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The significance of companion dogs in the everyday lives of their human caregivers Maharaj, Nandini Sharada 2013

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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF COMPANION DOGS IN THE EVERYDAY LIVES OF THEIR HUMAN CAREGIVERS  by NANDINI SHARADA MAHARAJ B.A., The University of British Columbia, 2009  A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Counselling Psychology) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver)  July 2013 © Nandini Sharada Maharaj, 2013  ii Abstract Using a qualitative design, the purpose of the study was to examine how people describe their relationship with their dog and what kinds of things they do that suggest this bond represents a meaningful relationship. Dog owners (N=27) aged 19 years and older were invited to participate in a focus group discussion. Seven groups were conducted. Employing the steps that Krueger and Casey (2009) recommend, a thematic content analysis revealed the presence of 9 themes: Part of the Family, We Do as We’re Told, Dogs Know, Natural Healers, Nothing Like What a Dog Can Do, My Dog Includes Me, I’m the Alpha Dog, Dog People Are a Rare Breed, and Through Their Eyes. These themes are discussed in light of the current research in the field. The findings suggest some implications for counselling research and practice in improving the health and wellbeing of dog owners and admirers, as well as, some avenues for further exploration.  iii Preface Approval to conduct this study was obtained from the Behavioural Research Ethics Board of the University of British Columbia. The UBC Ethics Certificate number was H12-01532 for the project title: The Significance of Companion Dogs in the Everyday Lives of Their Human Caregivers. This thesis, including the research design, data collection, data analysis, and manuscript composition, is an original work of the author, Nandini Maharaj. Clare Cayley, served as the moderator and conducted five of the focus group interviews. One interview was conducted by Louise Young. Lucy Gofton assisted with data analysis as an independent coder.  iv Table of Contents Abstract .............................................................................................................................. ii Preface ............................................................................................................................... iii Table of Contents ............................................................................................................. iv Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................ viii Dedication ......................................................................................................................... ix Chapter One: Introduction .............................................................................................. 1 Chapter Two: Literature Review .................................................................................... 5 Historical Perspectives on the Human-animal Bond ................................................. 5 Anthropological Evidence ........................................................................................... 5 Archaeological Findings .............................................................................................. 6 Evolutionary Accounts ................................................................................................ 7 Contemporary Perspectives on Companion Animals ................................................ 8 Companion Animals as Family Members ................................................................... 8 Companion Animals as Active and Subjective Beings ............................................. 12 Reasons for Pet Ownership........................................................................................ 14 Household Composition ............................................................................................ 15 Pet Care Industry and Consumer Behaviour ............................................................. 17 Benefits of Companion Animals ................................................................................ 19 Physiological Benefits ............................................................................................... 19 Psychosocial Benefits ................................................................................................ 23 Therapeutic Benefits .................................................................................................. 29 Statement of the Problem ........................................................................................... 31 Research Questions.................................................................................................... 32 Chapter Three: Method ................................................................................................. 33 Rationale ...................................................................................................................... 33 Participants .................................................................................................................. 34 Recruitment ................................................................................................................. 35 Procedure ..................................................................................................................... 37 Research Design ........................................................................................................ 37 Data Collection .......................................................................................................... 38  v Data Analysis ............................................................................................................... 42 Issues of Credibility..................................................................................................... 45 Chapter Four: Results .................................................................................................... 48 Demographic Information .......................................................................................... 48 Identification of the Themes ....................................................................................... 49 Part of the Family ...................................................................................................... 50 Dogs as children ..................................................................................................... 50 Dog owners as parents ........................................................................................... 51 Teaching family values .......................................................................................... 52 Connecting family members .................................................................................. 52 We Do as We’re Told ................................................................................................ 53 Keeping me on schedule ........................................................................................ 53 Dog-friendly work life ........................................................................................... 54 Home and leisure (no dogs allowed?).................................................................... 55 Dogs Know ................................................................................................................ 56 Protective instincts ................................................................................................. 56 Uniquely intuitive .................................................................................................. 56 No need for words .................................................................................................. 57 Natural Healers .......................................................................................................... 59 Promoting exercise................................................................................................. 59 Stress-relievers ....................................................................................................... 59 Social support......................................................................................................... 60 Valuable teachers ................................................................................................... 60 Spiritual connection ............................................................................................... 61 Nothing like What a Dog Can Do ............................................................................. 62 Constant companions ............................................................................................. 62 Uniquely canine ..................................................................................................... 63 My Dog Includes Me ................................................................................................. 64 Dog walking ........................................................................................................... 64 Where I belong ....................................................................................................... 64 Community integration .......................................................................................... 65  vi I’m the Alpha Dog ..................................................................................................... 66 Personality fit ......................................................................................................... 66 Creature habits ....................................................................................................... 67 Canine characteristics ............................................................................................ 68 Dog People are a Rare Breed ..................................................................................... 69 Other people don’t get it ........................................................................................ 69 Limiting their social life......................................................................................... 70 Managing the chaos ............................................................................................... 70 Costly companions ................................................................................................. 71 Veterinary care ....................................................................................................... 72 Through Their Eyes ................................................................................................... 72 A worthy investment .............................................................................................. 73 Being out in nature ................................................................................................. 73 Dogs choose you .................................................................................................... 74 Field Observations....................................................................................................... 75 Chapter Five: Discussion ................................................................................................ 77 Contributions to the Literature ................................................................................. 77 Dogs as Family Members .......................................................................................... 78 Role in the family................................................................................................... 78 Dogs are the glue ................................................................................................... 79 Intuitive Understanding and Communication............................................................ 80 Health and Well-being ............................................................................................... 81 Therapy dogs .......................................................................................................... 81 The Inherent Value of Dogs ...................................................................................... 82 Sense of Community ................................................................................................. 83 Mutual Influence........................................................................................................ 84 Unique Aspects .......................................................................................................... 85 Welcome home ...................................................................................................... 85 Pet loss ................................................................................................................... 86 Animal cruelty ....................................................................................................... 86 Unbreakable bonds................................................................................................. 87  vii Personal Note from the Author .................................................................................. 87 Limitations ................................................................................................................... 88 Implications.................................................................................................................. 90 Future Directions......................................................................................................... 92 References ........................................................................................................................ 95 Appendices ..................................................................................................................... 101 Appendix A: Recruitment Flyer .............................................................................. 101 Appendix B: Interview Guide .................................................................................. 102 Appendix C: Consent Form ..................................................................................... 103 Appendix D: Demographic Questionnaire.............................................................. 106 Appendix E: Identification of the Themes .............................................................. 107  viii Acknowledgements To Colleen, thank you for your unwavering dedication, patience, and support throughout this process. I am eternally grateful for all of the countless pages you have read, all the feedback you provided, and the pleasure of getting to work with you and know you personally. I feel blessed to have had such an incredible mentor. Thank you to Bill. Your support and guidance helped me to frame my research questions in a way that honoured my original hopes and objectives for this study. Thank you to Marv. Your engaging presence in class challenged me to grow in a number of ways, adding to my personal and professional identity. I would like to acknowledge the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding support. Thank you to all of my participants who generously donated their time to participate in this study. Thank you to all of your dogs (I’m sure treats, cuddles, and tummy rubs are in order). Hearing your stories has enriched my understanding of the relationship between people and dogs. Although words seem inadequate when trying to capture this profound love we share for our dogs, I hope to have reflected some of the beauty and poignancy of your experiences. To Clare, thank you for joining me on this journey. Apart from being a skilled interviewer, your eagerness, enthusiasm, and shared passion for this research were greatly appreciated. Thank you to Andy’s Parents, Devika, Eva, Devanand, Louise, and Lucy. RIP M.J. To my grandmother, thank you for giving me such a strong and devoted mother as you were. Our home is not as “light” as it was when you were here. To my Mum, thank you for being my best teacher, for always putting me first, and for doing anything and everything so I could get my work done. As always, you helped me through every stage of this degree. Everything I have accomplished has been possible because I have a mom like you. To Daddy, I know I get my love of dogs from you. I hope you are somewhere smiling with Peppy (and you really are proud of me). I love you and miss you every day. To my baby boy, Dally, thank you for inspiring this research. I consider it my love letter to you. I love you like only a mother could. Thank you for patiently waiting as I worked, reminding me to go outside and enjoy the sunshine, making me laugh, comforting me through my tears, and making the ordinary seem so much more exciting. Thank you for all those times when you strained to look back at me with your little bum wedged against me…I’ve never felt so loved and somehow you knew when I needed it most.  ix Dedication I dedicate this work to my mum. And so you began your thesis and although you moved away from this path for a time (and for my daddy), I hope this can provide a place for you to return and see all your efforts in my work. You are a strong and beautiful woman and more brilliant than you could ever know. I love you more today than yesterday…you’re a “smasher” and I’m so proud that you’re my mum. Love always, your darling…well you know the rest  1 Chapter One: Introduction The tremendous bond between humans and companion animals is readily seen in the relationship between people and dogs. One of the most striking and indelible memories I have is the immense grief and adoration of our family dog in response to losing my dad. As a seven year old struggling to understand my dad’s untimely death, I felt comfort in the knowledge that our dog experienced a sense of loss as deeply as my own. In my effort to explore the meaning of companion dogs, I am reminded of this unmistakable bond in the warm presence of my dog, Dally, sleeping beside me as I write this. Increasingly important in the lives of people, companion animals provide affection, loyalty, unconditional love, and non-judgmental companionship (Archer, 1997; Morley & Fook, 2005). Across time and culture, animals have been cherished as valued companions and in contemporary times have been elevated to the status of family members (IpsosReid, 2001; Walsh, 2009a). Such familial arrangements transcend biological relationships and challenge researchers to look beyond human notions of family and attend to the ways in which animals are perceived and experienced as family members (Power, 2008). According to the results of one survey, 83% of Canadian pet owners regarded their pets as a family member while 15% did not (Ipsos-Reid, 2001). The survey involved random sample telephone interviews with participants from over 50,000 households across Canada. In order to ensure adequate sample representation, quotas were used for each region. More than one-half of the respondents reported owning a cat or dog, amounting to more than 7 million cats and over 5 million dogs in Canadian households. These owners spent more than $3 billion annually on pet food and veterinary care. Many of the owners reported having attained a high educational level and being employed in a  2 challenging job. Reflecting similar trends, dogs and cats were found to be the most common types of pets in the United States (Mayo, Mayo, & Helms, 2009) and were most often observed in families with children (McNicholas & Collis, 2001). In view of these results and as animals become more and more entrenched in the daily lives of individuals and families, it is important to understand the impact of treating companion animals as family members (Hickrod & Schmitt, 1982). The existing literature suggests that the relationship between humans and their companion animals represents a unique and enduring bond that is qualitatively different from interpersonal relationships and, thus, invites further investigation (Cavanaugh, Leonard, & Scammon, 2008; Friedmann, Katcher, Lynch, & Thomas, 1980). The study outlined below is intended to provide a more thorough understanding of the nature of this bond in a sample of dog owners and the ways in which people have extended their networks of intimate relationships to include companion dogs. The primary goal of this study is to examine people’s perceptions of companion dogs and how they are incorporated into the home