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BOULDER, Colo. -

Editor's Note:In honor of Boulder's 150th birthday, this is the first in an occasional series on people, trends and ideas that have earned the honorific of "Only in Boulder." Starting in June, the Boulder History Museum will launch an exhibit titled "Only in Boulder." For more information, visit www.boulderhistorymuseum.org.

The inspiration for a campaign came to Rita Anderson just after a cold winter day in 1999, as she watched a Dalmatian she called "Mikey" shivering in a backyard that bordered on Martin Park.

Legally, the dog's owners weren't being cruel. Mikey had a doghouse where he could escape the cold and the heat, which is what animal control officers told Anderson when she called them asking for help -- as she did on several occasions.

Then a friend told her about a budding movement among animal-rights supporters to refer to pets' owners as "guardians." And that's when she decided to try and convince the Boulder City Council to change the city's ordinances, striking "owner" in favor of "guardian."

"What if these people, instead of thinking, 'We own Mikey' -- what if they thought of themselves as guardians, and what if they thought of themselves as having responsibilities toward him as a sentient being with his own needs and his own rights?" she said.

"I thought, maybe if we got this changed here -- it's not going to change anything for Mikey, but maybe people would see it in a different way."

Making the change ended up being surprisingly easy.

The idea's backers weren't spared derision -- then-assistant city attorney Walter Fricke referred to the proposal as "social engineering" in a memo to the City Council. One Boulder man told the Camera that the measure "is another of those items that makes Boulder look like we are truly outside of reality."

But politically, it went smoothly. On July 11, 2000, the City Council voted unanimously to make the change, as part of a larger ordinance amending several other animal-related laws. The change made it clear that the term "guardian" wasn't giving animals any extra rights, as "guardians" were defined as "owners" in the code.

Alan Boles, an assistant city attorney who also worked on the language, said the measure wasn't meant to create change overnight.

"I've always viewed it as symbolic. But Boulder loves symbolic actions," he said. "Our transgender ordinance is essentially symbolic, our foreign policy is essentially symbolic. Symbolism is important in Boulder."

In Defense of Animals, an animal-rights group that once employed Anderson, started a campaign in the wake of the successful change in Boulder to convince other cities to follow suit. In the past nine years, 18 cities have made the change, ranging in temperament from Berkeley, Calif., to Bloomington, Ind.

Nearly a decade later, when Boles sees signs at city parks that urge "guardians" to look after their animals, Boles thinks the language is a small, but positive, step.

"It's intended to get people to think about what their relationship with their animals should be, and to get away from the 'property and ownership' concept and into more of a 'caring and nurturing' concept," he said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Ryan Morgan at 303-473-1333 or morganr@dailycamera.com.

Archived comments

I love Boulder and dogs both, but this kind of thing in my opinion is idiotic. For better or worse, if I can sell my dog, I'm the dog's owner. Why stop at "guardian?" Why not say "I'm the dog's SPONSOR - I'm its PATRON, its BENEFACTOR?" This is really stupid way to spend City Council time and energy. Has the overall welfare of dogs in Boulder changed because the terminology changed?

chicago

3/29/2009 5:28:16 PM

You should not have a dog if it is not part of your family and can be sold.

siggy1123@hotmail.com

3/29/2009 5:33:09 PM

siggy1123, there are several human members of my family I'd sell in a heartbeat, if I could get a good price. ;)

RoseFromTheDead

3/29/2009 5:42:19 PM

What we shouldn't be doing is telling others how they have to live to make them right by our interpretation of the world.

A pet is a pet.

There are good pet owners, and bad ones.

Just like there are good parents, and bad ones, good students and bad ones--and good citizens and Irresponsible foolish ones (though some local locales seem to have more then their fair share--but I digress)

We also have good government, and bad.

A government organization which spends their time on things OTHER then directly related to the safety of, and ability to do their business, their constituents is a BAD government.....

Dogs, Tibet, CAP and trade are all ideas which will keep public officials from doing the real hard work--while we are extorted to pay their salaries....

