While we're on the topic of words, I would like to state that I hate the use of the word "it" when it applies to an animal. When I talk about my animals, I always use the same pronouns that I would use for a person of the same gender. He, she, him, her. I find myself cringing, and sometimes even bristling, when people persist in calling my animals an "it" even when I have taken pains to introduce them by name, and to refer to said animal as "him" or "her." "It" refers to a can of soup or a lampshade, not a treasured pet.
What got me started on this? I had to call the emergency vet the other day (no, no emergencies, no worries!) but they are the ones that treat Charlotte for her heart condition, and I had a question about the medication. The receptionist continued to call Charlotte an "it" throughout the entire conversation, which, quite frankly, pissed me off. I tend to write it off when some joe on the street calls Argos an it, because who knows, they might not be an animal person, they might not realize what gender he is. But someone working for a veterinarian's office? C'mon. It's not like the name Charlotte makes the cat's gender unclear. Anyone who works with animals should feel enough empathy for them to grant them a status above that of a THING.
Because really, there are only two types of instance when I myself will call an animal an "it." The first is if I'm not certain of the gender. Using a sentence like, "Oh, I like your dog. Does he or she like other dogs?" DOES sound kind of awkward. So if I can't tell by quick observation, "it" will suffice, that is, until the person walking the dog gives me some clue about the animal's gender.
The other is if I'm talking about an animal in the generic sense. "If you have a cat, please keep it in the house." Again, saying "Please keep him or her in the house" sounds awkward. It even sounds awkward when we're forced to throw that into a sentence about humans, and even moreso with animals.
Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. But I don't think so. When we relegate a living creature to a "thing," then it matters less how we treat him or her. (C'mon, in a post like this, like I'm going to refer to an animal as an "it.") Things don't have rights, and if an animal doesn't have any expectation of having any rights at all, then it's okay for the Michael Vicks and Mary Bales of the world to abuse animals in any way that they see fit, for profit or for kicks.