One Word Can Make A Difference

Brandon Yanak presents a plaque to Mayor Dean Depiero and the Parma City Council after Parma becomes Ohio's first "Animal Guardian" Community

Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” The way we speak is a precursor to the way we act. We cannot underestimate the important role language plays in our society. Not too long ago African-Americans and women were considered pieces of property and thus were denied their deserved rights. The same is true for our animal companions today

Many people, without even thinking, refer to themselves as “owners” of their pets.  However, by doing so, they reduce them to mere property or objects, like how we say we own a car or kitchen table. Such language also excuses those that abuse and neglect their animals and those that continuously breed animals for profit, leaving many homeless and overpopulating local shelters. In late October, I read that the City of Parma was having problems with people breeding animals on their property and keeping too many in deficient conditions as well.

The key to changing this standard is to replace the thought process of “owning” an animal’s life with “guarding” an animal’s life. The term “guardian,” rather than “owner,” better reflects the loving bond that exists between people and their animal companions and the respect, care, responsibility and love that is due to every living animal. A community of guardians will raise awareness that animals have their own needs that must be met and feelings that must be respected. They will also discourage and stand up against those who treat animals poorly.

Therefore, I introduced the concept of thinking and acting as “guardians” of animal companions to the Parma community.  After speaking before the board of the Parma Animal Shelter, they voted unanimously to change the language in their documentation from “owner” to “guardian.” In April, with the gracious help of Councilwoman Mary Galinas, I also gave a presentation before the Parma City Council.  I was thrilled when many council members agreed with me that language can invoke a change in behavior and supported my suggestion. On July 5, 2011, the Parma City Council voted unanimously to change the phrasing in their animal-related ordinance from “owner” to “owner/guardian.” I am proud to say that Parma became Ohio’s very first “Animal Guardian” Community and only the 18th Guardian City worldwide.

For most, pets are companions and family members that we love and cherish. If you feel this way, you are a guardian.  “While owners invest in property, guardians invest in love” (Justin Lowery). I encourage you to reflect this in your language by referring to yourself as a “guardian” of your animal companions, rather than “owner.” You can make a difference with just this simple, semantic language change and remind all those you speak with to treat their animals with the care they need and deserve. There is nothing to lose, but much to be gained: a brighter future and better lives for all animals

 For more information, please visit www.guardiancampaign.com.  If you are interested in helping your city make this change or have other questions and comments, you are more than welcome to contact me at bcyanak@sbcglobal.net. As actress Mary Tyler Moore said, "I like the term ‘guardian’ as opposed to ‘master’ or ‘owner.’ It is an honor that is bestowed on some of us and we need to treat it that way."

Brandon Yanak

Parma born and raised, I have loved the city and community all my life. A graduate of Holy Name High School, I have tried to help make Parma an even better place to live through volunteering with the Parma City Government, St. Charles Parish, and St. Bridget Parish.

Today, I am most notably a volunteer animal advocate. I work every day to end animal exploitation, cruelty, and abuse by advocating for the rights and welfare of animals.

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Volume 3, Issue 8, Posted 8:20 AM, 08.01.2011