You gotta love boulder....they wear this foolishness as some kind of crown....

cjsiam@msn.com

3/29/2009 5:49:07 PM

I like it. It's a small language change that might make people take better care of their animals.

rocknwsc

3/29/2009 6:12:51 PM

"Guardian" implies that dogs are children, which many dog owners believe especially in Boulder. I'm sure there are dog owners that would love it if their dogs enjoyed the same perquisites as children: state provided doggycare, dogs allowed in every public building, more dog parks, and county canine-protective services.

Trusts for dogs are also a hot item among estate planning attorneys in town. I have a dog but it amazes me how much Boulder (and perhaps greater society) has tried to make them into little humans. Every time I see a guardian sign it's a reminder that the priorities of the city council are often at odds with mine.

eltamarindo

3/29/2009 6:14:56 PM

The dog owner is the master and the dog is a pet, end of story.

theIrishMan

3/29/2009 6:27:18 PM

"The dog owner is the master and the dog is a pet, end of story." Much the same has been said of women, children and slaves; fortunately, society evolves. Sometimes for the better.

positraction

3/29/2009 6:38:26 PM

Yes, those are human beings. I can hardly compare a woman or child to a pet, that is just wrong.

theIrishMan

3/29/2009 6:41:05 PM

I'm a dog owner and accept all the related responsibilities. The term "Guardian" makes me cringe,.... but this is Boulder, and if you can laugh at yourself who can you laugh at?

trappist99@yahoo.com

3/29/2009 6:48:44 PM

Ugh what is with white people and their #%*!*@% dogs?

NukesInBoulder

3/29/2009 7:03:09 PM

If you think referring to yourself as a pet "guardian" instead of owner will make you take better care of your animals, you shouldn't have any in the first place. There are so many other important issues that need attention, like dog/cat over population, animal cruelty, and the fact that millions of animals are put down every year because they cannot find good homes. I find it abominable that so much time and energy was wasted on changing a stupid word around, and I am an animal lover and advocate. What a waste.

rainwater79

3/29/2009 7:06:28 PM

NIB - why don't you ask Michael Vick that question? He's not taking calls right now so you may have to write.

eltamarindo

3/29/2009 7:23:15 PM

Makes me glad that I live where cattle, pigs and goats are food and dogs work for a living!

ljkxray1977

3/29/2009 7:52:39 PM

This is why Boulder is laughed at nation-wide. Pet "guardian" with all the troubles in the world, the idiotic city council wasted time on this. Probably between marijuana puffs.

CarlU

3/29/2009 8:16:58 PM

dog parks are more important here than playgrounds with soccer and baseball fields for youth.

theIrishMan

3/29/2009 8:31:59 PM

when you live a life of comfort and detach yourself through money from the hardships of the world, only them you think something like this makes a difference. I am my pet's owner and I care about it with all my heart. But a dog is a dog. No need to use an euphemism.

jgarcia@ucar.edu

3/29/2009 10:06:16 PM

Will the dogs get in-state tuition?

zone913inc@aol.com

3/29/2009 10:09:32 PM

"What if these people, instead of thinking, 'We own Mikey' -- what if they thought of themselves as guardians, and what if they thought of themselves as having responsibilities toward him as a sentient being with his own needs and his own rights?" she said."

-----

Thanks for this article, DC. I've seen those ridiculous signs around, and wondered who the dingbat was who came up the term "guardian" (I thought it was someone on our silly little city council). But, in retrospect, I realize I should have guessed all along that it was some eccentric didact who makes it her life mission to try to tell people how they should think. Oy vey.