and the lives of its inhabitants. While companion animals are not suitable for everyone, their potential to enrich the lives of their owners, admirers, and communities warrants attention (Wood, Giles-Corti, Bulsara, & Bosch, 2007). Given the long history of pet keeping and the importance of pets in contemporary societies (Friedmann et al., 1980), their immense capacity to meet the psychosocial and relational needs of individuals provides an important topic for research (Walsh, 2009a). The term pet has been used to convey the keeping of animals for pleasure and amusement (Walsh, 2009a). Reflecting the mutual bond between people and animals (Hirschman, 1994), the term companion animal emphasizes the psychological component  3 of the bond (Walsh, 2009a) and can refer to the intrinsic satisfaction derived from companionship (McNicholas et al., 2005). Companion animals are also distinguished from service animals who are not kept as pets but rather are trained to provide assistance for people with disabilities or to assist law-enforcement personnel. Accompanying these differences in terminology is the view of human owners as the guardians of animals rather than their masters. The use of these terms is intended to communicate the belief in the importance of proper care and treatment of animals. Although the term guardian is preferred among some scholars and animal welfare groups (Walsh, 2009a), the term owner is still commonly used in the literature and is easily understood by members of the general public and research community. Therefore, I will use the term pet owner. Moreover, although I recognize that the terms pet and companion animal can carry different connotations, I use these terms interchangeably to refer to animals that cohabit with humans and share a reciprocal and intimate bond with their human companions. Acknowledging the tremendous diversity in the types of animals considered to be pets and companions, the present study focuses upon dogs and their owners. The decision to examine dog ownership is based on a number of findings from the available literature. First, according to Grandin and Johnson (2009), viewing dogs as the genetic relatives of wolves enriches our understanding about the ways people relate to dogs. Like people, wolves live together in families made up of parents and children, rather than in wolf packs. Second, enduring relationships and close living arrangements have been observed between people and dogs across cultural and geographical boundaries (Sanders, 1993). Third, among those in Western society, the intimate bond between people and dogs has garnered increased acceptance (Power, 2008). Viewed as more dependent upon the care  4 and affection provided by their owners, dogs require a significant investment of time and money in comparison with other types of pets (Ipsos-Reid, 2001). Finally, treating dogs as being akin to human family members may have implications for a person’s well-being (Archer, 1997). In light of these findings, there is a need to explore the everyday practices and interactions through which people and dogs develop meaningful relationships. Attending to family life may be particularly informative as these settings provide a context in which people can more freely define and express their relationship with their dogs (Power, 2008).  5 Chapter Two: Literature Review This chapter begins by providing an overview of some historical and contemporary perspectives on the human-animal bond. In line with contemporary views on pet ownership, some physiological, psychosocial, and therapeutic benefits of companion animals are reported. Some pertinent gaps are identified based on a review of the existing literature. The chapter concludes by outlining the research questions. Historical Perspectives on the Human-animal Bond Anthropological Evidence Attesting to the widespread nature of the human-animal bond, anthropological evidence reflects the important role of animals in promoting the survival of societies that long predate those in the modern Western world (Archer, 1997). Valued for their healthenhancing potential, animals were incorporated in spiritual and religious traditions (Walsh, 2009a) and were depicted in early cave paintings and legends (Staats, Wallace, & Anderson, 2008). Evidence from the fossil record and ancient human settlements supports the notion of a mutually beneficial relationship between people and dogs (Coren, 2008). In return for providing warmth, procuring food, and warning their human companions about impending danger, dogs received protection and a reliable food source (Staats, Sears, & Pierfelice, 2006). Conferring an important survival advantage was the exceptional capacity of dogs to detect and respond to subtle human gestures (Grandin & Johnson, 2009) which facilitated the development of complex communication and the coordination of group activities (Coren, 2008). In ancient Greece and Rome, animals were kept as pets (Walsh, 2009a). During the Middle Ages, although pet-keeping was initially associated with the aristocracy and  6 royalty, the middle class also sought the prestige of owning animals. Offering pleasure and respite from everyday sources of stress, animals were considered to be an integral part of family life (Walsh, 2009a). In spite of these reported benefits, the domestication of companion animals was accompanied by the abuse and maltreatment of pets. However, growing awareness of pet abuse and concern for the welfare of animals spurred efforts to guard against exploitation and cruel treatment. These regulatory efforts can be seen in animal rights movements and organizations (Ipsos-Reid, 2001), animal advocacy, and the development of laws for the protection of animals (Walsh, 2009a). Archaeological Findings Providing compelling evidence of the close bond between people and animals is the existence of ancient burial sites and epitaphs (Archer, 1997; Coren, 2008). In ancient Egypt, following their death, dogs were mummified and buried in the animal necropolises during mourning rituals (Brandes, 2009). Unlike other early civilizations, efforts to honour dogs were observed among people of all social classes in Egypt (Coren, 2008). Demonstrating the owner’s affection and grief at the loss of the animal, these pre-historic graves suggest a desire on the part of people to reunite with their companion animal or continue the bond with them into the afterlife (Brandes, 2009; Staats et al., 2008). Given the considerable costs and expenditure of time associated with burial practices, the continued existence and popularity of pet cemeteries demonstrate the intensity of the human-animal bond and the importance of offering companion animals a sacred resting place (Brandes, 2009). Beginning with prehistoric gravesites, the inscriptions on pet gravestones have become increasingly elaborate, thereby, granting pets a distinctive identity. In urban settings, these inscriptions may include the animal’s  7 gender, species, breed, familial ties, religious affiliations, as well as, photographs of the deceased animal or human names and surnames (Brandes, 2009). Significantly, these burial practices serve to reduce the boundaries between humans and non-human animals. Evolutionary Accounts Along with historical evidence, archaeological findings suggest that the keeping of pets emerged from a desire for animal companionship rather than purely utilitarian purposes or survival necessities (Hirschman, 1994). In response, a number of scholars have put forth explanations in an attempt to account for the strong attachments between people and pets and the capacity of pets to elicit nurturance from their human caretakers. According to Coren (2008), one possibility is that when being touched gently, dogs, like humans, may release oxytocin which is a hormone associated with bonding. Similarly, the continued dependence of companion animals upon people may encourage the belief in pets as surrogate children (Hirschman, 1994). Raising another possibility, Archer (1997) points to the neotenous features of pets which resemble the facial or bodily features of human infants. Such features may trigger a parenting or care-giving response from pet owners. However, this latter explanation is of limited utility because many animals with this kind of facial configuration are not kept as pets. The notion that people often devote tremendous resources toward pets, their nonbiological kin, without any apparent benefits to evolutionary fitness (Archer, 1997) suggests that the human-animal bond cannot be understood easily in evolutionary terms. In order to gain a fuller understanding of the complexity of the human-animal bond, I turn now to a discussion of companion animals in contemporary life.  8 Contemporary Perspectives on Companion Animals Companion Animals as Family Members In contemporary times, companion animals have garnered increasing recognition and acceptance as friends, family members (Carr & Cohen, 2009; Eckstein, 2000; Franklin, 2006; Turner, 2005; Walsh, 2009a), kin, and fur babies (Greenebaum, 2004). Their integral role in family life is reflected in the creation of household practices and traditions surrounding the care of companion animals, trends in household composition, and the consumer behaviour of pet owners. The ways in which companion animals are incorporated in or restricted from various spaces within the home provides insights into how people express their own and their dogs’ needs for companionship and close spatial relationships (Hirschman, 1994; Power, 2008). Along with greater access to domestic spaces, companion animals are included in household routines that are associated with children (Franklin, 2006). Seeing themselves in a parental role, some pet owners refer to themselves as their pet’s mother or father (Cohen, 2002). Conferring an identity upon pets, the practice of naming pets makes it possible to talk about them as family members (Brandes, 2009; Hickrod & Schmitt, 1982). As with children, people give pets restrictions and special privileges (Hirschman, 1994), take care of them when they are ill (Hickrod & Schmitt, 1982), celebrate their birthdays, play with them, and talk to them in motherese, the kind of language that is used to talk to babies and young children (Archer, 1997; Sanders, 1993). Some owners incorporate their pets into their will (Greenebaum, 2004). Pets are included in family photos, special occasions, holidays, rituals, celebrations, and ceremonies (Walsh, 2009b). Not only do pets receive presents on holidays and special  9 occasions (Eckstein, 2000) but people also give gifts to others from their pets (Walsh, 2009b). When making decisions about their living situation, people consider their pets’ needs and preferences such as finding suitable areas for dog walking (Franklin, 2006; Staats et al., 2008). Pets have even featured prominently among the first families in the White House (Walsh, 2009a). Particularly relevant to the present study is the finding that pets are attentive and responsive to the emotional cues and affective states of family members (Sanders, 1993; Walsh, 2009b). Even without the advantages of a common language, some individuals report feeling understood by their pets and being able to communicate with them effectively (Archer, 1997; Ispos Reid, 2001). Pets not only reflect signs of stress in a family but also moderate the impact of stress upon family relationships (Walsh, 2009b). Moreover, pets can foster morale (Eckstein, 2000) and cohesion among family members by promoting interactions and communication (Walsh, 2009b). Similar to challenges posed by childrearing, pets can also represent a source of conflict as members must negotiate roles, rules, boundaries, relationships, and problem solving strategies (Walsh, 2009b). The responsibilities surrounding the care of pets can also produce familial discord. During a conflict between family members, people may communicate with pets to ease the tension or pull pets into a dispute (Hirschman, 1994; Walsh, 2009b). As individuals progress through stages in the family life cycle, the role of pets can change in response to the needs and expectations of family members (Staats et al., 2008; Turner, 2005). Throughout the lifespan, pets can provide a focus for their owners’ attention and everyday activities (Friedmann et al., 1980). Facing major decisions regarding career and family, young adults without children may seek the affection of pets  10 in order to alleviate loneliness. For newly married couples and prospective parents, adopting a pet before having children can provide an opportunity to practise parenting skills that accompany childrearing (Hirschman, 1994; Turner, 2005). In the period of later adulthood, pets can mitigate the impact of losses such as experiencing retirement or the death of a spouse (Turner, 2005). Failing to capture the diverse ways in which people recognize and treat others as family members, traditional notions of family define membership according to human status or biological kinship (Power, 2008). Although people often describe pets as family members (Eckstein, 2000; Franklin, 2006; Walsh, 2009a), with the exception of clinical anecdotes and preliminary investigations (Walsh, 2009b), few studies have attempted to examine systematically the meaning of this description. Preliminary efforts to investigate the notion of pets as family members can be seen in the development of inventories (Eckstein, 2000), the use of participant observations, pet diaries, internet pet forums and chat rooms (Fox, 2006), field data, auto-ethnographic research (Sanders, 1993), and indepth interviews with dog owners (Hickrod & Schmitt, 1982). The inventory developed by Eckstein (2000) consists of a series of self-reflective questions to which participants respond individually using a 5-point rating scale. Participants are then asked to score and interpret the meaning of their responses with their partner and or family members. The questionnaire is intended to provide insights regarding the role of pets in the context of the respondents’ family of origin, as well as, their current familial relationships. In a study with new dog owners (N=22), Power (2008) synthesized the findings from qualitative interviews and diary methods. Using home-based diaries enabled the researcher to examine daily interaction patterns, thereby, revealing the active role of dogs  11 in their relationship with their owners. The data were collected over a nine month period and coded to identify the ways in which people viewed their dog’s impact upon the family. While only women participated in the interviews, their male partners took part in the diary activities. Participants perceived their dogs as furry children and pack animals. Particularly relevant to the present study, some participants described their dogs as having the agency to influence home and family life. These findings extend previous research by emphasizing familial patterns and ways of relating with companion dogs that transcend human definitions of family (Power, 2008). However, the duration of dog ownership in this study was limited to a period of one year. While these results provide important insights concerning the initial stages of human-dog cohabitation, further research is needed to examine more long-standing relationships between people and their dogs. Conducting a longitudinal investigation using qualitative interviews with participants before and after they acquire a dog could be beneficial for examining the development of the bond between people and their dogs. In Phase 1 of an exploratory study, Cohen (2002) used a questionnaire containing scales that defined family relationships and pet attachment in order to examine how people (N=201) viewed the role of their pet in the family in comparison to the role of human family members. Dichotomous variables were examined using independent t tests. The Bonferroni test was used to adjust for the number of comparisons made at the .05 significance level. Results indicated that gender and educational level were associated with feelings of psychological kinship and intimacy. Males and college graduates expressed lower feelings of kinship with both people and pets. In Phase 2 of the study, a subgroup of 16 participants from the initial study was asked to complete a social network  12 instrument and respond to a semi-structured interview regarding family roles and boundaries. The qualitative data were audio-taped, transcribed, and analyzed for patterns and themes. While some gender differences remained, differences associated with educational attainment disappeared in Phase 2. Cohen (2002) found that when participants were asked what they would do if living with a pet was causing a significant health problem, many reported that they would attempt to treat their health condition rather than relinquish their pet. While this study provided useful insights regarding how people conceptualize their relationship with their pet, the use of questionnaires and a Likert-type scale to measure psychological kinship and intimacy may not have been sufficient to reveal the meaning people attach to their relationship with companion animals. Existing questionnaires concerning relationships between human family members were modified to include pets. Therefore, these questionnaires may be limited in their utility for understanding the unique bond between people and their pets. Acknowledging the limitations of the current design, Cohen highlighted the need for additional testing of the questionnaires with a more diverse sample. Furthermore, questionnaires designed specifically to explore the role of pets could improve our understanding of dynamics between people and pets that are not adequately addressed by available instruments. Companion Animals as Active and Subjective Beings Accompanying the belief in pets as family members is the evolving perception of the ways that companion animals contribute to family life. According to traditional, humanist frameworks, companion animals are granted the status of family member based upon their perceived role in the family (Cohen, 2002; Power, 2008). These roles are  13 consistent with human conceptions of family such as children and siblings (Turner, 2005). Along with these prevailing Western beliefs about family structure is the view of animals as passive recipients of socially constructed roles (Power, 2008; Serpell, 2003). Rather than actively initiating social interactions, animals are seen as being adapted according to the needs of family members (Archer, 1997). Similarly, studies have shown that people have a tendency to project feelings and qualities associated with humans onto nonhuman animals, particularly, dogs and cats (Walsh, 2009a). This kind of anthropomorphic thinking has been described as a basis for deriving social support and health benefits from companion animals (Archer, 1997; Hirschman, 1994; Serpell, 2003). Highlighting the importance of anthropomorphism in developing close bonds with companion animals (Serpell, 2003), some researchers have underestimated the role of companion animals. However, studies examining the relationship between people and dogs indicate that people view their companion dogs as active and subjective beings (Sanders, 1993; Power, 2008). Some people believe that their dogs can experience and express complex thoughts and feelings (Fox, 2006). In an Ipsos-Reid (2001) study, almost one-half of the respondents believed that animals have the same emotions that people do. Supporting this belief, dogs have been found to be able to understand and respond appropriately to visual and auditory cues from people (Archer, 1997; Walsh, 2009a). Dogs can train themselves to engage in particular behaviours (Grandin & Johnson, 2009). In addition to other animals, dogs make expressions and vocalizations towards humans that are absent in their interactions with members of their own species (Franklin, 2006). Through everyday interactions, people and dogs develop a shared understanding  14 and can communicate with each other in a subtle and nonverbal manner (Hirschman, 1994; Sanders, 1993). Rather than acting purely according to their instincts (Fox, 2006), dogs can behave in ways that are intended to influence their owner’s behaviour and achieve desired ends (Sanders, 1993). Involved in a mutual and authentic social relationship with their dogs, owners recognize their dogs’ individuality and their subjective thoughts, feelings, preferences, intentions, and personalities (Fox, 2006; Franklin, 2006; Sanders, 