Pet guardian or owner?

When I was a child we always “owned” dogs. They wandered around in a very large yard, which in those days did not require a gate to keep them contained. They mostly did their own thing and kept themselves entertained. My brother played with them often, I played with them sometimes, but for the most part, they were “just there.” They were well fed, never exercised as it was assumed they would exercise themselves by walking or running around, following us to the shops or in the opposite field where we played as kids. They were happy dogs.


When I married and we had our own child we decided to “get” a puppy, Shaka, and the situation was quite different. We had a much smaller yard, fences were required to be a certain height and gates locked to keep him contained. We loved him dearly, fed him well, ensured he had the best vet care, had no idea how to train him or even that he required basic training, and walks were haphazard. We then “got” another female dog, Kiowa, and the pattern repeated itself.


It was around the time that Shaka passed away that more and more dog behavioural and other animal related shows started appearing on the TV and I became increasingly fascinated by animal behaviour (and dog behaviour in particular) and general dog care. And fortunately for Kiowa, that’s when the shift began in me.


In hindsight one of the fundamental changes, although I didn’t see it as such at the time, was that I (and my husband) changed from being just Kiowa’s owner to being her guardian. And that made all the difference.


Depending on what dictionary you use, there are all sorts of definitions for owner. Basically to own means to “have possession of”. When you own something, you acquire it, you have the power to decide what to do with it, you control it. However animals are not inanimate objects. They are living, sentient beings and have the same brain structures as humans. They have the same hormones, such as oxytocin, vasopressin, testosterone etc. and experience emotions of happiness, fear, anger and so on.

While the idea of owning another human is repugnant to us, with animals it becomes more complicated. In the case of a domesticated animal we DO have the power to decide what to do with the animal, and we control their environment, their resources and their enrichment. And because of that, I believe we have a real responsibility and obligation to ensure that we transition from being just their owners, to their guardians.


The dictionary defines the word guardian as “teacher, carer, protector.”
In our case, because we have always loved her (and Shaka) very much, we have always seen ourselves as her carer and protector, but never as her teacher. In his book Dog Zen, Mark Vette, internationally renowned dog behaviourist from New Zealand (and in my opinion one of the best in the business) refers to being a “dog mentor.” I love that term. I have been incredibly fortunate to be the beneficiary of mentoring by women who have been in the Animal Massage and Natural Therapies business for a very long time, many of them pioneers in the business, and very successful businesswomen. To be a mentor is to be a guide, a supporter and to want the success of those who are being mentored. Our role therefore as guardians is to be their protector (ensure they are safe), carer (take care of their physical and emotional needs), to be their teacher, guide and mentor (kindly teach them how to live in our world, not just expect them to know) supporter (encourage, reward and believe in them) and help them to succeed.


Of course the offshoot of all of this, is that the real teacher in all of this, was (and still is) Kiowa and all the other animals I opened myself up to since this very subtle shift in mindset. They have taught me so much more about themselves than any book or course can, and have taught me how to interact with them and guide them in this very complicated world we have created for them. Some may see all of this as just word semantics, and that’s fair enough. However, I believe that words have power and create their own energy and mindset.

Let’s make the shift from being animal owners to animal guardians (and mentors).


Denise Rettie
Therapeutic Touch for Animals“>Designed by Freepik