In West Hollywood, Pets Are Part of the Family

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The latest city ordinance in West Hollywood has more bark than bite.

From now on, pet owners in the two-square-mile city officially will be called pet guardians.

But violators of the new law who slip up and use the O word won't land in the doghouse.

"The resolution has a symbolic purpose" aimed at reminding those with pets that animals have rights, too, said Mayor Jeffrey Prang.

"There's a tremendous amount of power in words. Choosing the term 'pet guardianship' connotes a much greater sense of responsibility and care for your pets," Prang said.

City Council members voted 3 to 0 Tuesday night to amend the city's municipal code to remove all references to "pet owner."

The move was applauded by animal activists.

"The word 'owner' is outdated and doesn't reflect the animal-human bond that exists in our culture today," said Rita Anderson, a leader of the national group In Defense of Animals.

Although that group pushed unsuccessfully two years ago to ban municipal use of the term "pet owner" in San Francisco, only one other U.S. city has done so. Boulder, Colo., made the owner-guardian switch in its municipal code last July.

The change was greeted with enthusiasm Wednesday in West Hollywood--where residents in the past have backed such issues as the right of renters to have pets and the future creation of a "no-kill" city animal shelter. Many in the city's large gay population have dogs and cats they consider members of their families.

Carlos Antons, manager of West Hollywood's Petco store, predicted pet owners will quickly get used to being pet guardians. "It's a good idea. It will make people more responsible to their animals," he said.

As it turns out, West Hollywood residents have been responsible pet owners in the past, according to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which provides animal shelter services for the city.

The city's pet population "is pretty much under control" and the occasional strays picked up "are not vicious; they're very domesticated," said Ken Brookwell, chief financial director of the SPCA in Los Angeles.

Of the name change, Brookwell said: "To me, I think it's kind of silly. If you have a pet, you are the owner."

Whatever they call themselves, West Hollywood dog guardians will still have to obtain licenses from the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control. The cost ranges from $7.50 to $30. And if a licensed dog gets a new home, there's a $5 charge.

"It's a change-of-ownership fee," a department worker said.

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