1993). Accordingly, these findings suggest that there is a reciprocal relationship between people and their companion dogs that cannot be attributed solely to anthropomorphic projections (Walsh, 2009a). As with other family members, people recognize and attempt to accommodate their dogs’ physical and emotional needs and preferences (Power, 2008). Reasons for Pet Ownership Despite the enduring nature of the human-animal bond across time, culture, and technological innovation (Staats et al., 2006), few empirical studies have systematically investigated the reasons people have for owning pets in contemporary life. In the academic literature, domesticated animals have received less attention than wildlife (Carr & Cohen, 2009). Reflecting a desire to live in close spatial relationships, pet keeping practices have persisted despite being less reliant upon pets for survival needs. In the first ever national survey (n=2000) of human-animal relationships in Australia, the primary reason for acquiring a pet was to provide company (Franklin, 2006). Using telephone interviews with a random university faculty sample consisting of 95 women and 207 men, Staats et al. (2006) found gender differences regarding people’s reasons for pet ownership. The sample was selected from a list of current faculty members at a large  15 Midwestern university. Fifty-six percent of participants were current pet owners. The data were analyzed by gender and age group. The results indicated that while women had a tendency to report relational benefits such as companionship and social support, men were more likely to value the utilitarian benefits of pets such as keeping them physically active. Strengthening the results of the survey, the response options were developed based on the available literature and the findings from a series of focus group discussions. In another investigation using two non-random samples, Staats et al. (2008) explored the reasons for pet ownership among 241 younger college students and 102 middle aged community dwellers. This study was a replication and extension of the Staats et al. (2006) study and used the same questionnaire items. In a survey packet, the questions were administered in forced-choice and multiple choice formats and participants were asked to rate their beliefs on a 4-point response key (Staats et al., 2008). Analyses were performed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. The most common reasons selected referred to the role of pets in ameliorating loneliness, providing companionship and emotional support during challenging times, and promoting an active lifestyle. Although pets have been found to increase human social interaction (Archer, 1997), few participants reported acquiring pets for this purpose (Staats et al., 2006; Staats et al., 2008). Together, these findings demonstrate the capacity of pets to fulfill ongoing needs for companionship, as well as, needs that emerge in a modern, technological world such as promoting physical activity (Staats et al., 2008). Household Composition One further aspect of contemporary life that has an influence upon the relationship between people and their companion animals is the growing number of  16 people living in a one-person household around the world (Antonacopoulos & Pychyl, 2010; Brandes, 2009; Franklin, 2006). Using an open and closed-ended response format, Antonacopoulos and Pychyl (2010) administered an anonymous on-line survey to a community sample (n=132; 66 pet owners and 66 non-pet owners) of adults living alone. The survey contained measures of human social support, emotional attachment to pets, loneliness, and depression. Hierarchical regression analyses were used to test the hypotheses. According to the results, dog owners with high levels of human social support were significantly less lonely than their counterparts who did not own a dog. However, dog owners with low levels of human social support and high emotional attachment to their pets scored higher on measures of loneliness and depression. Contrary to previous reports in the professional literature and the popular media, pet owners and non-pet owners did not differ significantly on measures of depression and loneliness. One possible reason for these findings is that dogs may provide another source of support for individuals who already have a network of human social support (Antonacopoulos & Pychyl, 2010). An alternative interpretation is that dog ownership may encourage physical activity, thereby, indirectly promoting mental health. As the researchers acknowledge, arriving at a clear explanation is further complicated by the issue of demand characteristics which may account for the high percentage (82.5%) of participants reporting beneficial effects of pet ownership. The researchers speculated that media reports may have influenced participants’ expectations regarding the benefits afforded by their pets. Another limitation concerns the composition of the sample which consisted primarily of women (73.3%) and did not adequately represent the educational level of the larger population. Highlighting the complex relationship between pet  17 ownership and psychological well-being, the results suggest that pet ownership may not be equally beneficial for individuals belonging to this growing segment of society (Antonacopoulos & Pychyl, 2010; Brandes, 2009). In addition, the types of benefits derived from pet ownership can differ in important ways. Studies have found that people with little human social support tended to experience the most physiological benefits from their pets (Allen, 2003). In order to maximize the benefits of pet ownership, factors that require consideration include attachment to pets and the presence of human social support. A longitudinal design could help to clarify the role of these factors. Pet Care Industry and Consumer Behaviour Along with reports on the consumer behaviour of pet owners, the depiction of pets in the popular media demonstrates their importance in family life. Marketing advertisements increasingly portray pets as having a prominent role in the lives of people (Mayo et al., 2009). Pets are featured in popular advertisements in order to associate a particular product or service with desirable attributes of companion animals such as a sense of loyalty (Mayo et al., 2009). On the side of the consumer, owners express their immense devotion to their pets in the significant expenditure of time and money on veterinary care, medical treatments, food, grooming, and toys (Archer, 1997; Brandes, 2009; Cavanaugh et al., 2008; Greenebaum, 2004). Giving rise to a multi-billion dollar pet care industry (Carr & Cohen, 2009), the marketplace has responded with an array of products and services available to pet owners (Archer, 1997; Mayo et al., 2009). In fact, people express a greater desire to feed their pets a healthy diet and appear to be more loyal to dog food brands than human food brands (Tesfom & Birch, 2010). In addition to spending money on a pet’s basic needs,  18 owners seek luxury goods for their pets such as clothing and furniture (Franklin, 2006), along with speciality services such as doggie daycare and dog walking (Greenebaum, 2004). Pets can be regarded as an extension of the consumer’s personality or sense of self (Hirschman, 1994). According to the results of Greenebaum’s (2004) qualitative study, the practice of regularly visiting a pet bakery represented a family outing during which dog owners (N=16) were able to express and reinforce their relationship with their companion dog. Among other strengths, the study made use of a reference guide of questions which provided focus to the interviews. Although the interviewer had insider knowledge as a fellow dog owner, the interviewees were given an opportunity to bring up issues that were not addressed by the researcher. Additionally, the study provided detailed quotations and descriptions of both the research setting and sample characteristics. However, the steps used in data analysis were not described in sufficient detail to allow for replication. A more complete account of the procedures used to identify patterns and themes would have been helpful for interpreting the findings. Responding to the interests of some consumers, there has been an emergence of services to accommodate the travel needs of pets and their owners including airlines, hotels, and hospitality services (Mayo et al., 2009; Walsh, 2009a). Canada was the first country to develop a pet-friendly tourist accommodation certification program (Carr & Cohen, 2009). In their survey of a convenience sample of dog owners (N=311), Carr and Cohen (2009) found that participants preferred to have their dogs accompany them on a holiday. Approached at several dog-friendly locations, participants responded to a questionnaire consisting of both open and closed-ended items, thus, allowing the timely  19 collection of data. The choice of outdoor recreational settings likely contributed to the high response rate (85%). Addressing an important gap in the literature, the majority of the respondents were between the ages of 26 to 45. A series of chi-square tests were conducted to determine whether participants showed differences based on various demographic characteristics (Carr & Cohen, 2009). Significant differences were found when participants were divided according to age and marital status. Unmarried respondents were more likely to report taking their dogs on vacation. The results of the study were reported using descriptive statistics and illustrative quotations. Among the most common reasons for wanting their dogs to travel with them were enjoyment of their dogs’ companionship and beliefs about dogs as family members. Although the majority of participants wished to take their dogs with them on vacation, a lack of dog-friendly facilities prevented them from doing so. Significantly, some owners indicated that they chose not to go on holiday at all when their dogs were not able to accompany them (Carr & Cohen, 2009). These findings suggest that the desire to include dogs in leisure activities can powerfully shape family life and a sense of family identity (Hirschman, 1994). Benefits of Companion Animals Physiological Benefits Lending support to historical and contemporary perspectives on the humananimal bond, recent research has examined the benefits of animal companionship for health and well-being. For individuals experiencing major life changes, a lack of social support can undermine their physical and emotional health (Friedmann et al., 1980). Specifically, the well-researched relationship between social support and cardiovascular  20 health points to the health-enhancing potential of companion animals (Allen, 2003). The capacity of companion animals to alleviate loneliness and promote physical health and recovery from illness (Archer, 1997; Walsh, 2009a) is significant as a lack of companionship and social support have been posited as risk factors for cardiovascular disease (McNicholas et al., 2005; Wood et al., 2007). Frequently cited is the finding, reported by Friedmann et al. (1980), that the presence of social support and pet ownership was associated with survival one year following a heart attack in a sample (N=96) of cardiac patients. Discriminant analysis was used to examine the interaction between physiological severity and pet ownership and its impact upon patient survival. Accurately predicting that pets would have a beneficial impact on cardiovascular health, these authors found that the effect could not be attributed entirely to an increase in physical activity associated with having a pet. This study stimulated a considerable body of research on the human-animal bond and the physiological benefits of pet ownership. Although the interactive nature of the humananimal bond has been recognized as a protective factor for health, questions remain regarding the precise mechanisms through which pets contribute positively to the health of patients. According to Walsh (2009a), companion animals have been found to be beneficial for individuals with developmental disabilities, mental health disorders, and chronic conditions such as cancer and diabetes. Providing positive regard, companion animals help people feel relaxed, thus, minimizing their responses to stress (Allen, 2003). In a well-controlled experiment, Allen et al. (2002) examined cardiovascular reactivity in 240 married couples, half of whom owned a cat or dog. Those with pets had significantly  21 lower resting heart rate and blood pressure, lower reactivity during tasks involving shortterm stress, and faster recovery. In another study involving children, Friedmann, Katcher, Thomas, Lynch, and Messent (1983) found that the presence of a dog resulted in lower blood pressure while at rest and during a reading task. Based on these reports, being in close proximity or contact with pets appears to be helpful for reducing physiological reactivity (Friedmann et al., 1980; Staats et al., 2006). Along with the influence of pets on a person’s appraisal of a situation, factors such as the personality traits or lifestyle of pet owners may help to explain the observed physiological benefits (Allen, 2003; Friedmann et al., 1983). Strengthening anecdotal reports by pet owners (Wood et al., 2007), this burgeoning area of research on the health-enhancing effects of pets suggests that pets have both actual and perceived benefits (Valeri, 2006). However, although studies examining the influence of pets on physiological health consider the emotional bond between people and pets to be important, this component is not well understood (Allen, 2003). Few substantive reports have explored the mutual relationship between people and pets (Friedmann et al., 1980). Complicating these efforts, some studies have produced results that are inconsistent with previous findings on the health benefits of companion animals (Staats et al., 2006). Some investigations are limited by methodological shortcomings and a lack of clearly defined mediating variables. Considering these limitations, further research is needed to uncover some of the possible mechanisms involved. One potentially informative area of investigation concerns the role of people’s beliefs about their health in providing demonstrable health benefits. In Allen et al.’s (2002) study, there appeared to be significant cardiovascular  22 benefits associated with perceptions of pets as supportive companions. In another study (Staats et al., 2006), using a self-report measure, the majority of participants indicated that they believed that their pets were beneficial for their health. While it is unclear whether people’s beliefs and perceptions can afford health benefits in and of themselves, developing more precise measures would be helpful for establishing direct links between pet ownership and physiological benefits (Staats et al., 2006). Another avenue of investigation proposed by researchers is the impact of various psychosocial factors associated with pet ownership. These psychosocial factors include the level of attachment to the pet, the life stage of the owners (Turner, 2005), and the capacity of pets to promote relaxation and spontaneity in their relationships with their human companions (McNicholas et al., 2005). In one intriguing pilot study (n=95), Valeri (2006) examined the relationship between pets and laughter. For a period of one day, participants were instructed to record the frequency and source of their laughter, as well as, the presence of other people or pets. Participants were grouped into four categories based upon the type of pet(s) owned. Using the category of pet ownership and gender as independent variables, a 4 x 2 ANOVA was conducted. The dependent variable was the total frequency of laughter. Gender was included as an independent variable in all of the analyses due to the proposed relationship between gender and pet ownership (Valeri, 2006). According to the results, people tended to laugh more frequently in the presence of their pets, particularly, dogs (Valeri, 2006). Additionally, pets functioned as companions with whom to share a laugh and their behaviour was reported to be a source of laughter. These preliminary findings suggest a potential mechanism for the role of the  23 human-animal bond in promoting physical health and well-being (Valeri, 2006). Although the researcher considered a number of plausible explanations to account for the higher rates of laughter observed among dog owners, three aspects of the current design warrant further attention. First, most participants completed the survey during a work-day during which their time with their pets was limited. The measurement procedure could have been improved by asking participants to record the amount of time they spent in activities with and without their pets, as well as, to complete the survey on both a workday and a day off. Second, a larger sample size could have enabled the researcher to explore the relationship between laughter and various characteristics of people and their pets. Finally, laughter has been found to play a role in strengthening social bonds between people and serving as a way to communicate positive affect (Valeri, 2006). Considering that many people regard their pets as family members or friends, laughter may serve a similar role. Future studies could examine the potential function of laughter in people’s interactions with their pets. Psychosocial Benefits Apart from having an impact on physiological health, the intimate bond between people and their companion animals can provide a sense of meaning or purpose and an opportunity to experience and express love and attachment (Franklin, 2006). Powerfully attuned to people’s feelings, companion animals greet their owners with affection and enthusiasm and display negative emotions when separated from them (Hirschman, 1994). In addition to mere pleasure and recreation, companion animals provide benefits to the psychological and emotional well-being of individuals (Walsh, 2009a). Indirect health benefits include promoting relaxation and exercise and reducing loneliness, isolation,  24 anxiety, and depression. According to Cohen (2002), some people report feeling very close to their dogs and view them as an important source of social and emotional support. Contrary to findings on human relationship satisfaction, the longer and closer the relationship that people have with their dogs, the greater their well-being (Cavanaugh et al., 2008). As loyal and non-judgmental companions, animals can buffer individuals from the negative effects of stress. Moreover, animals can help people cope during difficult life transitions such as experiencing a divorce or death in the family (Walsh, 2009a). For families who have a member in the military, pets can provide a sense of stability when they are required to relocate to a new residence (Walsh, 2009b). Some studies have found that these psychosocial benefits can transcend the individual pet-owner relationship (McNicholas & Collis, 2000; McNicholas et al., 2005). Making a positive contribution to neighbourhood life, companion dogs can engender feelings of trust and an affinity for other dog owners (Greenebaum, 2004; Walsh, 2009a; Wood et al., 2007). Dogs can provide an opening topic for brief conversations between acquaintances (Wood et al., 2007). According to the results of one study (McNicholas & Collis, 2000), using direct observations, an experimenter reported experiencing more social interactions, especially with strangers and casual acquaintances, when accompanied by a dog in comparison to when the dog was absent. Prior to beginning the study, the reliability of the coding scheme was assessed. The experimenter achieved 72% agreement with another observer. The observations took place over a period of 10 days and the experimenter recorded a total of 206 interactions with other people, of which 156 occurred when the dog was present. In addition to enhancing initial contact, significantly,  25 this catalysis effect endured during subsequent interactions when the dog was absent. In a follow-up investigation involving 48 trials and 1170 interactions, McNicholas and Collis (2000) found that the catalysis effect of dogs held true regardless of the appearance of the dog or handler and was not limited to areas frequented by dog walkers. Strengthening the results, this study included a second observer on selected trials in order to ensure consistency in the recording of observations. In another study, Wood et al. (2007) combined the results