referring to myself as my dogs’ Mom.

    • You make a really interesting point, Jan. Behind your use of the word owner is the idea that you are the person best able to make responsible and caring choices for your animals.

      It’s not something I would have thought of without your holding it up against the term guardian.

  10. Like the others, I completely understand where you are coming from and respect your word choices. Words do have power, as I am constantly telling my husband. The use of the word “girl” to describe a woman over the age of 18 drives me nuts and I am so often raging against other similar epithets.

    I do use the word owner liberally but I understand why others are uncomfortable. While I don’t consider my dog property or something I “own”, I’ve learned to come to peace with it for lack of a better word in certain scenarios. I don’t actually like the term “guardian” to describe the relationship, nor do I feel comfortable calling myself her parent. Those words don’t work for us, or for me, personally. Usually I just call myself my dog’s human. She is my dog and I am her human. I am a dog person.

    • It’s so true that each of us will have a unique relationship to certain words. I’d be very surprised to find many people had my discomfort.

      I like dog and human and use it quite frequently. It also works for me.

  11. I’m with you. Sam and Monty will always be our friends. We don’t demand obedience, although they do it out of sheer love for us. …and, while I do take Sam to agility and put him occasionally in shows, I don’t expect to win. I go to have fun and because I know it makes Sam happy to get attention from strangers.

    Sam

  12. OMG! How funny that we should be thinking along the same lines! Besides, in a human-dog relationship, who really owns who? (SMILEY FACE!) Seriously, though, I don’t like the sound of “owner” either…I mean really, how can I stomach the thought of “owning” another living being, whether it be human, canine, feline, or other?! No, I prefer to call myself a “Dog Mom”, like Carren. “Pet Parent” doesn’t bother me … after all, a “Mom” is a parent. It’s like a friend of mine who was adopted as an infant once said: “My Mom & Dad are the ones who raised me, fed me, took care of me when I was sick, etcetera. My mother and father are the people who brought me into this world.”
    As for nicknames? Lordy, I have more nicknames for each of my dogs than I could ever remember all at once. Prominent ones are “sweetheart”, “sweetie-pie”, “munchkin”, “munchkin retriever” (for Shadow because she is slightly smaller than most female Goldens), and “baby girl”. Oh! And “Callie-Wallie”, Shadow-Wadow”, and “Ducky-Wucky”!
    I hope you don’t mind, but I think I’m going to “re-blog” this post on my own blog. That’s how much I enjoyed reading it this morning!!

    • Glad you liked the post. And so glad you shared some of your nicknames. Now I don’t feel so stupid about Cutie Patootie and H-Boo. I guess I’m not the only “creative namer.” :)

      Your friend’s comment also highlights the complexity of a parental relationship. It’s why I don’t consider myself Honey’s mom. But I understand why other people like the term.

      But it does make me curious about the age thing. Is there a difference in the way we see the age of our pets if we call them our kids? Hmmmm. Another blog post here?

      And yes, feel free to reblog if you’d like.

  13. The titles of your posts are so thoughtful… Totally had me confused: WHAT?! She loves dogs… Now I get it. I totally agree. Elli is my companion and I refer to her as such or even sometimes as my teammate. When talking to people in group classes, I use “owner” pretty frequently, but sometimes catch myself just before so I can say “parent”. Sometimes I wish there weren’t so many words to describe one relationship, ya know.

    Oh. And. Haha — I made “heel” into a sing-song cue. You just split it into two syllables. Hee-l. :)

    • I like teammate. That’s a terrific term. It’s certainly a great one to use when a dog and person are working together at something, whether training, agility, nosework, whatever.

      I like having lots of different words for one relationship. It makes things mysterious. :)

  14. I don’t think I’ve purposely avoided using the word “owner,” but subconsciously I do avoid it. She is a furry family member, and as noted above, we don’t “own” family. I’m Rita’s “Momma”, we are her “pawrents.” I know some folks don’t go for those terms either – maybe it’s too cutesy for some, but there’s no other word for me that’s quite right. My friend says she is her dog’s “sister,” which is kind of sweet. It’s a complex, wonderful relationship – tough to label. (And my hubby would be just plain annoyed if I called the dogs my “soul mates.”) :)

  15. Mike Webster says:

    From the Husband:
    I use the word “Dummy” because I want to relate to Honey at my own level. Mystery solved.

  16. What if you own your peoples? I’m pretty sure I own mine, but I’m not sure how that whole law thing works. I mean, I picked them at the shelter, I make sure they get exercise, I make sure they spend their money on meaningful things (like vet visits) instead of useless junk. They are definitely mine.

    P.S. My peoples use “With Me” too, even when I did used to do Rally. For the same reasons…Heel just reminds them of those old Yank and Crank trainers they took their first dog to.

  17. I do believe words have power and I wish we would all choose the ones we use much more carefully.

    I switched to mostly using the words guardian or care-taker several years ago although I spent many (many!) more years using that word so sometimes it still slips out. Although, as I’ve said before, I don’t consider Bella my child, I do consider us a family in every sense of the word.

    Good discussion – as always.

