I am owned by two feline brothers officially named Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle. I have several additional monikers for each of them, including Big Guy, Little Guy, Tuffy, and Flying J., just to name a few. One thing I never call them is it. And I know that I’m not alone: most animal lovers use gendered personal pronouns (e.g., he and she) when referring to pets.
But are we just personifying our furry friends? Maybe! However, most of our primary style guides agree that animals can be much more than an it. In fact, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style) says that an animal with a name should be assigned a gendered personal pronoun,1 while The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) says that an animal with a name or a known gender should be assigned a gendered personal pronoun.2
Bones enjoys napping and playing with his cat toys. (This example follows APA style and AP style.)
The mare walks in the field with her foal. (This example follows AP style.)
A bear left its paw prints in the snow. (This example follows APA style and AP style.)
The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style) is less specific, but it does suggest that non-human nouns (including ships and other water vessels) can be given gendered personal pronouns. Interestingly, Chicago style clearly states that the use of it doesn’t mean that the subject or object doesn’t have a gender, only that the gender is unknown and doesn’t matter in the context of the sentence; therefore, we can refer to human babies as it in certain circumstances.3 (Strange, I know!) I’m going to assume that this means that Chicago style agrees with both the APA and AP on the animal issue.
I wanted to be sure that I researched this topic as thoroughly as possible, so I also consulted with Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle. They said that they don’t give a hairball about pronouns, but they want a treat—right now.
1. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association) 80.
2. The Associated Press Stylebook 2019 (New York: Associated Press, 2019) 18.
3. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017) 5.47.