from both qualitative and quantitative methods. Using the qualitative research software QSR NVivo, a thematic content analysis was performed on the qualitative data from 12 focus groups (n=86). The quantitative data were obtained from a random cross-sectional survey of adults (n=339). Independent t-tests and chisquare tests were used to examine the associations between variables. Wood et al. (2007) found that pet ownership was positively associated with social interactions, exchanges of favours, civic engagement, perceptions of neighbourhood friendliness and safety, and sense of community. Participants spontaneously reported that their dogs increased the likelihood of meeting and talking to people in their neighbourhoods. These perceptions regarding community support and belonging are noteworthy as they are considered to be protective factors for mental health. Inspiring confidence in the results, the use of data triangulation strengthened the validity of the study. The qualitative data provided explanatory insights into the observed associations between pet ownership and variables such as community involvement. However, the use of cross-sectional data limited the ability to make causal inferences. In addition, the broad scope of the study restricted the amount of information that was directly relevant to pet ownership. A more focused investigation would have been useful for understanding the  26 relational benefits of pet ownership. In the studies conducted by McNicholas and Collis (2000) and Wood et al. (2007), efforts to establish the reliability of the social catalysis effect of dogs were hampered by the sample size and the selection strategies employed. Conversely, providing a unique strength, the results of these studies demonstrated that the benefits of companion animals can extend to non-pet owners and the broader community. While the popular media has emphasized some of the negative effects of pet ownership such as noise and the risk of dog bites, the aforementioned benefits should not be overlooked, particularly, in view of concerns relating to a breakdown in sense of community in contemporary life (Wood et al., 2007). Although it is unclear whether these casual encounters provide the basis for developing friendships, the social catalysis effect of dogs appears to represent an important mechanism through which companion dogs enhance their owners’ health and well-being. Some additional psychosocial benefits of pet ownership include improved quality of life (Podrazik, Shackford, Becker, & Heckert, 2000), a pro-social orientation (Strand, 2004), enhanced well-being and resilience (Walsh, 2009a), and social responsibility (Morley & Fook, 2005). Although researchers have found similar psychosocial benefits across different age groups (Staats et al., 2008), the benefits accrued to individual pet owners may differ depending on the life stage of the owner and his or her unique developmental needs (Strand, 2004). Among children, pets can promote psychosocial development, foster empathy, self-esteem (Turner, 2005), and self-confidence (Walsh, 2009a). Assisting in the development of language and nonverbal communication skills, pets can help children to  27 explore and interact with their environment (Eckstein, 2000). Given their soothing effect, pets can be beneficial for developing bonds with attachment figures or significant others, as well as, coping with separation from parents and caregivers. Pets can provide an opportunity to learn about biological processes including birth and death (McNicholas & Collis, 2001). Moreover, pets can be helpful for socializing children and teaching them a sense of responsibility (Eckstein, 2000; Hirschman, 1994; Walsh, 2009b). In one investigation, McNicholas and Collis (2001) used a story-based interview method to examine how children (N=22) represent people and pets in their network of social support. Children aged seven to eight were asked to indicate the top 10 people or pets with whom they shared a special relationship. Short stories were presented depicting various situations in which a character needed a particular kind of support. The children were asked to select a member of their social network who could best provide the kind of help needed in each story. In order to assess reliability, a retest session was conducted seven days after the initial interview. The responses were relatively consistent across both testing occasions. According to the results, pets were rated higher than humans on certain aspects of support (McNicholas & Collis, 2001). The children viewed their pets as playmates, confidants for secrets, and as a significant source of comfort and esteem support. Adding credibility to the findings, the children were able to distinguish between different relationships based upon their need for a particular type of support and had appropriate and realistic expectations about the kinds of support that pets can provide (McNicholas & Collis, 2001). Rather than imposing pre-selected response options upon the participants, the researchers allowed the children to generate their own choices concerning social  28 support. This aspect of the research design, along with the use of stories, provided richer insights than would be possible with closed-ended response formats. Relevant to the present study, pets were seen as close family members who could provide feelings of comfort and security. This finding is significant as childhood experiences can provide a basis for forming lifelong preferences or affinities for pets (Hirschman, 1994). In the period of adolescence, pets can continue to serve as confidants, thereby, reducing feelings of isolation and increasing feelings of acceptance (Turner, 2005). As adolescents negotiate new roles and attempt to achieve greater autonomy and independence, pets can provide a sense of constancy or normalcy in the process of developing their self-identity. In a study involving college students, Staats et al. (2008) found that pets were especially helpful during difficult times. Such findings are not surprising given that college students may have fewer emotional ties as a result of moving away from family and friends. Therefore, pets can provide a valuable source of support during this transitional stage between adolescence and adulthood. Among the elderly, pets can have a calming effect (Walsh, 2009b) and can improve quality of life, security, and mobility (Walsh, 2009a). Petting and interacting with a dog can provide a way for the elderly to be included in family activities, particularly, for patients with Alzheimer’s disease (Turner, 2005). Despite these welldocumented benefits, there are a number of concerns that may discourage pet ownership among older adults. These individuals may not want to undertake the responsibility of caring for a pet or endure the grief from losing a pet. Furthermore, these adults may be concerned about the well-being of their pets in the event of their own illness or death. Noticeably absent in the preceding discussion are findings on the benefits of  29 companion animals for individuals in early or middle adulthood. Much research has focused attention on the health benefits afforded to particular populations including patients in residential and institutional settings and people living in isolated, rural settings (Staats et al., 2008). The lack of empirical research highlights the need to address the entire lifespan with a particular emphasis upon the psychosocial factors involved in the relationship between people and their pets (Walsh, 2009a). Consistent with the objectives of the present study, qualitative assessments of pet owners’ subjective perceptions and experiences are needed to capture the complexity of the bond between people and their companion animals (Fox, 2006; Walsh, 2009a). In some assessments of people’s social networks, researchers prescribe the kinds of relationships expected between participants and their significant others rather than allowing them to generate their own descriptions (McNicholas & Collis, 2001). Such studies often preclude participants from mentioning their pets in their social networks and can, therefore, underestimate the significance of pets in people’s lives. Moreover, studies that make simple comparisons between pet owners and non-pet owners are insufficient to capture the meaning and significance of the human-animal bond (Walsh, 2009a). In order to gain an improved understanding of the benefits experienced by pet owners, it is important to explore people’s perceptions regarding the human-animal bond. Examining the psychosocial benefits of companion animals would be incomplete without an understanding of the qualitative aspects of the relationship and the practices that may potentially underlie these benefits (McNicholas & Collis, 2000). Therapeutic Benefits Through the pioneering efforts of early practitioners, the therapeutic value of  30 companion animals has gained gradual recognition. Along with Sigmund Freud’s inclusion of his dogs in the therapy room, Boris Levinson was influential in demonstrating the benefits of bringing pets into therapy with children (Friedmann et al., 1983; Walsh, 2009b). However, despite the centrality of animals in people’s lives and the wealth of information attesting to the diverse benefits of companion animals, according to Walsh (2009a), the field of mental health has been relatively slow to embrace the psychological and relational benefits of companion animals. Theoretical views and beliefs about companion animals have not always translated into practice. Few programs incorporate the subject of animal companionship in the training of mental health practitioners and researchers (Walsh, 2009a). The limited attention to the human-animal bond in the mainstream psychology and counselling literature (Hirschman, 1994; Serpell, 2009) is accompanied by a lack of resources and funding in mental health research. Nevertheless, one area that has garnered increasing attention among scholars and mental health professionals is Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) which is also known as pet-facilitated therapy or pet co-therapy (Walsh, 2009a). AAT has been found to increase pro-social behaviours, attentiveness, self-esteem, and confidence (Walsh, 2009a). In AAT, the therapist’s companion animal, commonly a dog, is incorporated in therapy sessions. Underlying AAT is the belief that the animal’s presence can engage clients in therapy and can facilitate the development of trust, rapport, and a therapeutic alliance between the client and mental health practitioner, thus, contributing to therapeutic progress (Walsh, 2009a; Walsh, 2009b). Prior to initiating a session, the therapy dog can ease clients’ worries and increase their comfort with the therapeutic process. Using walking therapy, clients can accompany a therapist while taking the therapy dog for a  31 walk (Walsh, 2009b). During sessions, clients can interact with therapy dogs, pet them, or play with them. Facilitating the discussion of intense feelings or emotionally charged topics, clients can talk to or through the therapy dog (Walsh, 2009b). Therapy dogs can enrich the therapeutic process by enhancing feelings of security and reducing the anxiety evoked by counselling sessions (Walsh, 2009b). Animal-assisted therapy has been employed in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and in the rehabilitation of prisoners and military veterans (Walsh, 2009a). In AAT programs, participants appear to be happier and more engaged with others and their surrounding environment (Walsh, 2009a). The responsibility of training and caring for an animal provides an opportunity to experience non-judgmental affection and can be helpful in promoting recovery from physical and emotional difficulties. In order to maximize the benefits provided by therapy dogs, practitioners would be wise to attend to the ethical considerations associated with conducting AAT. According to Walsh (2009b), practitioners must obtain their clients’ informed consent and ensure that there are no fears or allergies associated with dogs. Likewise, therapy dogs must be chosen with a great deal of care and must receive certification and ongoing monitoring. While a considerable volume of research has informed efforts to successfully engage animals in therapeutic work (Wood et al., 2007), reports on brief encounters and interactions with therapy animals tell us little about the bond that can develop between people and animals while living in a close emotional relationship (Friedmann et al., 1983). Statement of the Problem Through their interactions and participation in activities inside and outside the home, people and dogs are drawn into close relationships (Power, 2008). Research  32 indicates that the notion of family is important to the ways in which people and dogs relate to one another (Fox, 2006; Power, 2008). Although there has been considerable research on the health-promoting effects of companion dogs, the precise mechanisms that account for these benefits are not well-understood nor have they received sufficient attention from mental health researchers (Staats et al., 2006). Research is needed to examine the daily interaction patterns through which people construct a sense of family with their companion dogs (Power, 2008; Sanders, 1993). Especially pertinent to my program of study is the subjective experience of living in a close relationship with a companion dog (Franklin, 2006). In order to undertake this line of inquiry, there is a need to expand the existing human-centered frameworks and traditional conceptions of familial bonds that influence who can be considered a family member (Power, 2008). Using a qualitative design, the purpose of the study is to explore how people perceive their companion dogs in the context of home and family life. The inclusion of dog owners in focus group discussions about the meaning of their canine companions is intended to illuminate some of the previously unexplored ways in which dogs actively contribute to a sense of family in the intimate bonds they share with their human caregivers (Power, 2008). Research Questions 1. How do people describe their relationship with their companion dog? 2. What kinds of things do people do that suggest the bond with their companion dog represents a meaningful relationship? 3. How do companion dogs play a role in developing a bond with their human caregivers?  33 Chapter Three: Method This chapter begins with a rationale for the use of focus groups. The chapter describes the sampling method including the eligibility criteria for the participants and the recruitment process. The procedure section outlines the research design and the steps undertaken in data collection. A thorough description is provided of the steps used in the process of analyzing the data. The chapter concludes with a discussion of some issues of credibility. Rationale Increasingly used in the social sciences, focus groups are designed to produce a setting in which participants feel at ease in expressing their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about issues that are important to them (Haney, Long, & Howell-Jones, 1998). Typically, the groups range in size from 5 to 10 people based on the purpose of the study (Kreuger & Casey, 2000). Although larger groups permit the collection of a more diverse range of opinions, smaller groups afford members greater opportunity to share and expand upon their own and each other’s experiences. Along with conferring a logistical advantage, smaller groups are desirable for gathering in-depth insights about complex experiences, consistent with the objectives of the present study (Krueger & Casey, 2009). Sharing a common interest or concern, participants are invited to discuss their views without any direction from the researcher to make a decision regarding a particular issue (Krueger & Casey, 2000). Through the use of systematic and verifiable procedures, the intended purpose is to explore participants’ views during the course of the discussion rather than to reach consensus. The non-threatening and less directive nature of focus groups creates the potential  34 to derive more information than may be possible with individual interviews or survey methods (Morgan, 1996). Using a group format can be less costly and time-consuming than individual interviews. While researchers can only speculate about differing views among the respondents of individual interviews, this qualitative technique can capture a range of opinions and generate new explanatory insights through the stories and memories that participants recount (Seal, Bogart, & Ehrhardt, 1998; Wood et al., 2007). Moreover, traditional interviews and questionnaires consisting of a series of closed-ended questions limit the responses that participants can provide (Krueger & Casey, 2000). In such cases, researchers may inadvertently influence respondents or lead them in a particular direction. Another strength and unique feature of focus groups is the interactive and reciprocal nature of the discussions (Krueger & Casey, 2000). In addition to revealing similarities in viewpoints, focus groups offer an opportunity for participants to respond to each other’s comments, thereby, extending or building upon each other’s ideas (Vogt, King, & King, 2004). Focus groups illuminate people’s perceptions within the context of their unique social settings. Providing an advantage over individual interviews, focus groups can mirror real-life situations and natural conversational patterns between people (Krueger, 1988). The social catalysis effect of dogs and the mutual affinity among dog owners (Greenebaum, 2004; Walsh, 2009a) enhance the possibility that participants will feel comfortable sharing their experiences, as observed in naturalistic settings where dog owners gather such as parks and beaches (Wood et al., 2007). Participants Prior to data collection, approval to conduct this study was obtained from the  35 Behavioural Research Ethics Board of the University of British Columbia. The study involved seven carefully planned focus group discussions. Using a purposive sampling technique (Morgan, 1996), dog owners (N=27) aged 19 years and older were invited to participate in a focus group discussion. Drawn from a community and university sample, the groups were comprised of dog owners who were currently residing with at least one dog and were fluent in English. The eligibility criteria were based on the goal of capturing the subjective experiences of dog owners in various stages of adulthood. This sampling method was well-suited to this study given that the primary objective was to gather information from people with particular knowledge and experiences relevant to the topic of interest (Krueger & Casey, 2009). With the exception of a few owners, participants reported either being moderately acquainted or having no contact with other participants prior to the study. There was one participant under the age of 19 who was accompanied by a parent. Recruitment Flyers were posted on the UBC campus and in the adjoining neighbourhoods (See Appendix A). Neighbourhood locations included community centres, coffee shops, grocery stores, pet stores, and veterinary clinics. Several friends and acquaintances of the researcher were emailed a copy of the flyer. Another valuable recruitment source came through word of mouth recommendations from participants who had completed the study. All those who agreed to participate were sent a copy of the consent form prior to attending a group discussion. Each group was arranged through contact by email or phone or using an online scheduling tool. The period of recruitment and data collection took place between the middle of July 2012 and the end of November 2012.  