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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Boulder's Pets

Air Date: Week of

A proposal before the Boulder Colorado’s City Council calls for replacing all references to “pet owner” in the municipal code with “pet guardian.” Host Steve Curwood talks with Spence Havlick, a City Council member who plans to vote for the change.


CURWOOD: Never again will Rover or Fluffy feel like just another piece of property. That's if a proposal before Boulder, Colorado, City Council passes. As part of a larger animal control ordinance, the Humane Society of Boulder Valley is lobbying to purge the municipal code of all references to pet owners. The new term will be "pet guardians," and the new designation looks like it will get through the city council. Long-time council member Spence Havlick says he'll vote for the proposal, despite its surface silliness.

HAVLICK: Perhaps it grows out of many years of human rights issues, and once those laws have been in place, even though their enforcement is difficult, many people probably said it's now time to begin protecting pets, instead of treating them as property. But giving them some parity with their human caretakers. Perhaps it's more a sense of trying to reach out and extend a hand of friendship instead of a leash of ownership.

CURWOOD: Of course, a lot of people would say that their cats and dogs and parakeets and macaws and snakes and such are all a part of the family. Do you think that this language change will automatically affect people's attitudes in the way that you're talking about making them feel somehow more responsible?

HAVLICK: When I first read the proposed ordinance, I did chuckle a little bit. Then I thought about it. I thought to myself, hmm. There was actually an attitude change on my part when I began to think of our cat Samantha no longer as a property that I had to feed but a friend of the family that I needed to take extra good care for. So it did change my own perspective, and I'm not suggesting that it's going to change everybody's view of their pet immediately. But I think it may offer an opportunity for those who embrace this idea to look upon their creatures as they might look upon themselves.

CURWOOD: Okay. Your cat's name is Samantha, you said. Right?

HAVLICK: It is indeed.

CURWOOD: So, I want to know the logistics of this guardianship. Now, supposing Samantha decides that she wants to petition for a change of guardianship, saying that, hey, you know, this canned stuff that's getting served at the Havlick house doesn't really cut it. She'd like to move to someplace where there's, you know, fresh fish and that kind of thing.

HAVLICK: Steve, I asked that very question last night at the Boulder City Council hearing, the first hearing on this ordinance. And the city attorney advised me that if she's not able to convey that message, than it would require a third party, such as a neighbor, who might observe that I was not providing the appropriate healthy diet. So, except for a parrot, who is trained to speak with some candor, saying, "Steve or Spence, I don't want you as my guardian any more, because you're really a rather abusive guardian," the enforcement of the ordinance would undoubtedly depend on a third party's intervention.

CURWOOD: I'm also just wondering what would happen with other animals we keep, in terms of livestock. Let's say some cattle that are out there in a feedlot on their way to slaughter. Maybe someone might want to file a petition on their behalf to say that these animals probably would rather live than be killed to become, you know, hamburgers and hotdogs.

HAVLICK: I wouldn't be surprised if a decade from now, that might be a very logical extension of this. To take better care of cattle and sheep and goats and pigs that are being raised for commercial purposes.

CURWOOD: Even to the point of not killing them?

HAVLICK: I suppose the first step would be to send them to their maker in the most humane way possible. I'm not an expert in how animals are slaughtered, but I suppose there are some techniques that are less painful than others. If that's the case, I suppose in due time there will be efforts at bringing them to their demise with as little pain as possible.

CURWOOD: Hmm. You know, I think some people are probably looking at this as being pretty flaky. They're saying, "Oh, there you go, Boulder, Colorado." And now they're doing something that's really, well, sort of out there. In fact, one of the other places in the country that's known for its openness at times is dear San Francisco, which recently defeated a similar proposal like this.


CURWOOD: It was too much for them.

HAVLICK: A little too heavy for them.


HAVLICK: But there are other communities around the country that tend to be progressive, like Cambridge or Berkeley or -- you know, we could go down the list, Eugene. And a lot of times it takes one sort of guinea pig town like Boulder to test the waters.

HAVLICK: Excuse me, is a guinea pig a pet?

HAVLICK: You're very good. See how quickly this spreads? It actually goes beyond our sub-consciousness.


HAVLICK: So Boulder is obviously doing one of two things. We're creating another target for those who love to poke fun at us. Or we are offering a new idea that may have rather profound consequences.

CURWOOD: Spence Havlick is a Boulder City Council member and a professor at the University of Colorado. Thanks for speaking with me today, Mr. Havlick.

HAVLICK: It's a joy.



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