ThatCertainWoman

3/29/2009 10:27:18 PM

if some one gave me a dog to take care of that would be one thing....I bought my dog, just like everything else I own.

he_b_gb@yahoo.com

3/29/2009 10:58:33 PM

he_b_gb..your mentality is just as annoying as Rita's. Although I find the "guardian" title to be absurd, the "ownership" you claim over your dog because you paid for it (most likely bought by a breeder or pet store) is also disturbing. Ownership of property refers to material objects, not living creatures (or at least it shouldn't). I have had my dog for 10 years, and yes she is my dog, but I do not "own" her. She owns herself.

rainwater79

3/29/2009 11:34:23 PM

You're walking along and you see a dog shivering and you think, "That's terrible, that poor dog" and then you think "What could I do to make a difference?" and your brain says "I know! I'll go to the City Council and legally change the WORD that we use to describe our status vis-a-vis our dogs. I won't start a movement to train dog owners, or go and volunteer with actual dogs, or anything nearly so practical. I'll lobby to make Boulder the first city in the U.S. where we get to pride ourselves (in case we Boulderites don't have anough ways to bolster our self-esteem throughout the day) on our unique evolved relationships with our pets. That will really help that dog!" Of all the pompous, meaningless, pandering ways to shove your values down someone else's throat. Can an Owner take good care of a dog? Millions have done it. Must a Guardian be a better caretaker than a mere Owner? If an Owner doesn't know he's supposed to be a Guardian, will the dog suffer? And wait, what about cats, guinea pigs and hamsters? Why don't they get Guardians?

chicago

3/29/2009 11:47:13 PM

Better yet. Banish the word OWNER and PARENT and insert Guardian. The Guardian does such a better job, it will eliminate all of the issues with child care and car maintenance!!

OKJoe

3/30/2009 4:06:30 AM

From most of the comments here, I see that this language change was truly needed. Again, the point was that people are responsible for caring for their pets. If I "own" something, I can do whatever the heck I want with it. But if I am "guarding", the someTHING turns into a someONE who is important and deserves water, food, warmth, health, attention, and safety. We're not asking you to think of your pet as a person if you don't want to.

monkeys

3/30/2009 7:34:40 AM

My dogs are thinking creatures - I know that for sure. How I treat them and what I expect of them is more in line with a symbiotic partnership than an owner/possession relationship. It isn't exactly a guardian relationship either. It is a human/dog relationship - which is special and unique and we should not try to force it to fit into human-to-human relationship language.

I don't really care what others want to call the dog/human relationship - as long as the laws protect both the humans and the dogs from harm.

just some stray thought...

connie@cozmic.com

3/30/2009 8:33:26 AM

One more thing - there are many dogs that I prefer to some people. In some cases, depending on the human and dog involved, I would save a dog from a burning building before a human.

Dogs have been a partner to humans throughout history - without dogs it is very possible our evolution would have gone quite differently.

connie@cozmic.com

3/30/2009 8:37:39 AM

Political correctness is totally gay!

nofreebeer@hotmail.com

3/30/2009 8:39:35 AM

Dogs should be given the right to vote. No taxation without representation!

buffs_buzz

3/30/2009 8:42:22 AM

It's hard for me to imagine that this word change made a whit of difference in a single person's relationship to his/her dog.

Anybody?

I appreciate the intent, but, in the end, it's a silly gesture.

orbison

3/30/2009 9:29:14 AM

Rainwater79 and Orbison:

I agree 100%!

I have a dog whom I love. She often seems to understand me just by intuition. (She somehow knows which times when I leave out the front door I am going by myself versus taking her with me.)

But over the last nine years, there have still been many pet abuse cases. It is hard to believe that some moron will think: "I will take better care of my pet now that I realize I am a guardian, not an owner."

stever23@comcast.net

3/30/2009 9:56:35 AM

If people are going to be guardians for pets, like they are for children, then why aren't there laws to protect pets as if they were children? Children are required to be in seat belts, why not pets? It is dangerous to drive with a pet in your lap. Children are not allowed to go ouside and poop wherever they want, why are pets? Children are sent to school, why not pets? Children do not eat out of bowls on the floor, why do pets? Children are not allowed to drink from the gutters or creeks, why are pets? The list goes on and on. If you are going to assume the title of guardian then you should assume the full responsibility of the title. Looks like city council has more work ahead of them.

caribouboy

3/30/2009 9:59:13 AM

"The dog owner is the master and the dog is a pet, end of story." Much the same has been said of women, children and slaves; fortunately, society evolves. Sometimes for the better.