36 The strongest response to the study came from community residents, particularly, in the Dunbar and Kerrisdale neighbourhoods and from dog owners working in Downtown Vancouver. One dog owner, living outside of Vancouver, participated on Skype. In an effort to encourage the participation of a range of people including students, homemakers, workers, and retirees, the focus group discussions were held in the afternoon or evening on both weekdays and weekends. Accommodating logistical and transportation needs, the groups were conducted in informal and naturalistic settings including the researcher’s home and, in one case, a participant’s home. Several dogs accompanied their owners during the discussions creating a friendly and light-hearted atmosphere. Most groups consisted of three or four members to allow for greater depth of discussion and higher participant involvement (Krueger & Casey, 2009). There was one group comprised of two members and another group with seven members. The sessions lasted approximately 1.5 hours in duration with the discussions ranging in length between 30 and 60 minutes. Following a general rule of thumb (Krueger & Casey, 2009), we conducted four groups and then determined that additional groups were needed to ensure sufficient coverage of the topic. This decision was based upon the goal of achieving theoretical saturation which is said to occur when no new information arises from subsequent sessions (Morgan, 1996). Several themes generated by participants in the first four groups were replicated in the sessions that followed. Providing evidence of saturation, the appearance of redundant themes suggested that we had collected the range of opinions concerning the meaning of companion dogs (Krueger & Casey, 2009).  37 Procedure Research Design Based on a review of the available literature, I developed a set of open-ended focus group questions, called the questioning route or interview guide (Krueger & Casey, 2000. The interview questions were tested formally and reviewed for clarity by three dog owners who were similar to the target population. Incorporating the feedback from this pilot study, one introductory question was revised and an additional question was added to the demographic questionnaire. The questions were carefully constructed and ordered in a natural and logical sequence resulting in the final format of the interview guide (See Appendix B). The interview guide was designed to orient participants to the objectives of the investigation and to ensure adequate coverage of key variables. Important for theoretical saturation and data analysis, carefully predetermining and ordering the questions helped to promote consistency across the groups (Krueger & Casey, 2000). In response to the issue of standardization of questions (Morgan, 1996), the focus group interviews followed a semi-structured format. The interviews began with an orienting question (Krueger & Casey, 2000) that was intended to stimulate discussion (Let’s hear about what your dog is like. Can you tell us about your relationship with him or her?). The orienting question was followed by more general questions (Can you tell us what having a dog means for you in your everyday life? How has your dog influenced your life?). The purpose of these introductory questions was to encourage participants to consider how they related to the topic of interest and to provide a context for the discussion of key questions (What are some things that you do in your relationship with your dog that are meaningful to you?  38 What are some things that your dog does that are meaningful to you? How does he or she contribute to your relationship?). Finally, participants were invited to consider the perceptions and experiences of other people in their lives (What do you think your dog means to other people in your family?). Participants were instructed to think of family in the broadest sense of the word. Neutral probes were used to encourage participants to elaborate upon their responses and to provide clarifications, explanations, and illustrative examples (Krueger & Casey, 2000). The interviews were conducted by another graduate student with experience in facilitating groups. Serving as the moderator, the graduate student received ongoing training in conducting the groups based on the feedback from the principal investigator and co-investigators. In order to foster the exploration of new and spontaneously generated themes, two important aspects of the moderator’s role were to allow sufficient time for the discussion of key questions and to probe for the meaning of any unfamiliar terms or phrases (Hirschman, 1994). As the second group facilitator, my involvement during the discussions was limited to recording summary statements and process notes including nonverbal content and group dynamics. Data Collection The group facilitators began each discussion by welcoming the participants and explaining the purpose of the study. Having an opportunity to ask questions or raise any concerns, the participants were reminded of the intended use of the results and the manner in which they would be reported. Upon reaching agreement on the objectives of the group discussion, the participants were asked to review and complete the informed consent form (See Appendix C). The consent form contained details describing any  39 foreseeable risks or potential benefits associated with participation. In addition to providing the researchers’ contact information, the consent form acknowledged the participants’ right to withdraw from the study without any personal repercussions. Following the informed consent procedure, several steps were taken in order to create an atmosphere of safety. The moderator invited the participants to spend 5 to 10 minutes developing some guidelines or norms for participation. The norms were recorded on a flip chart. Available for reference during the discussion, the norms were intended to reinforce the goals of the study and to help ensure that the interviews proceeded in a respectful and timely manner. Some examples of norms frequently generated by the group members included “Information discussed in the group is kept confidential,” “Each member has a chance to speak,” and “All views are respected.” Granted an instrumental role in developing guidelines for the group, the participants were encouraged to feel free to share their experiences and perceptions without any fear whether their responses would be favourably received. In view of the limits of confidentiality associated with focus groups, the moderator suggested additional norms that were not mentioned previously such as “When describing the study to people outside of the group, please speak from your own experience.” One limit to confidentiality raised by a few participants concerned the abuse or mistreatment of animals. In addition to the establishment of group norms, the participants were consulted regarding the use of names on the audio tape and were given an opportunity to decline having their names mentioned during the discussion. The participants were reminded that their names and their dogs’ names would not be included in any reports of the final study.  40 Next, the participants were given a card and were asked to write their dog’s name, age, and breed. The participants were invited to go around and introduce themselves and their dog(s)’ to the other group members. Following this brief introductory exercise, the tape began recording. Using a participant-led approach, the moderator invited the participants to elaborate upon key topics by sharing specific examples or stories. During times when the discussion steered away from the original question, the moderator would pose questions such as “How does that experience tell you that your relationship with your dog is meaningful?” Such efforts helped the group to stay on topic. Keeping track of the time and consulting with the participants, the group facilitators determined when it was appropriate to move on to the next question. Although the sequence of the interview guide was predetermined, some participants brought up ideas, early in the discussion, that had stronger relevance to the key questions. In such cases, the moderator allowed the participants to continue discussing a particular topic and returned to any questions that were skipped. Based on the need for limited prompting, these spontaneous discussions provided support for the usefulness of the interview questions in eliciting critical information regarding the experience of living with a companion dog (Krueger & Casey, 2009). In an effort to facilitate the subsequent analysis of key questions, we used several strategies to obtain participant feedback and minimize the influence of bias. Writing the summary statements on a flip chart allowed participants to view the statements as they were recorded. In addition to promoting accuracy, this strategy enabled the participants to reflect upon comments made by other group members and draw connections to their own experiences. Using an additional strategy, the moderator attended to strong reactions and  41 nonverbal cues from participants such as head nodding or smiling in response to another group member’s comments. The moderator checked for consensus periodically by asking “Is this experience true for anyone else?” Following the first focus group, I met with my thesis supervisor to listen to the audiotape. Based on this feedback, we made some revisions to ensure that the moderator carried out the interviews according to the research design and did not lead participants too much. After conducting two groups, we used a third and more formal strategy to obtain participant feedback. Specifically, the moderator paused every 20 to 30 minutes to read aloud a summary of four or five key points that the group members had been discussing. The participants had an opportunity to confirm the accuracy of the statements and elaborate upon any comments that stood out to them. In addition to providing a credibility check, the participants’ involvement in summarizing and co-constructing the data was consistent with a qualitative methodology that relies on the perspective of the participant. At the end of each discussion, the moderator asked the participants to review the statements recorded on the flip charts. The participants had an opportunity to confirm or disconfirm the accuracy of the statements and revise their comments. In some groups, participants brought up ideas not mentioned previously or provided additional clarification regarding a specific topic discussed in the group. After obtaining the participants’ agreement, the moderator determined that it was appropriate to close the discussion. The participants were asked to provide brief demographic information for the purpose of describing their background characteristics (See Appendix D). For example, they were asked about the length of pet ownership and the number and type of pets in the  42 household. Following debriefing, refreshments were provided to thank participants for their time. Efforts were made to safeguard the participants’ privacy and confidentiality. The participants’ contact information was kept separately from the summary notes, field notes, and demographic information. All written and audio taped material and any identifying information were kept in a locked filing cabinet to avoid unauthorized access. Data Analysis Through careful and systematic procedures, each step undertaken in data analysis has been documented in order to permit other researchers to verify my interpretations and conclusions. The focus group interviews were audio taped in an effort to promote accuracy. Employing the steps that Krueger and Casey (2009) recommend, the data were content analyzed in order to generate descriptive summaries and identify central themes and subcategories. Data analysis began with the first focus group conducted and continued throughout the process of data collection (Krueger & Casey, 2000). The evolving nature of data analysis permitted meaningful comparisons within and across the groups and provided a framework for examining the results of each subsequent group (Krueger & Casey, 2009). Offering a less time-consuming alternative to a transcriptbased strategy, the approach outlined below avoided the transcription of lengthy introductory comments or statements that were redundant or irrelevant to the purpose of the study (Krueger & Casey, 2009). Using a classic analysis strategy (Krueger & Casey, 2009), I typed the summary statements and quotations that had been recorded on the flip charts from each focus group. On each type-written transcript, I used bullet points to differentiate among the responses to each of the six interview questions. In addition, having different colours of  43 paper for each of the seven groups allowed me to keep track of the origin of each statement after cutting the transcripts into loose slips of paper. I evaluated each statement based on the following checklist: Is the statement relevant to the purpose of the study? Does the statement address the corresponding question? If not, does the statement answer a different interview question? Based on this preliminary evaluation, some statements were moved to the appropriate question number or placed into a separate pile of unused comments. The process of developing categories began by selecting the statements for which there was consensus among the group members. The placement of checkmarks during the discussions allowed these statements to be readily identified. Consensus was defined by expressions of verbal agreement (e.g. “Yeah, I know what you mean” or “It’s like that for me too”) or observations of nonverbal agreement (e.g. head nodding, smiling). After reviewing these statements, I continued grouping together comments into categories of shared meaning and stored each category in a separate envelope. The resulting themes formed the unit of data analysis. Making note of content areas, I analyzed the statements from the first two groups and performed analyses as each of the remaining groups was conducted. During subsequent analyses, I identified comments that suggested the need for expanding or revising a particular category to accommodate new aspects of a particular theme. For example, the theme, Part of the Family, initially encompassed two ways that people conceptualized their dogs as family members, namely, treating dogs as children and including dogs in family activities. Subsequently, I expanded this theme to include statements related to the role of dogs in socializing children and teaching important  44 values. Next, I identified some comments made by one or two members of a group that I labelled unique aspects. These comments stood out to the other participants and were referenced by group members at various points during a discussion. Reported in the discussion section, such comments resulted in other group members smiling and nodding in agreement or becoming tearful. These comments provided further insights or deeper meanings for some participants concerning their own relationship with their dog. Although these comments share some degree of overlap with the nine themes, I reported them separately to acknowledge the significance of these quotes in shaping the discussions that followed. Along with categorizing unique aspects, I reviewed the envelope containing unused comments and placed some of these statements into preexisting categories or discarded them when appropriate. Following the process of rearranging the statements, the 14 initial categories were refined to form nine themes. The process of determining the presence of a theme was influenced by the notion of extensiveness (Krueger & Casey, 2009). Specifically, I determined whether the theme contained statements that were mentioned in at least five of the groups or were mentioned frequently by most members of a particular group. The next step in data analysis involved determining inter-rater consistency. Identifying every fourth statement, I selected 25% of the summary statements to be reviewed by an independent coder with no prior involvement in the study or knowledge of the research objectives. The goal was to reach agreement and achieve inter-rater consistency above 85% (Seal et al., 1998). Along with the summary statements, I prepared descriptive summaries for each theme which included a brief definition of the theme and two sample  45 statements. Reviewing the results of the independent coder, our initial agreement was 86%. Following our meeting to discuss areas of discrepancy, our inter-rater consistency increased to 100%. Structuring my report around the themes, I developed more detailed summaries for each theme, mirroring the participants’ use of language (Krueger & Casey, 2009). I reviewed each tape and transcribed several quotes from each group, thereby, enhancing credibility and trustworthiness. These quotes corresponded to the original summary statements that were used in the data analysis. Ensuring that my descriptive summaries were grounded in the data, I provided examples and illustrative quotations in order to capture key aspects of each theme. Following this level of analysis, I added interpretive comments. Finally, I compared the themes to those reported in the professional literature to determine areas of consistency. Issues of Credibility Along with implementing various techniques, careful consideration of primary and secondary criteria helped to address some of the issues associated with conducting qualitative research (Whittemore, Chase, & Mandle, 2001). The use of audio-recordings and field notes enhanced trustworthiness in reporting the results (Johnson, 1997; Lewis, 2009). Providing a credibility check, investigator triangulation was used to collect (i.e. an impartial moderator) and analyze (i.e. an independent coder) the data (Johnson, 1997). Data triangulation was achieved by conducting multiple focus groups comprised of different people on various occasions. Triangulation helped to minimize the likelihood of distorting the results, thereby, enhancing the rigour of the research (Wood et al., 2007). In  46 an effort to address the issue of inadequate sampling, a sufficient number of focus groups were conducted in order to reach theoretical saturation (Vogt et al., 2004). Acknowledging that research on the human-animal bond has been conducted typically by pet lovers, the issue of investigator bias required reflexivity (Johnson, 1997), as well as, attention to the potentially negative effects of pet ownership (Allen, 2003). Addressing this issue, the theme, Dog People are a Rare Breed, includes several subcategories detailing participants’ negative experiences with having a dog. These subcategories highlight content areas seldom discussed in other studies such as veterinary support, financial costs, and the influence of dogs on people’s choice of friendships. Similar to Knight and Edward’s (2008) participant-led approach, respondents were able to discuss freely both the negative and positive aspects of their dogs. Throughout the process of data collection and analysis, I critically examined my biases and assumptions about being a dog owner. In developing and refining my research questions, I collaborated with others, including dog owners and non-pet owners (Lewis, 2009). In response to the issues of criticality and integrity, I attended to the presence of negative cases that were contrary to my expectations (Whittemore et al., 2001). I supported my interpretations with a generous use of quotations and rich descriptions of the themes, thereby, promoting explicitness and vividness. In an effort to reflect multiple viewpoints, I selected a number of quotes from each group. I responded to the issue of sensitivity by providing validation for the bond that owners share with their companion dogs (Whittemore et al., 2001). As a member of the target population, although my role as a facilitator likely enhanced participants’ willingness to share their views, the possibility of influencing the  47 group discussions presented some concerns (Morgan, 1996). Consequently, I limited my involvement in the focus groups to recording summary statements and process notes. Guarding against selective observation, a second moderator, not directly involved in the study, was responsible for conducting the focus group interviews. In addition to corroborating my observations, the moderator addressed the issue of censorship by encouraging participants to openly express their experiences and perceptions (Whittemore et al., 2001). The moderator encouraged participants to elaborate upon their own and other members’ ideas in an attempt to achieve thoroughness (Krueger, 1988). Finally, in view of ethical considerations, the moderator upheld the participants’ confidentiality by avoiding the use of names and starting the audio recorder after participants had introduced themselves.  