Some say it is a sign of a city going to the dogs--politically correct poodles, Dobermans with issues or activist Airedales airing pet peeves.

A California-based animal rights group has asked San Francisco to phase out the legal concept of pet ownership, replacing the term "owner" with the more egalitarian "guardian." The goal is to reject the idea that animals can be human property.

"Society first moved away from women and wives as property, then it moved away from African Americans as property," said Elliott Katz, a licensed veterinarian and president of In Defense of Animals.

"Now a large segment of people are beginning to move away from the concept of animals as property." Katz said. "We are asking the city to recognize that."

Last week, the group asked the city's Animal Control and Welfare Commission, which advises the city's Board of Supervisors, to take the first step toward ending animal ownership by adding the words "and/or pet guardians" to each city law that mentions "pet owners."

Supporters say the revision would recognize animal lovers who "adopt" pets from shelters rather than buy them from stores. If approved by the board, it would be the first such change in the nation.

The proposal received a fairly positive hearing by the animal commission, whose chairman, Richard Schulke, said: "I'm sympathetic to the idea. I've always felt that my pets were my family, not my chattel or property."