In Defense of Animals
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An Open Letter To Oprah Winfrey

Oprah with Gracie

Dear Oprah,

Please allow me to express my keen sorrow for the loss of Gracie. In your homage, you so perfectly captured her incandescent beauty and many gifts. Even though she was with you for what must seem only a moment, I imagine the life she had with you was a rapturous one, every day a sublime celebration. About five years ago, I lost my boon companion, Danny, a soulful hodgepodge of various canine breeds, and not a day passes without a Danny ache but, at the same time, there is always a flooding in of delicious memories of the dog for whom I was guardian and who miraculously transformed lives.

The visionary poet Rilke wrote that a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude. In our relationships with animal companions, we are the appointed guardians of their lives. You were Grace’s devoted guardian.

I’m writing to you about language, a subject about which you care deeply—how words alter history, how movements are spearheaded by words.  I’m writing about how words affect the forward march of animal rights and protection. (In Europe, the Swiss amended their laws to change the status of animals from “things” to ‘beings.”) I am writing about the transfixing power and importance of words and how they are the source of our very being. Words can stir us into action, mobilize nations. Words can also become weapons, arrows, enslaving, unconsciously encoding a certain kind of behavior. “Owner” has become such a word, with its patina of arrogance, compared to the more humane and humble “guardian.” “Owning” a dog has become a diminishing thing, an impoverishing thing, above all obsolescent, a term that has lost its usefulness, for our beloved animal companions are not things, property, or commodities to be “owned” and thus discarded like an old chair.

Your choice of books, always in some way about justice, compassion, and truth telling, has transfigured countless readers around the world. In a similar way, the idea behind using the term “guardian” when referring to one’s animal companions is built upon a deep and abiding reverence. Every time the term “guardian” is uttered instead of “owner,” it illuminates in the public consciousness the singular and profound bond that exists between human beings and their animal companions. It alters our perceptions of our personal relationships with animals and embraces the powerful idea that we respect and honor their essential value, feelings, interests, and lives. Implicit in the term "guardian" is everything that embodies responsibility, and thus we are creating the most treasured, the most lasting, and the most fundamental relationships with the animals who share our lives. This seemingly nuanced, almost imperceptible, but critical change in language elevates in our eyes our companions’ status from easily disposable property to individual being.

Guardians protect, guard, and preserve. Guardianship is about how people think and imagine and, thus, act. It reflects a refashioning of the way we look at ourselves and the animals among us—it’s a way of seeing the world anew.

Using the term guardian is infinitely more than symbolic—guardians are less likely to chain their animals or abandon them or betray them and are more likely to have them spayed and neutered and given appropriate veterinary care; they are more likely to adopt and rescue rather than buy and sell. Guardians are people who fervently reject dog fighting and puppy mills. Guardians recoil from exploiters and abusers. The term “guardian” refreshes the imagination and allows us to make
distinctions—one thing is not another. An “owner” is not a substitute for guardian,
where the bond between human and animal is a thing sacred.

There are now six and half million Americans in sixteen cities, two counties, and an entire state who refer to themselves as “guardians " even on official documents, thus recognizing the true import of the word and our responsibility to our animals’ well being.

I hope the spirit of guardianship moves you to give it a public name. The word “guardian” exudes hope and promise for all animal lives.

With an ardent admiration for all you do,

Robin S. Dorman
In Defense of Animals
3010 Kerner Blvd.
San Rafael, CA 94901
415-388-9641 x 211

For more information about guardian language please, visit

P.S. We have called upon Maya Angelou who was kind enough to make a PSA for our organization, In Defense of Animals, titled “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” I have enclosed a DVD of Ms. Angelou and Peter Falk.


You may send your own note or letter to Oprah. She may be reached at:

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Mail: Harpo Productions 
       110 North Carpenter Street 
       Chicago, IL 60607-2146

Phone: 310-278-5559

In Defense of Animals, located in San Rafael, Calif., is an international animal protection organization with more than 85,000 members and supporters dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of animals by protecting their rights and welfare. IDA's efforts include educational events, cruelty investigations, boycotts, grassroots activism, and hands-on rescue through our sanctuaries in Mississippi, Mumbai, India, and Cameroon, Africa.

In Defense of Animals is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We welcome your feedback and appreciate your donations. Please join today! All donations to IDA are tax-deductible.

In Defense of Animals
3010 Kerner, San Rafael, CA 94901
Tel. (415) 448-0048 Fax (415) 454-1031

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