48 Chapter Four: Results This chapter consists of an overview of the demographic characteristics of the participants and the process used in identifying the themes. Beginning with a brief definition, each of the nine themes is presented. Within each theme, the subcategories are reported using descriptive summaries and illustrative quotations. The chapter concludes with some field observations. Demographic Information Twenty-seven dog owners (22 women, 5 men; mean age 46, age range 17-74) participated in the study. Most owners described themselves as Caucasian or having a European ancestry. With the exception of one owner, all participants identified themselves as being the primary caregiver of their dog(s). Of these, 10 reported sharing their responsibilities equally with their partner or other family members. Kept primarily for companionship, all the dogs lived in the home with their owners. Ten participants reported living alone with their dog(s), while 17 indicated that they lived with a partner, children, parents, or other family members. The length of ownership ranged between 2.5 weeks to 14 years, with half reporting having their dog between two and five years. More than half of the dogs were described as purebred. When asked about the number of pets in the household, seven reported having more than one dog. Eight participants indicated that they had other kinds of pets including cats, fish, and bearded dragons. Prior to having their current dog(s), 22 participants reported owning a dog themselves or having a family dog during their childhood or adolescence. More than half of the participants indicated that they had lived with a dog since birth. A few owners reported growing up with working dogs who slept  49 outside. Among first-time dog owners (n=5), there were a number of reasons for not owning a dog, previously, including not being allowed to have a pet, moving around a lot, or having fears or negative experiences with dogs. A few participants reported that their current dog helped them or other family members overcome their fear of dogs. Identification of the Themes A thematic content analysis revealed the presence of nine themes: 1) Part of the Family, 2) We Do as We’re Told, 3) Dogs Know, 4) Natural Healers, 5) Nothing Like What a Dog Can Do, 6) My Dog Includes Me, 7) I’m the Alpha Dog, 8) Dog People Are a Rare Breed, and 9) Through Their Eyes. All nine themes were replicated in at least five of the seven groups. Within each theme, subcategories emerged reflecting key aspects of the themes (See Appendix E). These subcategories are reported using descriptive summaries and representative quotations. Utilizing the criteria described by Krueger and Casey (2009), the themes were identified based on frequency (i.e. how often a particular category of statements was discussed), extensiveness (i.e. different people said this many times), specificity (i.e. the level of detail used in comments or explanations), and emotion (i.e. the display of tears or laughter). Capturing both the benefits and drawbacks associated with having a dog, the themes reflect how participants described their dogs and their relationship with them. Together, the themes suggest a number of ways that people and their dogs mutually influence and adapt to each other’s lives. The title of each theme was chosen by selecting key phrases or direct quotations from participants. In addition to omitting identifying information, an ellipsis is used to enhance readability. The terms “Dog” or “Partner” in square brackets are presented in place of names used by participants. In cases where it  50 may be unclear to the reader, rounded brackets are used to clarify whether a dog or a person is being referenced in a particular quote. Dashes represent pauses in speech. Part of the Family Replicated in all seven groups, this theme captures the importance of dogs within the family. Dogs were considered to be family members based upon their perceived role in relation to other family members and the ways in which they actively contribute to family life, as described in the following subcategories: dogs as children; dog owners as parents; teaching family values; and connecting family members. Dogs as children. Similarly observed in families with children, some owners discussed choosing special names for their dogs, giving their dogs presents, including them in family vacations and family photos, and sharing pictures of them on social media. Reinforcing their connection as family members, dog owners frequently referred to their dogs as their “baby,” “kid,” “child,” or “grandchild.” One owner responded: He’s spoiled, I love him and he can do no wrong in my eyes, I’m the grandmother. It’s my pleasure to just spoil him. I’m really not open to negative comments about him…being a grandmother. He’s not perfect but he’s just great. Sharing in this view, another owner commented: I’m in love with [Dog]. I could talk about him for ages and ever and always. He’s like my kid. I’m very protective of him. I think he’s amazing. In addition to the use of familial terms, these comments were indicative of the nurturing and loving relationships that people share with their dogs. For some owners, their relationship with their current dog represented a departure from their previous experiences with having a dog. One owner commented: He’s like our baby and I didn’t think, like I grew up with dogs, but he’s mine and he’s been mine since he was little and it’s very different than the family dog that I grew up with, it’s a different relationship that I was not expecting at all, like he’s  51 my baby. Highlighted in this quote, dogs can provide their owners with new ways of relating that mirror the life stage and dynamics of the family. Capturing the experiences of some owners with adult children no longer living at home, one respondent described her dog in the following way: The grandchild I don’t have yet, that’s for sure…I live alone now so it’s someone to kind of be responsible for, with the girls…out of the house. Dog owners as parents. Consistent with the view of dogs as being similar to children, dog owners described themselves as their dog(s)’ parent. Dogs were seen as being able to promote nurturing and caregiving responses from their owners, thus, contributing to the development of parent-child relationships. For example, one owner recalled an experience she shared with her dog who is fearful of going to the vet: When we were in the vet, he just backed right into my legs and sat down on my feet…he just looked at me, you know, like he was scared, it was something else to have him look to me for help on that and obviously I felt like, you know, women love when someone needs them and so I’m like “I’m here, I’m here.” Along with providing comfort and reassurance to their dogs, another aspect of parenting included having rules to ensure proper household functioning. Describing the importance of “fairness” in her own upbringing, one owner reported, “when you have two dogs, it’s like having two children, so I feel I’m very conscious that I have to treat them both equally.” For participants living with a partner, this parental role conferred certain responsibilities, helping to define how each partner relates to his or her dog(s). One owner commented:  52 I was totally the softy with him and brought him home and like let him sleep in my bed and now with my boyfriend, he’s like more the disciplinarian and makes him sleep on the floor. An owner in another group responded: I find it very sweet, my dogs love me but they absolutely adore my husband and just, I can have spent the whole day and done all sorts of things but “Daddy’s home” and it’s like…he is the playmate, I was the alpha dog with the kids and the tough one. Evident in these examples, owners tended to emphasize particular values or expectations when describing their parenting style. One owner provided the following recommendation, “I would say like get a dog before you have kids because it will teach you a lot about what you’re ready for and what you’re prepared to handle.” Teaching family values. Promoting integration and family identity, dogs appeared to occupy a unique and fluid position in the family. Although largely described as children or “surrogate children,” dogs were also regarded as parental figures, assisting in the socialization of participants’ children and grandchildren. One owner commented: He’s (dog) who I talk to…and it helped the kids too because they didn’t have their dad in their life as much anymore and so [Dog] became just sort of the person they could come home to, throw their arms around, and he was the big goof in the household. It lightened up our household. In addition to providing social support, dogs were reported to have an important role in teaching children empathy and a sense of responsibility. Another owner stated: The dogs are everything to the kids. They’re advisors, they’re listeners, they’re confidants, they’re sources of support, they’re playmates. Connecting family members. Expressing a belief shared by many participants, one owner described her dogs as “the glue that holds us together” and “a common basis for our family.” Accordingly, dogs seemed to make the family feel “complete.” Reflecting this sentiment, one participant commented:  53 But the connection for us is always the dog. I mean you can’t really have a silent period in your marriage for very long when you’ve got a dog, who is either demanding something, needs to be walked, or needs to be fed or whatever. There’s got to be communication and since she’s been a puppy, we talk about her all the time. When asked about what their dog means to other family members and loved ones, it was apparent that this “glue” extended beyond the immediate family and household. Referring to her mom in this example, one owner stated: She actually has a little photo album that she carries around and, you know, most people her age are showing photos of her grandchildren but my mom is showing photos of my dogs. Significantly, this bond seemed to continue beyond an individual’s lifetime, as one owner indicated: When mum passed away and I inherited her and she’s just been for me, [Dog] is sort of the last part of mum. Finding comfort in her dog, another owner stated: I find the connection with my daughter that passed away, it’s healing because I can talk to her. We Do as We’re Told Salient in all seven groups, this theme reflects the influence of dogs on their owner’s daily activities, routines, schedules, and overall lifestyle. Included in this theme are statements indicating that owners recognize their dogs’ needs and preferences and make decisions to accommodate their dogs in the way they organize their work and leisure time. Within this theme, three subcategories emerged: keeping me on schedule; dog-friendly work life; and home and leisure (no dogs allowed?). Keeping me on schedule. Providing a “structuring force,” dogs were seen as having a considerable influence on the ways their owners plan their daily lives.  54 Underlying such practices were beliefs about the importance of putting their dog(s)’ needs ahead of their own. One respondent indicated: From the moment I wake up, things, as structured as I may or may not be, one thing that doesn’t ever change is my routine with my dog and everything else works around that. Another commented: He’s keeping me as much on schedule as I’m initiating the schedule…he can be sound asleep anywhere in the house and all of a sudden he’ll come down to my office and that’s it, he will look at me. How can a dog figure out it’s 10 to 3. Consistent with these reports, dogs appeared to be able to initiate particular routines that were seen as mutually beneficial for dogs and their owners. Dog-friendly work life. Recognizing their dogs’ needs for attention and companionship, owners discussed the importance of spending time with their dogs and not leaving them alone for long periods of time. These needs were met through bringing their dogs with them on daily outings, providing dog sitters, or having their dogs attend daycare. Describing their work life, some owners reported working from home, adjusting their schedules, or changing their career entirely. Describing her experience, one participant commented: I’ve got to take my dog for a walk at six in the morning, so I’m going to pass on the bar tonight. So that changed a big part of my life as well and I’ve since totally changed industries…life kind of flipped. Whether motivated by other life commitments, it was apparent that dogs have an influence on their owners’ career choices. Supporting this view, several owners reported preferences for dog-friendly workplaces including the pet care industry. Some owners indicated that their dogs are certified as therapy dogs and are able to accompany them to work in schools or health care settings. One respondent commented:  55 Sometimes I take them to work. They are like the best therapy going for many children, they really are. I work in probably maybe the only dog-friendly school in the city. Home and leisure (no dogs allowed?). Apart from career choices, the impact of having a dog was evident in several aspects of home life. Describing their morning routine, one participant commented: And so every morning he has this routine even if it’s just two minutes before we (participant and her partner) both get up and have coffee or something, he gets in between us and he lies down on the bed. He just like nuzzles as far as he can get and it’s those moments that are heartfelt. Another participant described how she and her family get ready for bed: I like the way they (dogs) make me feel at the end of the night when they come under the covers…we end the evening around our household. Both the girls get into bed with me and…we watch something together with the dogs and cats and it’s just a smelly horrible sort of affair but it’s lovely, we wrap up the day. In some cases, dogs, quite literally exerted their influence by gradually gaining access to previously restricted rooms or particular pieces of furniture. Stated somewhat facetiously, dogs were described as taking over or “owning” the house or being “in charge.” One owner called her dog “queen of the condo.” Moreover, given some externally imposed restrictions, dogs were taken into account when choosing where to reside. Pet-friendly buildings were especially valued. Sharing his experience, one owner commented, “and I moved into a house with a full backyard because I wanted to have the facilities for him.” The availability of dog-friendly accommodations was also important for leisure time including shopping and choosing recreational activities. One owner stated, “we vacation based around his needs, you know, we’re camping in dog friendly places.” Another owner commented: I even prefer to eat in restaurants where you can have your dog, where you can sit outside with your dog. So she’s a pretty constant companion.  56 Helping to define their owners’ priorities, dogs were seen as providing consistency and contributing to the development of some meaningful and mutually rewarding routines, within and outside of the home. Dogs Know The title of this theme refers to the immense capacity of dogs to understand and respond to their owners. Simply put by several participants, “they know.” In addition to providing a sense of safety and security, this knowing contributes to meaningful relationships founded on mutual understanding, communication, and recognition. This theme encompasses three subcategories: protective instincts; uniquely intuitive; and no need for words. Protective instincts. Replicated in three groups, this subcategory concerns the sensitive and protective nature of dogs and their role in warning their owners about any threats to physical safety. Relying on his dog’s instincts, one owner commented: He’s very sensitive, but he’s also very instinctive and I guess maybe a lot of dogs are but I think, you know, I used to wonder “is my dog feeding off of my instincts or does a dog have his own instincts in deciding who is friendly, who is not”…I wouldn’t even think of camping without my dog now. He is my eyes, ears and nose, I mean, he does everything. Another stated: They’re guard dogs…it’s a job, they’re not aggressive dogs but they bark like they’re aggressive dogs and, but that’s their job. Uniquely intuitive. In addition to their protective instincts, dogs were described as being able to understand complex social interactions or situations that would normally require an understanding of language. For example, one owner reported: Dogs can sense your mood, if you’re down, if you’re happy, they do sense it…they do understand and that means a lot to anybody who owns a dog.  57 Highly attuned, dogs seemed to be appropriately responsive to emotional cues from their owners. In addition, dogs were consistently praised for their intelligence and intuition. Several owners reported that their dogs seemed to know when they were on their way home and eagerly awaited their arrival in a particular spot in the home. Providing an example of this kind of intuition, one owner described her dog in the following way: She knows when people are getting along or arguing with each other, very smart…and she doesn’t walk on a leash and she obeys everything and she understands everything. She’s like a human, yeah, she’s very smart. Likewise, another owner commented: They are intuitive…it’s crazy just how much a dog can understand. He constantly blows me away with his intelligence and I’m learning from him every day. It’s a wonderful connection. Whether referring to their dogs’ canine instincts or something akin to the kind of interactions observed between people, most dog owners in the study seemed to agree that their dogs possess a unique ability to understand them. No need for words. The study found that dogs and their owners, despite the absence of a shared language, are able to engage in a kind of reciprocal communication that permits meaningful interactions and mutual understanding of everyday situations. For example, one owner indicated that there is “sort of a running commentary” between her and her dog. Another owner said: So the way she looks, she’s saying something how she looks at me and I know what she’s saying and I start talking to her, like baby talking to her, which is really, you know, I don’t talk like that to anyone so it’s really cute. We have our way of communicating. While there seemed to be differences in the ways their dogs tend to communicate, a common experience shared by most owners was having their dogs say “thank you,”  58 often through the use of touch and by being in close proximity with their owners. For example, one owner commented, “cuddles, lots of cuddles and they are very meaningful…she’s wonderful to touch…she just comes into my arms and adores it.” Describing what it means when his dog nuzzles and lays his head on his lap, one owner said that “it’s part of the reward of relationship, it’s recognition, a positive stroke.” Emphasizing the importance of communicating through eye contact, another owner shared the following example: He (dog) also does this thing where if we walk and you’re [Partner] ahead of me, so he walks backwards, right, he’ll be walking forward but he’s looking back at me like “are you still coming, is she still there?” You know, I feel really special when he does that. Based on these reports, dogs use both verbal (e.g. vocalizations, playful growling) and nonverbal (e.g. eye contact, licking, nuzzling, cuddling) forms of communication, resulting in their owners feeling acknowledged and valued. Interestingly, another apparent function of this kind of communication emerged from discussions concerning the ways dogs tend to influence their owners’ behaviour. One owner reported: She responds to communication but she also initiates communication…often she’ll come and she’ll put a paw on my knee and then she’ll flick her head to the right several times and makes eye contact with her treat drawer. So she now has me trained and I get up and get her a treat because I’m assuming that—and just one and then she’s fine and she goes away. There’s a two-sided communication. Similarly, another owner stated: By about 5:00, she’ll come and she’ll lay half on top of me saying, “I’ve raised my paw, I’ve given the signal, come on”…I respond, yes, she’s got me very welltrained. Through such nonverbal exchanges, dogs are able to train their owners to engage in particular actions.  