  18. So that’s why my dogs never listen to ‘heel’! :) I’ve found tapping on my thigh to be most effective in getting them by my side so I left heel far behind, like you. I just never put two and two together about what a negative sound that word has.

    I’d like to call ourselves pet guardians. I think it values the relationship without implying ownership and bridges the gap between those who love being pet parents and others who roll their eyes at the term. Now if only it would catch on…

  19. I really like today’s post. I feel the same about the animals that share my home with me. Sure, sometimes I use the old terminology, because “pet” is shorter than “animal companion,” but I don’t like the word pet or owner. I’m a human companion. See, I honestly believe that there’s alot more to this relationship than I know, but I keep opening myself up to the possibilities presented to me.

    Perhaps we should have a contest to come up with a new, typist-friendly term for our furry friends!

  20. I can always count on you to get my mind moving! I have come to terms with the fact that I do own my dogs. I am their owner, I am responsible for keeping them safe, healthy. I provide for them. I obtained them from someone else, which means I took ownership of them. Because I own them does not mean that I love them any less or that I do not think of them as part of my family or that I do not have a special relationship with them. I simply own them and love them. Own is the only term that I personally, think describes it.

    As for nicknames we have tons of those! My favorite is Leroy’s-Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater-I have no idea why or where it came from but I use it everyday!

  21. Great post today! I think the power of words is underestimated by people to their peril. It’s true in all aspects of life, not just related to dogs or relationships. I’ve been teaching the kids in our class some sign language this year, and I’ve been trying to explain that when you’re signing, it’s important to remember what the word means. We have a lot of intentions that sometimes lurk behind the same word.

    When I refer to Bunny, I say that she’s “my girl” or “my dog” and I also refer to myself as “her human” so I think we take equal “ownership” of each other in what’s really more of a partnership.

  22. I really like this post, I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. It’s tricky to get the wording right on it. ‘Owner’ just sounds wrong to me, because I don’t feel like this dog sitting next to me is my ‘thing’. It is a much more complicated partnership than that.

  23. Words are definitely powerful. I’m not sure why I have never attempted to use the command “heel” – I have never really expected Cali to walk right by my side – my hubby uses the command and I always giggle to myself . . Cali doesn’t “heel”!

    We do call ourselves “mom” and “daddy” . .maybe it’s because we don’t have kids? I don’t remember how it started. I have never liked the term “owner” – but have always felt better about “dog mom” or “cat mom”. I read a post on mother’s day about the definition of a mom and it felt right – I wish I could find it! I DO think that the animals OWN us :)

  24. I agree with everyone. To mean if you own something it is a object, not a living breathing being. I used to really hate the idea of being called mom in reference to the dogs. It made me squimish. I’ve never wanted kids. Until we had the puppies and then it just seem to fit right in. It was the nurturing and caring feeling of love that made all the dogs and my husband and I feel united. Really we are all one together. An extension of the other.

    But I don’t think of them as my kids, so to speak. I think of them as more of family of animals. I feel we are more equal than what a mother and child relationship is. Does that make any sense?

  25. I don’t appreciate the concept of insulting people or animals to show affection either. It’s possible, that my employers act this way. I sometimes call Bach, their Bernese Mountain dog, stupid, when he behaves very stupid. But then I always feel as if the WWF would arrest me and the jury of the trial would consist of dogs.

  26. Wonderful blog! I think all cat people know it is impossible to own a cat, and the subject rarely comes up. I appreciate your perspective regarding your dogs, and I could not agree more.

  27. I tend to use the word “owner” because I seriously object to being my dog’s “mom.” (As a child-free-by-choice woman, I have issues with motherhood being the default idea for women.) The alternatives are all long, and I want people to know what I mean. Mostly I find that it doesn’t come up often.

    I do think that our words are more powerful than we think .I try to be very careful about labeling Silas, because those things tend to self-reinforce. A label for a behavior very quickly becomes an excuse for that behavior, instead of something to work on. “Oh, he’s just … (dominant/submissive/fear aggressive/whatever).

  28. Words have a lot of power; more power than most people realize, I think. I’ve also struggled with what to call myself. I’ve always thought there was more to a name than Shakespeare allowed and thought we put too much importance on names, all at the same time. I agree with you though, I don’t own my dogs anymore than I own my boyfriend.

  29. As always an amazingly thought provoking post – thank you!! Although you did have me worried for a moment when I first read the title!!

  30. You know I love a post about words! So much to think about between your post and Kristine’s.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Something Wagging This Way Comes always has insightful ways of looking at the world of dogs and her most recent post has inspired a plethora of almost equally insightful comments. While I am sure I have touched on […]

  2. […] the words they do. Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes presents the argument for being a dog guardian. Kristine at Rescued Insanity counters in favor of the traditional dog owner. In these cases, I […]

  3. […] the words they do. Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes presents the argument for being a dog guardian. Kristine at Rescued Insanity counters in favor of the traditional dog owner. In these cases, I […]

  4. […] read the article and let me know what you think. It seems timely, since Pamela from Something Wagging This Way Comes just wrote about why she will never own a dog again – this takes it to a whole new and […]