WOMEN = human beings

CHILDREN = human beings

SLAVES = human beings

DOGS = animals

I wonder which one is not like the other...

jbird

3/30/2009 10:05:07 AM

RAINWATER...LONGMONT HUMANE SOCIETY...but thanks for your insinuations. If your dog who "owns itself" bites or in someother way hurts/maims an individual...you the OWNER will be responsible not your dog...guardian these!

he_b_gb@yahoo.com

3/30/2009 10:13:40 AM

Connie - "I would save a dog from a burning building before a human".

I guess I haven't been in Boulder long enough to evolve to this level of... um, whatever.

This place has some really screwed up priorities. It's like some weird parallel world.

Cue Rod Serling intro - "You're traveling through another dimension -- a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's a signpost up ahead: your next stop: Boulder"!

Salinger

3/30/2009 10:35:33 AM

I hope Connie doesn't end up in a burning building with a dog. Her would-be rescuer might think as she does, and save the canine before her. I'm not so sure she would understand. Caninephilia running amok!

Attributing this dog-before-human meme to the average Boulderite is also off base. Most even in this town would be disgusted to hear these sentiments.

eltamarindo

3/30/2009 10:58:48 AM

Your poll should have a third choice: I am my pet's slave (for those of us residing with cats).

wendy.weiss@comcast.net

3/30/2009 11:17:41 AM

"I can hardly compare a woman or child to a pet, that is just wrong." Slaves weren't legally people unless they killed or otherwise committed a crime against a white person.

positraction

3/30/2009 11:21:50 AM

The cat is the master and the cat owner is simply a servant, end of story.

"What we shouldn't be doing is telling others how they have to live to make them right by our interpretation of the world."

But then, Boulder wouldn't be Boulder.

srhaymes@comcast.net

3/30/2009 11:43:27 AM

dogs drink out of the toilet and lick their own privates, human beings don't do this and if they do, hopefully no one knows. :)

theIrishMan

3/30/2009 12:19:37 PM

A friend of mine is the "guardian" for several hundred steers... some of which we intend to slaughter and eat.

The proponents of this nonsense should boycott everything made in the far east (and help give an American back his job) because Rover and Fluffy Kitty are ON THE MENU over there. Tea cup poodles cook up similarly to a cornish game hen, so I've been told.

angrynative

3/30/2009 12:30:46 PM

I personally applaud the terminology of "Pet Guardian" and the Boulder City Council's decision.

I hope Longmont will one day soon follow suit!

climbmnts

3/30/2009 12:35:53 PM

Dogs drink out of the toilet(pooh and pee) and lick their own privates, human beings just scratch.

They also drag thier But Krack on our new carpet(gross) and eat thier own pooh. Who eats thier own pooh (sic) (double gross)

So remember that when you are frenching with the dog tongue (gross)

Paro

3/30/2009 12:35:54 PM

Yes, Only in Boulder......

This is the first example I use to tell people of the weirdness of Boulder and it always gets amazement at the idiocy of this city.

This is only one reason why Boulder is the laughing stock of not only Colorado, but the Nation.

Canyonrunner

3/30/2009 12:36:09 PM

climbmnts said: "I personally applaud the terminology of "Pet Guardian" and the Boulder City Council's decision.

I hope Longmont will one day soon follow suit!"

Not likely, Longmont is one of the "L" towns surrounding Boulder where all the sane people live.

Like Lyons, Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, Lerie, Loomfield, Luperior, and Larvada.

backrange

3/30/2009 12:59:16 PM

As a guardian, who or what are you guarding your pet against? If the pet lives with you then the only protection you are providing is from yourself. Right? Oh, and as the joke goes "pets lick their privates just to show off."

caribouboy

3/30/2009 1:18:32 PM

Don't forget Liwot.

zone913inc@aol.com

3/30/2009 1:19:05 PM

Posted by climbmnts, I personally applaud the terminology of "Pet Guardian" and the Boulder City Council's decision.

Fine. Give it a standing ovation and a bouquet of roses, but can you explain to me why you applaud it?

orbison

3/30/2009 1:20:01 PM

Did Rita's efforts stop Mikey from shivering in the backyard?

