The Guardian Movement had a birthday not too long ago, but hardly anyone noticed.

The brainchild of Dr. Elliot Katz, founder and president of the animal welfare organization In Defense of Animals, the Guardian Movement was inaugurated with a laudable goal, advancing animal welfare by changing the public perception of the relationship between animals and their owners. The idea involved a fundamental alteration in the language of state laws and local ordinances.

Animals are considered the personal property of their owners in every state, much like a refrigerator or a stereo or an automobile. The analogy is not perfect, though, because welfare and protection laws give animals a special status not afforded inanimate personal property. Although some states have stronger animal protection laws than others, every jurisdiction recognizes that animals’ owners have special obligations to provide basic care. Abuse of an animal is prosecuted as a crime, often a misdemeanor that carries a light sentence. Abuse of a refrigerator, on the other hand, carries no criminal penalties.

Proponents of the Guardian Movement urged lawmakers to delete the word “owner” and replace it with the word “guardian” in applicable animal ownership laws. It was a simple change, they said, one that would encourage owners to rethink their relationship with their animals while recognizing the special legal status already conferred on animals by welfare and protection laws. Boulder, Colorado, became the first city to amend its municipal code, legislatively changing animal “owners” to animal “guardians” in 2000. Rhode Isl