59 Natural Healers Discussed extensively in six out of the seven groups, this theme reflects the ways that dogs impact their owners’ health. Within this theme, five subcategories emerged, each associated with a particular aspect of overall health and well-being: promoting exercise (physical health); stress-relievers; social support (emotional health); valuable teachers; and spiritual connection (spiritual health). Promoting exercise. Reminding their owners about the importance of self-care, dogs appeared to have a beneficial impact on their owners’ health. Several reported that their dogs helped them to recover after experiencing an injury. One owner commented: Only a dog, instead of sitting at home and feeling depressed and feeling sorry for yourself, you know, you’ve got to take the dog out walking…I had to force myself to walk, whether painful or not, because [Dog] needed exercise…she’s given me a new lease on life. Another owner described her experience in the following way: So I got him and it completely, well he changed a lot of my life. It turns out l like to walk a lot and now I have a friend to do that and before I was very kind of shut in, I guess a little bit. So he’s totally changed a lot for me and he makes me very happy. Accordingly, the responsibilities of caring for their dogs provided these owners with the motivation to exercise and take better care of themselves. Moreover, these quotes suggest that dogs can promote healing beyond increasing physical activity. Stress-relievers. Dogs were frequently described as bringing joy, laughter, and happiness to their owners. Through their facial expressions and vocalizations including grunting noises, dogs seemed to promote a sense of playfulness in their interactions with others, helping to relieve stress. Articulating this view, one owner stated, “they do allow you to see the comic side of everything.” The same owner went on to elaborate:  60 I think it makes you saner, I think it makes you healthier, I think it makes you happier, yeah, I can’t imagine not having a dog. An owner in another group stated: Sometimes it takes the mind off of your own, like, worries because there is someone there who really depends on you and like puts things in perspective. Social support. In addition to relieving stress through play and laughter, dogs were observed to have an additional calming effect on their owners. Frequently reported was a belief that you are “never lonely” when you have a dog. Describing his experience, one owner commented: My biggest change is, it’s completely alleviated any sense of loneliness and I didn’t even know it…they provide all that positive energy that you need. Furthermore, sensing their owner’s distress, dogs were described as actively seeking out their owners in an attempt to offer them comfort. One owner said that whenever she is upset or in a bad mood, her dog will come over and place his paw on her arm as if to say “you know, I’m here.” Summarizing her experience, another owner reported: If I’m like that and just sobbing away like he’ll come up to me and like he doesn’t know what to do, like something’s wrong and his immediate reaction is just to lick the crap out of my face, like “I’m going to fix you, hang on,” and it brings me back, like pulls me out of myself and makes me realize like, okay just take a minute and you know calm down…he like, with the incessant licking really makes me like center and think about things without getting out of control and like losing my head, he really focuses me. Across the groups, there was some consensus that these kinds of licking, nudging, and pawing behaviours represent a form of social or emotional support during times of stress or illness. Valuable teachers. Among the lessons learned from having a dog, two emerged as guiding principles for the ways some dog owners tended to see themselves and their relationships with others. These two lessons are reflected in the statements, “be the  61 person your dog thinks you are” and “be in the moment.” Highlighting the former, one owner praised her dog for teaching her “how to be more loving” and “what actual patience is and understanding.” Likewise, another participant reported: I think that the dogs add a lot to you as an individual but also your relationships in your own life…I think that a lot of the values that I really strive to have in my life as well as they have, you know, that unconditional, like, love and the excitement about everything…just their willingness to engage and try new things and to be open to people and to each other…I constantly strive to carry all those values with me that they teach me so easily and effortlessly. Derived from beliefs about the nature and brevity of a dog’s lifespan, the second lesson concerned the importance of focusing on the present moment. Reflecting this sentiment, one owner commented: Especially with a dog, I find, because we don’t know what their health will be like…we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring for any of us. Why don’t we just enjoy—we’re both healthy today—let’s just enjoy the day, let’s just enjoy the moment—dogs live in the moment. Describing her experience with taking in older dogs, another owner reported: We’re going to make sure that they have a great, whatever time they have with us, and that’s all we have, is today. Tomorrow may not come and it’s brought home by the shortness that we have with the dogs. Moreover, some owners indicated that having a dog helped to open up communication, providing a way for parents and children to initiate conversations about difficult or emotional topics surrounding their dog’s health. Spiritual connection. Replicated in three groups was the finding that dogs have an influence on their owners’ spiritual or religious beliefs. As one owner stated, “these creatures sort of give me faith that there’s got to be something bigger.” In some cases, dogs were seen as an extension of their owners’ beliefs. Expressing this view, another owner said:  62 If you take care of dogs or take care of a rescue animal, it allows you to fulfill that value…your brother’s keeper. Describing his experience, a third owner commented: I think [Dog] has really helped with my sort of spiritual connection to a higher power. I mean when he’s had periods of illness and we didn’t know what it was, I’ve never felt anything as powerful as when I cradled him in my arms and just prayed. In view of the preceding discussion, as both healers and teachers, dogs provide their owners with much more than a pleasant distraction or an active lifestyle. Nothing like What a Dog Can Do Setting this theme apart from the others was the frequency with which participants discussed the unique qualities of the bond they share with their dogs. This uniqueness captures both the constancy and positive regard that characterize the human-dog relationship, as well as, particular qualities that are seen as lacking in interpersonal relationships. This theme is comprised of two subcategories: constant companions; and uniquely canine. Constant companions. Referring to their dogs as “constant companions,” dog owners commonly reported that they “[couldn’t] imagine life without a dog.” One owner stated, “he’s everything, completely irreplaceable.” Exemplifying this view, another owner explained the significance of his relationship in the following way: It’s about the companionship of your dog and I don’t think there’s anything really like it other than what a dog can do…I think the best part is, at the end of the day, you have, you know, it’s down to a simple core love, you know and non-judgment and it’s just you get more back than you ever put into your dog, that’s for sure. Articulating the reciprocal nature of the relationship, another owner commented: I’m lucky because he has given me so much more than I feel like I’ve given him…it’s a two-way street with a dog, for sure everyday…It gets me how a little wet nose and a wiggly bum will make the worst day awesome all over again.  63 Such examples offered some insights into these close relationships, speaking to the sense of acknowledgement and positive regard experienced by many owners. Eloquently captured in the statement that follows, one owner described the essence of her relationship with her dog: I think that if you have a dog who wants to be with you. Whether it’s because you’re the pack leader and this is an instinct or whether it’s actually because you have a relationship. I feel that the dog—that I’m a person of value because my dog wants to be with me. Uniquely canine. In describing their relationship with their dogs, several owners tended to emphasize particular qualities that were perceived as lacking in the way that people relate to each other. Some owners commented that they appreciate how their dogs always show their true feelings and are “never critical” compared to people. As one owner reported: They never put on an act, you know, they don’t pretend to be something or somebody they’re not. They are totally themselves. Seen as genuine and transparent in the way they interact with their owners, it was not surprising that dogs were able to develop rewarding relationships with their owners, founded upon trust. One owner commented: I always joke with my boyfriend, my partner that, you know, like he could dump me tomorrow but my dogs aren’t going anywhere. And friendships might kind of shift and change but I think the dog is a lot more dependable, at least in my eyes, and so therefore, I have a different kind of a trust for my dogs that I wouldn’t necessarily, for another person. As trustworthy and dependable companions, dogs were described as confidants with whom people could share things that they would not normally tell others. Some owners indicated that having a dog lessened their need to rely on other people for comfort and support. One owner said that his dog provides the kind of companionship that,  64 “sometimes you can’t even get from a human being. It’s a whole different bond.” Similarly, another owner concluded, “no one loves you like your dog does.” My Dog Includes Me Replicated in six groups, this theme captures the influence of dogs on their owner’s social network. Dogs were routinely described as facilitating interactions between people, encouraging social approach, and promoting a sense of belonging and integration among both dog owners and non-dog owners. Within this theme, three subcategories emerged: dog walking; where I belong; and community integration. Dog walking. Given their active and social nature, dogs were described as motivating their owners to venture outside of their homes. These outings provided opportunities to interact with other people, especially other dog walkers. Reflecting a common experience, one owner stated: If you have a dog, like everyone says hello…if I were walking on my own it just wouldn’t be the same whereas walking with [Dog] then everyone is saying hello, they’re talking to [Dog]. Describing the ease with which her dog makes friends, another owner commented: My [Dog] has made so many friends for me here. She greets everybody down the street...and people are so amazed at her smiling and so they’ll start a conversation with me and so I have made more friends than I even would have imagined. Thus, dog walking appeared to have an important social component, with dogs providing a reason to “stop and smile” and a topic for conversation. Where I belong. Along with making other people seem more approachable, dogs were described as promoting feelings of belonging and, in some cases, supporting the development of friendships. Several owners reported that people tend to refer to them using their dog’s name, greeting them as “you’re [Dog]’s mom or dad.” Being identified  65 in this way appeared to contribute to a sense of belonging and an affinity for other dog owners. As one owner commented, “dog people are a rare breed, you know, and they always stick together.” Sharing her experience, another owner stated: All our friends here in Vancouver, we all have dogs. It’s all very dog-centric, we all do doggy things and dog-sit for each other. So we have a good group of dog lovers. Moreover, finding sources of commonality with other dog owners and dog lovers helped to reduce loneliness and strengthen friendships. One owner commented, “my life is pretty doggy, I mean most of my friends have dogs, it’s huge.” It was clear that dogs made it easier to talk and relate to other people. Providing an example, another owner reported: I know people who are developmentally delayed…and having a dog around them, so they learn how to be with something that’s not human and how to take care of it, it’s huge…being able to talk to my friends about having a dog. Consequently, the social rewards of having a dog seemed to encompass more than creating opportunities to say “hello” between strangers and acquaintances. As one owner said, “my life is richer, he doesn’t exclude me from things that I like to do, he includes me.” Community integration. Across the groups, there was a shared sentiment about the importance of knowing people in your building or neighbourhood. Describing how his dog helped his family with adjusting to life in a new country, one participant reported: I heard from many people…if you have a dog, like, Canadians will talk to you…a common theme that they can share…when I walk my dog, many people say “oh what a beautiful dog you have.” I’m so happy to hear that. They talk and they say hello to my dog and to me…so I think, we became a part of Canadian society, we feel like that.  66 Several owners indicated that the presence of their dogs prompted their neighbours to come out and interact or stop by to pet their dogs, thus, creating a sense of community. For example, one owner commented: I have a neighbour…who will run out with her dog treats just for my dogs…every time, when she sees us, she’ll run out. Highlighting a similar experience, some owners reported that people in their life are often willing to do special things for their dogs. Describing his experience with finding a place in a “no-pet building,” one owner said that his landlord “made a special rule” to let his dog live there. Another owner provided the following example: Besides giving us happiness, she has a whole fan club of customers and they come and see her on a regular basis…and people take the trouble which amazes me…and they buy her snacks that she’s allowed to eat, I mean, it’s remarkable. In view of these comments, dogs appeared to promote generosity and an exchange of favours between people including non-dog owners. I’m the Alpha Dog In each group, dog owners expressed a common view that their dogs have unique and identifiable personalities. This theme encompasses the ways in which dogs’ and their owners’ personalities align to form meaningful relationships, as well as, owners’ recognition of their dogs’ traits, habits, and preferences. The three subcategories included in this theme are as follows: personality fit; creature habits; and canine characteristics. Personality fit. Described as having identifiable personality traits, dogs were viewed as active partners in a reciprocal relationship. In fact, some dogs provided an appropriate complement to their owner’s preferences and tendencies. For example, one owner stated:  67 The breed is for me ideal, they don’t like or want a lot of exercise, are lazy, they really won’t miss you while you’re gone, like you can be gone for hours. Apart from compatibility, another rewarding aspect concerned the ways in which dogs mirrored their owners’ personalities. Deriving a sense of pride and satisfaction from his relationship with his dog, one owner reported: It’s about taking care of something else and watching it develop and watching your attributes be reflected in another animal…it’s definitely enlightened my life. Another owner noted some similarities he shares with his dog: I’m fairly confident about who I am and I think he kind of has that same personality…he’s very, very strong and sturdy and he just keeps giving and giving and giving and I’m probably kind of the same way. Creature habits. Although some traits seemed to be more stable and enduring (e.g. sweet, smart, affectionate), dogs were seen as expressing their personalities in various ways depending on their stage of development and contextual factors. It appeared that dogs tended to express their quirks and habits early on in the relationship. Sharing her experience with having a new puppy, one owner commented: He’s very good about seeking out attention in a positive way and it’s nice, he’s coming along…he’s definitely a full partner in the relationship. It’s not like I’m the only one doing all the work. He tries his hardest and practically housebroke himself. Describing her experience, another owner said: Since he’s so young, it’s like kind of getting to know his personality…at first very quiet and timid, kind of scared at everything but now it seems like there’s only like two phases. It’s either a rest phase where he’s like really calm and cuddly and quiet or he’s trying to get into absolutely everything. Along with developmental stage, owners considered how readily their dogs adjusted to being in different surroundings. Some owners described their dogs as being “needy” and “seeking attention,” while others reported that their dogs are “independent”  68 and “adaptable” in new situations. Demonstrating the importance of context, one owner stated: He can be nervous of things like he was terrified to walk in the front door here but he can just be as well super boisterous when he’s inside…he’s really mellow at home…he’s like a wolf in the forest and then he’s just like a little lap dog at home so he’s really different in different areas and different aspects. Canine characteristics. In discussions regarding their dogs’ personality traits, two notable aspects emerged. First, several owners tended to emphasize characteristics associated with the particular breed of their dog. Second, some owners spoke about their relationship with their dog in terms of “pack” relations. Illustrating the former, one owner described her dog in the following way: She’s just been an incredibly giving dog…she’ll go to the ends of the earth…that’s how I fell in love with the German Shepherd breed, just because they really truly want to do anything for you. They want to please you in any way, shape or form. Interestingly, the breed appeared to influence how dogs were perceived by others, especially concerning the match between a dog’s personality and physical appearance. One owner with a smaller breed dog said that “he’s always got a smile on his face…he looks really approachable but he’s definitely not.” Reflecting a similar mismatch, another owner commented: He is 130 pounds and he likes to sit on your lap. He’s very scary looking but fortunately a very sweet dog. Moreover, although dogs were primarily described using human personality traits, significantly, there were some instances where canine attributes were emphasized such as when owners used the term “alpha dog.” Referring to her dogs, one owner said, “we don’t have a family, we have a pack.” Likewise, another owner described her dog in the following way:  69 He’s very like “Mr. I’m the pack member,” you know. He doesn’t like to spend a whole lot of time alone…he comes to work, he comes with me everywhere I go. Such examples were consistent with the notion that dogs and their owners, not only recognize but also act in a manner suggesting they are attuned to each other’s personalities. Dog People are a Rare Breed Derived from a quote, the title of this theme is intended to reflect some of the challenges experienced by dog owners. Included in this theme are participants’ reports regarding the negative responses that they and their dogs have received from other people. This theme also provides an overview of some social and financial drawbacks. Included in this theme are five subcategories: other people don’t get it; limiting their social life; managing the chaos; costly companions; and veterinary care. Other people don’t get it. Although dog owners tended to focus on the benefits provided by their dogs, there was some discussion in each group about the challenges of having a dog. Salient among these were the negative reactions that owners receive from others. Replicated in five groups was a belief that “people that own dogs are nicer” than people who are “not dog lovers.” In fact, one owner indicated: I have to look first whether it’s family or friends, like, is that particular person a dog person or not, first of all—that’s going to be a big defining factor. As such, the reactions of other people appeared to influence some owners’ choice of relationships, strengthening some while making others less desirable. For example, one owner described how his family treats his current dog: To my family, unlike my last dog which was a Golden Retriever, who I think my mom assumed was her grandchild, and a lot of the family members treated