HowardFineandHoward

3/30/2009 2:15:03 PM

Did Rita's efforts stop Mikey from shivering in the backyard?

Who knows, but what the h3ll was the thought process there ? Wow that dog looks cold - I think I'll spearhead an ordinance through city council that's entirely semantic.

Also love the caption below her photo:

"Rita Anderson plays with her dogs" So they're "her dogs". Dosen't that mean she's their... oh nevermind.

jbird

3/30/2009 2:36:29 PM

I stand by my statement - there are some dogs I would rescue before some humans. In other words - not everything is black and white and some dogs contribute more to society (human society) than some humans - those dogs are worth more in my eyes than humans who only cause pain. For instance, I wouldn't lift a finger to help one of the idiots who shoots up schools or nursing homes - I'd pretty much risk my life for a dog I love.

connie@cozmic.com

3/30/2009 2:51:56 PM

The only thing sillier than the "guardian" designation is the amount of effort spent arguing about it in a comment post.

Orwell

3/30/2009 2:54:28 PM

If we don't post to the comments, how are we going to get our 15 minutes of fame?

caribouboy

3/30/2009 3:14:03 PM

siggy1123 said: "You should not have a dog if it is not part of your family and can be sold."

Well said.

ogghead@yahoo.com

3/30/2009 3:33:50 PM

@altamarindo "I'm sure there are dog owners that would love it if their dogs enjoyed the same perquisites as children: state provided doggycare, dogs allowed in every public building, more dog parks, and county canine-protective services."

We can only dream.

fojo

3/30/2009 3:42:37 PM

I like dogs. I take pet ownership seriously and give them a good home, but...

Dogs are DOGS.

They aren't my children. Their needs will always be secondary to those of my human family members. It makes sense to me.

Salinger

3/30/2009 3:55:42 PM

Calling us pet "guardians" is silly and pointless but, hey, it didn't cost much money, or much freedom -- just a little freedom-of-speech.

margaret@its.bldrdoc.gov

3/30/2009 5:12:21 PM

The word speaks to the mindset. Change the language and eventually the mindset changes. It may seem an overzealous action to some, but if we bend too far one way, it bends the other end a little bit more in our direction and resets the mid-point which is where most people settle.

I hate reading DOGS ARE DOGS. Or it's JUST A DOG.

If you aren't treating your dog like he's part of the family, you don't understand dogs at all. Dogs want to be a part of the pack. The best behaved dogs I've met spend a lot of time with their owners. The others are trapped in a life where they are completely ignored and shoved outside because they are "just dogs" and apparently have no feelings according to their owners. Dogs have lots of feelings and try very hard to communicate with their owners. If you aren't taking the time to pick up on your dogs subtle language, it's a mystery to me why you would bother to own one of these wonderful sensitive creatures.

Flyonthewall

3/30/2009 9:07:07 PM

AND besides defining the public mindset, guardian and owner have different meanings in law. I remember a case where a dog OWNER had tied his dog to a storm drain and watched him drown as the drain filled. The court decided there wasn't anything the law could do to punish him because he was the owner. This case took place a while back. Laws have changed since this case. You can be punished for this type of abuse. It's appropriate that the terms and definitions correctly reflect the current law.

Children used to be property as well. You could do anything to them that you liked-beat them, kill them, use them as you would any chattel including pledging them against debts and sell them into servitude. Now (at least in this country) you are their parent guardian. No one is insisting that we still call parents owners.

Flyonthewall

3/30/2009 9:16:43 PM

Posted by Salinger on March 30, 2009 at 10:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Connie - "I would save a dog from a burning building before a human".

I guess I haven't been in Boulder long enough to evolve to this level of... um, whatever.

This place has some really screwed up priorities. It's like some weird parallel world.

********

Dogs can't navigate the human world without our guidance and therefore the standard of care and duty you have when becoming a pet owner is high. If you're with an adult that can walk his own butt out of a burning building....whereas the dog has no chance. If it were children who couldn't find their own way out-like non walking babies-....

