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A reader wanted more information about the line I drew between animal welfare and animal rights. It’s a somewhat arbitrary distinction that turns on my concern about unintended consequences of often well-intended legislation.

Consider Parma, Ohio, a small town south of Cleveland. The town has something of a reputation as being anti-animal because it has been illegal to own a pit bull in Parma since the 1980s. A few weeks ago, though, local officials voted unanimously to substitute animal “guardian” for animal “owner” in the language of all animal-related ordinances. The idea, according to student Brandon Yanak, who proposed the change, was that calling people animal guardians rather than owners was a better reflection of the true nature of the human-animal bond and would engender more respect for the animals.

That sounds great, even if a little touchy-feely, and I have no argument with the sentiment. I’m sure the change seemed like a good idea at the time, harmless window dressing that would garner some good PR for Parma.

There are some problems, though. As a practical matter, there is no evidence that having legal guardians for minor children has cut the incidence of child abuse and there is no reason to think that animal “guardians” will suddenly become more loving or responsible. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not compared child abuse rates here with those in countries where children actually are treated as property. But I’ve spent a lot of time in courtrooms, and I suspect that people with a propensity for abusing animals and children probably will continue to do so regardless of the statutory language

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