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 firstname.lastname@example.org.