Burton on the Bay:
Pondering Feline Frieda's Future
Will San Francisco thinking set our pets free?

"Pet 'ownership' is an offensive term."

-Elliott Katz, veterinarian and president of In Defense of Animals. Aug. 13, 1999.

Reading words like that, I'm beginning to feel uneasy. Are things about to change in the Burton household?

Personally, I like the status quo. Wife Lois hasn't given it much thought; she's not into pets as much as this writer. Though it was at her insistence - prodded on by youngsters Heather and Joel - that overwhelmed my pronouncements that with our busy schedules, our domicile on the shore of Stoney Creek in North County should remain petless.

OJ, the decrepit arthritic marmalade cat going on 14, has little interest in anything other than niblets and cheese in the few hours he wakes from his snoozing routine on the bed in the guest room.

He's had his day and appears quite content to curl up and dream of back when he prowled the house in search of the occasional mouse or moth. As for Frieda, my sparkling white cat companion for nearly 13 years, well, in the interest of letting sleeping dogs lie, I hid the report from her.

A long way off is San Francisco where that pet quote originated, and where else could such a ridiculous notion be spawned? But we pet owners of Anne Arundel County know all about the snowball effect once things get rolling. So keep your eyes west, dear readers until, hopefully, all this blows over.

Out there in that curious West Coast city noted for queer interpretations of what society should be like, Katz and others want the legal view of the relationship between humans and their pets changed - from owners to guardians. What's more, the demand appears to be gaining favor in a metropolis where the only sane human appears to be Forty Niners quarterback Steve Young.

So let's go to Webster, and not Daniel, but Noah:

· Owner (Own): Belonging to oneself, to have or hold as property.

· Guardian: One who has the care of the person or property of another.


Who Owns Frieda?

See why I'm concerned? Read again the definition of custodian - "has the care of the person or property of another." Does this mean that my beloved Frieda Lawrence Burton isn't mine, hasn't been since the November morning I first spied her as a kitten romping near the docks of Capt. Buddy Harrison's Chesapeake House at Tilghman Island? She was one of many felines existing on galley scraps.

Here I'd been thinking she was mine, had been since the kids expressed an interest when they first spied her. I relented, and Capt. JoJo Lowery finally caught that wild feral critter in a crab net and turned her over to me.

Now, according to Katz via the interpretation of Webster, she belongs to someone else. Might I ask who? I might want to send the legal owner a bill for the $5,000 I've spent on Frieda since that long ago November morning.

Over the years, the bills have mounted. Food and cat dishes. Toys. Litter and litter boxes. Deodorizers. Collars. Flea and tick sprays. Shampoos. Shots. Spaying. Bed and board at Tiffany Kennels when we're off for more than a day. Checkups. Combs and brushes. Surgery at Pasadena Animal Hospital and several late night animal emergency room visits elsewhere. And, lastly, the not-inexpensive medication she has required for years for a thyroid problem and megacolon.

And now I find someone else owns the active and still playful cat that sits on my lap as I write, sleeps in my bed at night, and comes when I call her to take her pills - two in the morning and two in the evening. (Did you ever try giving pills to a cat? You can't hide them in a ball of ground beef as you would a dog.)

No complaints here. She's worth every cent and all the time, not to mention the moments of inconvenience. But I find it difficult to think someone else, whoever or whatever, owns Frieda. Suppose the owner thinks I'm remiss?

Suppose the power that be gets the notion that I'm depriving Frieda by not feeding her top-of-the-line Gourmet cat food instead of the less expensive though not-bottom-of-the line Friskies she appears to be quite content with? Or perhaps her brand of litter is not in her best interest, or the niblets are of the wrong mix - or that I should hire someone to come in to entertain her, groom her and feed her when away rather than dropping her off at Tiffany?

And what about servitude? The only thing asked of Frieda other than being an attentive companion is to catch the occasional field mouse that might wander into the kitchen cupboard or basement pantry. This done, she usually plops it at my feet to await her reward - a tin of tuna. But is that enough?


Feline Labor Laws

Could I at some time in the future be violating some feline labor law that dictates she should be compensated for her effort from the time she goes on the rodent patrol until it ends rather than just rewarding her when she's successful?

Those people in California have really opened a can of worms - and have gone fishing for some pie-in-the-sky dictate of the association between people and their pets. Oh yes, and they don't like that term "pet." They figure that's demeaning, too.

If only Frieda could talk. I'd ask her how she likes things at 178 Park Road as compared with her pre-Burton days when fending for herself in the wild - and with an injured eye - at the docks of Tilghman Island. But then, I suppose, I can't presume her answer without violating the tenets of those who live in the shade of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I asked Lisa, a receptionist at the local animal hospital, what pet owners there would say if told they didn't own their animals and who she thought did. She predicted bedlam in the answer to the first question, and for the second, maybe animals own themselves - or think they do.

And in this household, since almost the beginning, regal Frieda has considered she owns us, the house and the whole shebang, and I suspect would not be too happy to be considered just a guardian. Take that Dr. Elliott Katz.

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Volume VII Number 40
October 7-13, 1999
New Bay Times