I'll never forgive the New Orleans people that left their dogs behind to fend for themselves. "here's a bowl of food, see you in days". WTF? And then they complained about their dogs being adopted out after abandoning them in a shelter for six months or more and are now suing????? I don't know about the burning building issue, but if a flood were coming and I couldn't find a shelter for me and my dog, we'd be sleeping in the car together. It's completely ridiculous to leave your dog behind to navigate a hurricane by himself.

Flyonthewall

3/30/2009 9:27:07 PM

Posted by theIrishMan on March 30, 2009 at 12:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

dogs drink out of the toilet and lick their own privates, human beings don't do this and if they do, hopefully no one knows. :)

*******

Did you read the story about the urine drinking guy last week? There are definitely some people that like the wee.

Flyonthewall

3/30/2009 9:46:46 PM

Fantastic!! One of the reasons I am proud of Boulder.

For all those people who think this is a silly, I am sorry that you have so little understanding of the importance of language.

A small shift like this can make such a wonderful difference in the world. How can anyone object to a little more compassion, mindful speech, and stewardship? And why on earth would you make such an effort to contradict a simple act of compassion?

Only when we are secure as people do we realize that we don't need to control other beings, and treat them as objects. I'm glad to be a citizen is a city that promotes this attitude!

harperphillips

3/30/2009 9:48:50 PM

What would Cesar Millan say?

WesternSky

3/30/2009 9:51:59 PM

The word speaks to the mindset. Change the language and eventually the mindset changes. It may seem an overzealous action to some, but if we bend too far one way, it bends the other end a little bit more in our direction and resets the mid-point which is where most people settle.

I hate reading DOGS ARE DOGS. Or it's JUST A DOG.

If you aren't treating your dog like he's part of the family, you don't understand dogs at all. Dogs want to be a part of the pack. The best behaved dogs I've met spend a lot of time with their owners. The others are trapped in a life where they are completely ignored and shoved outside because they are "just dogs" and apparently have no feelings according to their owners. Dogs have lots of feelings and try very hard to communicate with their owners. If you aren't taking the time to pick up on your dogs subtle language, it's a mystery to me why you would bother to own one of these wonderful sensitive creatures.

AND besides defining the public mindset, guardian and owner have different meanings in law. I remember a case where a dog OWNER had tied his dog to a storm drain and watched him drown as the drain filled. The court decided there wasn't anything the law could do to punish him because he was the owner. This case took place a while back. Laws have changed since this case. You can be punished for this type of abuse. It's appropriate that the terms and definitions correctly reflect the current law.

Children used to be property as well. You could do anything to them that you liked-beat them, kill them, use them as you would any chattel including pledging them against debts and sell them into servitude. Now (at least in this country) you are their parent guardian. No one is insisting that we still call parents owners.

laughinghard

3/30/2009 10:05:43 PM

Posted by WesternSky on March 30, 2009 at 9:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What would Cesar Millan say?

******

Don't know and don't care.

laughinghard

3/30/2009 10:13:16 PM

Here's a quick thought...

Instead of worrying about how we are treating animals, why don't we work on how we treat each other?

I guess we can look to improve the life of Fido before we try to improve our lives with our neighbors...

InsipidPhenom

3/30/2009 11:06:33 PM

TCW,

Rita Anderson is NO dingbat- Unlike you, she genuinely cares about others, 4 legged or 2! Get a job- your posts are extremely boring and childish, and get more so, by the day!

Summercruz

3/31/2009 3:28:42 AM

some posters in here seem like real true dog lovers....its called beastiality! its wrong! love doesnt hurt

he_b_gb@yahoo.com

3/31/2009 12:56:44 PM

laughinghard, you are right, we used to be able to do whatever we wanted to our children. That changed because we changed the law so that those awful acts became illegal, not because someone created a law that said "parents shall now be called Kid Guardians rather than Kid Owners." It became illegal to treat kids badly. It's illegal now to abuse pets. Your analogy does not hold up. Your supposition that changing our terminology will change behavior (ten years later, has that happened? could anyone say?) isn't borne out by the evidence. If it is, perhaps you could share some of that evidence with us.

chicago

3/31/2009 8:19:32 PM