PETA is an organization that evokes strong feelings in people. Either people strongly agree with the views presented by the group, or they think that they are the animal rights equivalent of extremists as they push very strong views on others. Viewers of the British morning show ‘Good Morning Britain’ recently got to see the polarizing nature of the group first-hand when one of their representatives claimed that the word ‘pet’ is a derogatory term. I Heart Dogs reported that when the PETA representatives made the suggestion that people should replace the word pet with a word that is deemed as more respectful to the animal, it caused a swift and severe backlash from the show’s hosts.
In this particular episode of Good Morning Britain, hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid were interviewing Nick Ede, a publicist, who was accompanied by his dog Beverley. The group was also joined by Jennifer White, a representative from PETA. The purpose of an interview was to put across PETA’s campaign to have using ant-animal language banned. This includes banning the word pets to describe cats and dogs. From the start of the interview, Susanna Reid got straight to the point. She wanted to know what is so bad about using the word pets. She even suggested that animals do not care what you call them. In response, White agreed that animals do not know what they are being called.
However, she argued that the terms ‘pets’ and ‘owners’ reduce animals to being objects, meaning that people are not respecting them as individuals. White explained that language is continually evolving, and that language has power, which is why it is important to consider the implications of the words we use. White then explained that PETA also extended these beliefs to the purchase of animals. PETA believes that it is wrong to buy any animal because this is another way of treating them as objects that are owned by humans. Following White’s explanation of the campaign, Piers Morgan was quick to question the organization’s stance on the use of the word pet. He defended his opposing views by highlighting the fact that the acronym for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, includes the word ‘pet’. This was a point that he continued to make repeatedly throughout the rest of the interview.
Despite Morgan mocking the organization’s stance, White managed to remain calm and to stick to the main argument that she was making without retaliating to the verbal attack. Every time Morgan shot her down, White reiterated the point that PETA believes that calling animals pets objectifies them and that humans should not own them. White then supported her argument by saying that many viewers watching the show will have a dog or cat in their home that they call their pets and they will also refer to themselves as the owners. In White’s opinion, this gives the animals the same possession status as an object, such as a car. She expressed the opinion that by referring to animals as inanimate objects rather than living beings, it reflects on the way that animals are treated.
Her views led to the hosts of the show questioning what she believed people should call cats and dogs if they were being asked not to refer to them as pets. The PETA representative suggested using a term such as companions, as this does not objectify the animals in the same way. She also put forward the term ‘human carers’ as a replacement for the word ‘owners’. White believes that these terms are a better reflection of the relationship between humans and cats or dogs living in their homes. Another question that the hosts raised was whether the language chosen can really impact on how animals are treated, and even lead to the mistreatment of an animal in a domestic situation. According to White, PETA believes that the choice of terminology really does encourage mistreatment, and she continually stressed throughout the interview that word choice really can make a difference.
To explain her views further, White described how using the word owner implies that an animal is an object, and this implies that a standard of care is not required. She took her argument further by stating that the use of the term ‘pet’ was linked to animal abandonment. White said that this was particularly the case during the holiday season, as it was at this time that shelter saw a rise in animals being abandoned that had been given as a gift. At this point in the interview, journalist Nick Ede weighed into the argument. He expressed the contrasting view that the term ‘ownership’ did imply a duty of responsibility and care on the part of the human. Therefore, he disagreed with White’s view that the reverse was true.
According to The Express, things got particularly heated and Piers Morgan’s frustrations were clear when the conversation turned to popular phrases with animals in them. White claimed that the term ‘sneaky weasel’ has negative connotations about the animal. On the other hand, Morgan argued that the term sneaky was a perfectly good way to describe a weasel. This led to Morgan putting forward some other common phrases, such as ‘elephant in the room’. Morgan was clearly exasperated by the argument when White said that she found that term acceptable and inoffensive. At that point, Susanna Reid was forced to bring the argument to a close. While most people would agree that language is a very powerful thing, whether the terms ‘pet’ and ‘owner’ are derogatory and potentially dangerous or not is a subject that will no doubt divide opinion. The divided opinions on the subject have been clear from the social media response. One Twitter user even went so far as to refer to White as the ‘epitome of today’s snowflakes’.