What is the Guardian Campaign?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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The Guardian Campaign is a campaign launched by In Defense of Animals, designed to change the way that people think about the animals in their lives. The campaign lobbies for a change from “owner” to “guardian” when talking about the relationship people have with their pets. While the Guardian Campaign does not change the legal status of animals, In Defense of Animals hopes that it will change the way people interact with animals. Like many issues in the animal rights field, the Guardian Campaign has been hotly debated.

In Defense of Animals was founded in 1983 with the aim of ending animal exploitation. The organization's mission statement includes a desire to promote the welfare, rights, and habitat of animals. While In Defense of Animals focuses mainly on the United States, it has successfully carried out campaigns in other nations as well. To support its goals, the organization has established regional sanctuaries in the United States and Africa which care for animals, promote animal welfare, and encourage grassroots activism. It also organizes numerous campaigns to protect animals around the world, ranging from victims of natural disasters to animals used in experimentation.


The goal behind the Guardian Campaign is reframing the way people consider the animals in their lives. Supporters believe that viewing animals as property supports an attitude of ultimate recklessness and lack of consideration. By committing to be a guardian, a pet owner is indicating a lifetime commitment to that animal, and to animals in general. The Guardian Campaign wants animal guardians to promote animal rights and welfare around their communities, in addition to at home.

In 2000, Boulder, Colorado became the first city to adopt “guardian” instead of “owner.” Other cities and regions quickly followed suit, including Marin County in California, Berkeley, West Hollywood, the entire state of Rhode Island, Woodstock, and Bloomington, Indiana. Internationally, Windsor, Ontario in Canada also joined the Guardian Campaign. Many of these regions already have a history of compassionate legislation which is intended to promote animal welfare.

Critics of the Guardian Campaign argue that it is a waste of time, since it does not concretely contribute to the animal rights struggle. However, supporters point out that getting people to view their animals as wards, rather than property, will have a positive impact on the fight for animal rights. While the Guardian Campaign does not directly promote more strict punishment for animal abuse, or lobby for legislation to protect animals, it plants the seed of compassion towards animals in the communities where it succeeds and sparks conversation about the roles of animals in our lives.


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