Sunday, 16 January 2005 - 10:15 AM
This presentation is part of: New Areas in Social Work Research
Practices and Beliefs Regarding Companion Animals: Exploring The Relative Importance of Select Demographic FactorsChristina Risley-Curtiss, PhD, Arizona State University and Lynn C. Holley, PhD, Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Consortium (SIRC), Arizona State University.
In the United States, approximately 64 million households have companion animals including 77.7 million cats and 65 million dogs (American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 2003). Nonetheless while keeping companion animals is a universal cultural phenomenon (Brown, 2002) how attachment to those animals is manifested may vary from culture to culture. An increasing body of literature suggests that affectionate relationships with animal companions have health-enhancing effects on people and enrich quality of life (e.g., see Lago, Delaney, Miller & Grill, 1989; Netting, Wilson & New, 1987). However, this research also suggests that these relationships are complex and vary depending on a number of characteristics of the study population. Fortunately, our knowledge of this relationship is growing and there is much evidence attesting to the powerful connections between people and their animals, both positive and negative (Faver & Strand, 2003; Netting, Wilson & New, 1987). Yet this animal-human connection has received virtually no attention from social work scholars, despite the fact that, for example, abuse and cruelty to companion animals within families is somewhat commonplace and has disturbing consequences for both humans and animals (see e.g., Deviney, Dickert, & Lockwood, 1983; Faver & Strand, 2003; Flynn, 2000). Furthermore, social workers and other human service practitioners are increasingly including animals as adjuncts to treatment without social work research to inform and support them. The purpose of this study was to examine the ability of selected demographic factors to explain companion animal ownership, select practices and beliefs, and to make suggestions for incorporating this information into social work research, practice and education. Data were collected from 587 individuals through a random digit dialed telephone survey. Logistic regression was used to explore the ability of gender, race/ethnicity, income, education, residence, age, and household size to explain companion animal ownership, ownership practices and beliefs (measured dichotomously). Findings include that having companion animals was associated with being younger, and describing oneself as White. Describing oneself as Asian was negatively associated with having pets. Those identifying as of Hispanic/Spanish origin were less likely to have cats or to have their cat/dog spayed or neutered. Men were more likely to agree that it is okay to hit a pet.Among dog and/or cat owners, women were more likely to agree that animals provide companionship and a sense of safety.Fewer people in a household was associated with feelings that animals provide companionship, emotional support, and a sense of safety. Importantly, almost all participants agreed that their pets provided unconditional love and could feel sadness, fear, happiness and love. Several implications follow from these findings. Social workers working to address male violence may consider teaching boys and men different ways of interacting with animals so that they learn that hitting is unacceptable. Those working with women or people who live alone might encourage individuals to adopt companion animals for health benefits that may be derived from such companionship.The authors offer these and other implications so that social workers can better support individuals, families and groups.
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