him more like that. [Dog] is a very different dog and even, I would think my family would say they love him, but I don’t think they feel as comfortable with him.  70 Reporting an additional barrier to developing close relationships, several owners discussed feeling misunderstood or judged by others for their relationship with their dog. Summarizing her experience, one owner stated: If your friends don’t have a dog and if they didn’t grow up with a dog, they don’t get it and people will look at you like you’re just really strange and you’ll try and explain…that is your buddy forever, right, it’s very hard to explain that to people because it’s almost like, if you haven’t lived it you don’t get it. Limiting their social life. While many owners agreed on the importance of prioritizing their dog’s needs for company and attention, such beliefs clearly impacted their friendships and ability to participate in social activities. Several owners reported sacrificing time with friends. For example, after cancelling plans with friends, one owner commented that her friends will say “your dog just rules your whole life.” Another owner reported: But I do miss out on things because friends will want to go out somewhere…and then I think, oh god he’s alone for all that time. So it can be a bit of a nuisance in that it really limits your social life. Along with missing out on social activities, a common source of frustration among some owners concerned vacations and travel plans. As one owner commented: Well I think it’s made me a lot more grounded…I mean I would love to take more vacations but, you know, it’s always “where am I going to put the dogs”…it’s definitely kept me in one spot for a longer period of time than I ever have before. In addition, while some owners preferred to take their dogs with them on vacation, financial constraints and the availability of dog-friendly locations limited their ability to travel with their dogs. Managing the chaos. Seen as integral members of the household, dogs appeared to provide both a calming effect and a source of “chaos.” Such experiences were  71 especially pronounced when there was more than one dog or multiple types of pets residing in the home. Sharing her experience with having two dogs, one owner said: I’ve never had a clean house since I’ve had a dog…I constantly have to wipe their feet and pick up after them. Another owner described her role in managing her dogs’ behaviour during play time: If there are toys involved, you know, there’s a potential to have issues…I have to make sure all the toys are away and then I can let them sort of hang out and play, stuff like that, but, you know, otherwise there will be sort of possessive aggression. For some owners, managing dog aggression presented some concerns when encountering unfamiliar dogs outside of the home. Describing the impact of having a larger breed dog, one owner said, “being the size that he is, as well, he needs to be well-behaved and welltrained and we need to be in control of him.” Costly companions. Engendering tearful responses, several owners agreed that the challenges and sacrifices associated with having a dog are greatly outweighed by the benefits and rewards. However, in spite of this view, owners were keenly aware that having a dog carries a “substantial financial responsibility” and, consequently, is “not open to so many people because of the expense.” One owner stated: It’s very financially draining…it takes a lot of patience and pre-planning and just saving and financially burdening. Such planning included ensuring that their dogs had particular kinds of food and medication due to various health issues such as allergies and diabetes. Capturing a view shared by several owners, another owner commented: We make financial allowances in our lives and I’m not even talking about the vet bills or the food but it’s an accepted part of having the dog in our life and I think is speaks to the commitment that responsible dog owners take on.  72 Veterinary care. In addition to the financial costs associated with veterinary care, concerns regarding the location of services and the practices of some providers were at the forefront when selecting an appropriate veterinarian. As one owner said, “it’s really important when you trust the person who is there because you can even see the way a vet handles your dog.” Similarly highlighting the importance of trust, another owner commented: I drive half an hour out of my way to get a vet because I like my vet…well if you don’t have a good connection with your vet especially when they get older, you’re hooped, because there’s a lot of trust that you put into your vet. Sharing his experience with having a holistic veterinarian, one owner described the value of supportive care in the event of his dog’s passing: I got this holistic vet and she makes house-calls. So on the first meeting I said “what about that day, what about when that eventuality comes, do you look after that, will you come here and look after that?” and she went, “oh yeah, I walk with you through everything.” Often, such topics generated discussion about the nature of their dogs’ health and lifespan. There was overwhelming consensus among participants concerning one of the most challenging aspects of having a dog, namely, as one owner described in the following statement: I worry about ourselves (participant and her partner). I do, I honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever loved anything in my life as much as I love this dog. I worry about myself because I know it’s not forever. And I’ve never wanted anything ever to stay exactly the same but I’d like to cast a spell over her and just keep her as she is. Through Their Eyes Replicated in six groups were beliefs concerning the importance of investing time and energy to develop a meaningful relationship with their dogs. While other themes highlight some rewarding activities initiated by dogs, this theme is distinguished by its  73 focus on the actions of owners that can influence and shape their dogs’ behaviour in significant ways. Within this theme, three subcategories emerged: a worthy investment; being out in nature; and dogs choose you. A worthy investment. Providing discipline and guidance, dog owners discussed the importance of training and socializing their dogs. For example, some owners reported training their dogs to be off leash, teaching them obedience commands, and reinforcing their behaviour using treats or toys. Describing the rewards of seeing his dog grow and change, one owner commented: You see who he is today, just a lot of hard work. So it’s been an amazing bonding experience watching his trust develop in me…he’s a delight to have as a part of my life. Accordingly, owners reported experiencing a feeling of achievement from seeing their dogs “catching on to something” during training. Capturing this view, one owner stated: There’s a sense of accomplishment and a sense of control that a dog can provide you with…I guess it’s like having kids…there’s a sense of efficacy that comes from having successfully modified a puppy’s behaviour to make it socially acceptable. In view of these examples, obedience training appeared to be motivated by more than practical considerations, with owners deriving important benefits. For example, participating in dog sports and agility training seminars provided owners with “a new skill to learn [and] a new language.” Being out in nature. Common to all dog owners was the importance of engaging in meaningful activities with their dogs and “seeing them happy.” Highlighting this sentiment, one owner described her dog’s enjoyment of running on the beach, commenting that he looks “so content and so happy and not a care in the world.” The  74 same owner went on to explain that it was meaningful for her to “see the value and the joy of new experiences in his little doggy life.” Such beliefs were especially apparent when owners described being in the outdoors with their dogs and going camping, hiking, or swimming. Describing an integral aspect of his relationship with his dog, one owner said that “going out in the wild and seeing the world a bit through his eyes…I find that’s when we bond the most.” Likewise, another owner reported: And just watching he and the other two dogs navigating this mountain was really, really beautiful…we kind of got through it as a whole pack…some of those kind of physical challenges have kind of brought us together, I think closer, and have built a lot of trust in between us that I don’t know if I would have if we didn’t have that aspect to our lives. Thus, it appeared that sharing new or challenging experiences with their dogs served to deepen their bond. Owners seemed to gain meaning from their experiences through the eyes of their dogs. Dogs choose you. In view of their dogs’ history, developing a meaningful relationship carried added significance for some owners. Weary around certain people, some dogs had been abused in their previous home or abandoned before being placed in an animal shelter. Describing how her dog came into her life, one owner commented: I got him as a rescue and he came with a lot of warnings. He had been in foster care for more than six months because he had such high anxiety…and he just bloomed overnight. And I just fell in love with him madly… Moved by his experience of rescuing his dog, another owner shared the following story: And they say “dogs choose you when you go to pick them”…our first moment of connecting, we were out in the yard of the rescue place…I remember this Rottweiler going ballistic at the adjacent cage and [Dog] just sauntered over there, sat beside the cage and then gave this dog a big lick on the face…and [Dog] came back and sat beside me and did the exact same thing to me and that was it and so that’s how it all started.  75 For these and other owners, providing their dogs with a sense of stability and a good quality of life was critical to establishing trusting relationships. Encouragingly, despite their history of abuse, some dogs were seen as demonstrating surprising resilience. As one owner stated: It just brings me a lot of joy to see him overcome things that have been hurtful to him in his life and overcome his own fears. For something as simple as a dog to be able to do that is pretty amazing. Through the love and affection of their owners, these dogs were able to heal the wounds of their past experiences. Field Observations Commonly observed in focus groups (Krueger & Casey, 2009), the participants initially directed their comments toward the group facilitators. In response to the introductory questions, most participants began by sharing stories about how their dog(s) came into their lives and their reasons for getting a dog. As the discussions unfolded, such stories stimulated interactions among group members in the form of asking each other direct questions or expressing verbal agreement. Taking on a relaxed and conversational tone, these exchanges promoted spontaneity and rich descriptions of shared experiences. Humour appeared to enhance self-disclosure as members laughed in response to each other’s comments or at the antics of the dogs who were present during the discussions. At times, this relaxed atmosphere allowed the participants to go off topic, requiring a brief reminder regarding the purpose of the discussion. In a few groups, participants expressed disagreement with comments made by other group members. One area of disagreement concerned the responsibilities of having a dog including veterinary  76 care, dog food, and decisions about pet care during work or travel. A second area generating some divergent viewpoints was participants’ perceptions regarding a dog’s lifespan and how to cope with the inevitable loss of a pet. Other notable instances involving group member interaction occurred when participants became tearful and emotional while describing their dogs. Several participants responded by offering supportive and comforting statements to other group members.  77 Chapter Five: Discussion While a number of themes replicate those reported in the literature on the humancanine bond, others provide some unique, qualitative insights, thus, offering a new dimension to existing research. This chapter begins with a discussion of the findings in relation to previous investigations. Next, some unique aspects are presented and are followed by a discussion of some limitations associated with focus groups. Finally, the chapter concludes with some implications for counselling research and practice, as well as, directions for further exploration. Contributions to the Literature A careful examination of the available literature lends support to the following themes: Part of the Family, Dogs Know, Natural Healers, Nothing like What a Dog Can Do, and My Dog Includes Me. Given their salience and extensiveness across the focus groups, these five themes are discussed below, noting areas of consistency with previous studies, as well as, highlighting some novel aspects and alternate interpretations. Key findings from the four remaining themes (We Do as We’re Told, I’m the Alpha Dog, Dog People Are a Rare Breed, and Through Their Eyes) are described along with some unique aspects in the hopes of stimulating avenues for further investigation. Despite the abundant literature on the benefits of dogs, inquiries regarding the meaning and significance of having a dog have been limited typically to brief and informal conversations (Allen et al., 2002). Consequently, these investigations overlook the profound level of intimacy that many people experience in their relationship with their dog. The current study sought to explore people’s perceptions of their dogs in the context of home and family life. As such, this study attempts to address a gap in the  78 literature concerning the limited understanding of the human-canine relationship, including its essential qualities and range of experiences. In comparison to similar investigations (Knight & Edwards, 2008), the average age (46) of participants in the present study was considerably lower than the typical retirement age. Based on the demographic information, it was apparent that dogs and their owners develop meaningful relationships in various stages of adulthood. Given that this information was intended to be descriptive in nature, no firm conclusions can be drawn concerning the relationship between demographic variables and the strength of the relationship. In addition, educational level and the amount of time spent with their dogs were not included on the questionnaire, both of which have been reported to influence the level of closeness or kinship between people and pets (Cohen, 2002; Franklin, 2006). Dogs as Family Members Role in the family. Not surprisingly, participants readily invoked descriptions of love and family when discussing their relationship with their dogs. More than half reported having a dog since birth or growing up with a family dog. According to Serpell (2009), based on these early experiences, people tend to “identify” or “sympathize” with dogs later on in life, in some cases, developing enduring preferences or attachments to dogs (Hirschman, 1994). Interestingly, the present study found that regardless of how dogs were perceived in their family of origin (e.g. as working dogs or family pets), most owners tended to view their dogs as their own children or as a few stated, their “child substitutes.” Reflecting the dynamics or composition of their current family, this tendency suggests an important shift from the way owners related to their dogs in their childhood or adolescence.  79 Moreover, such findings were consistent with the age range of participants and were more common among young adults prior to having children or retirees with adult children who had moved out of the family home. As one owner said, “whatever you give to your children, you can give to your dog.” For those with children currently living at home, dogs were more often described as “siblings” or “parental figures.” Similarly, Cohen (2002) found that participants identify their pets as family members based on the way they function in the household. Sharing some degree of overlap with multiple roles (Archer, 1997; Knight & Edwards, 2008), dogs appear to have a unique and distinct role that defies traditional notions of family. Their ability to adapt seamlessly to different roles supports Power’s (2008) description of “more-than-human” ways of relating between people and dogs. Dogs are the glue. Rather than simply extending membership in the family to their dogs, the current study suggests that dogs actively contribute to family life and make the family feel complete. For many, dogs are the glue. Far from being surrogates and substitutes, dogs seem to provide a vital link between family members in several important ways. First, owners described their dogs as representing a connecting force between family members who were separated by distance and even death (Morley & Fook, 2005). Along with promoting family cohesion (Walsh, 2009b), dogs were described as defining a person’s role or position in the family. Among couples, there was a tendency for each partner to take on a particular role such as the “disciplinarian” or the “playmate.” Moreover, contrary to some reports, owners did not generally adhere to traditional gender roles or expectations (Greenebaum, 2004; Power, 2008). Second, owners reported talking to their dogs frequently, carrying on a “full  80 conversation” or a “running commentary” with their dogs. In addition, dogs promoted communication between family members, providing a focus for daily life and facilitating discussions about emotionally-charged topics. In this way, according to Tannen (2004), dogs can serve as “resources” to mediate interactions among people. Providing an example, one owner, in the current study, recalled a time when she was yelling at her dog for acting out. Observing this interaction, her young grandson responded by saying “you hurt [Dog]’s feelings.” Along with softening criticism and easing tension (Tannen, 2004), these kinds of expressions are used by family members to communicate particular values or expectations. As integral family members, dogs undoubtedly contribute to relational processes in the family, in both conventional and non-traditional ways, unique to dogs. Intuitive Understanding and Communication The current study confirms reports that dogs are able to understand and respond appropriately to emotional cues from their owners (Walsh, 2009a), allowing for “authentic” social interactions (Fox, 2006; Franklin, 2006). In the theme, Dogs Know, owners described their dogs as training them (e.g. to go for a walk or to get them a treat) and initiating routines such as cuddling in bed. According to Sanders (1993), there is a tendency to disregard these goal-oriented behaviours as nothing more than the one-sided attributions of dog owners (Franklin, 2006), consistent with anthropomorphic thinking. Moreover, some authors believe that the ability to communicate through language is essential to providing mutual understanding of events or situations (Sanders, 1993). Observed almost universally among dog owners (Serpell, 2003), anthropomorphism, while relevant to understanding the thoughts and behaviours of others, does little to account for the kind of intuitive communication that occurs between  81 dogs and their owners through body language. Attesting to its reciprocal nature, owners described this communication as being “two-sided” and a “two-way street.” Thus, transcending customary notions of language and intelligence, these nonverbal exchanges challenge “human social and conceptual boundaries” (Fox, 2006). For owners, this translates into a profound sense of feeling understood and valued by their dogs. Health and Well-being It is well established that dogs provide health benefits, reducing loneliness and motivating their owners to exercise (Allen, 2003; Archer, 1997; Knight & Edwards, 2008; Walsh, 2009a). In the theme, Natural Healers, owners reported that their dogs’ needs for walking provided a reason to get out of the house, allowing them to heal faster after a fall or injury. Along with the pleasure of seeing their dogs smiling and wagging their tails, owners reported experiencing greater happiness and laughter from having a dog, consistent with other investigations (Valeri, 2006). Moreover, this study revealed that dogs bring out a sense of playfulness and a softer side in people. Promoting health in some additional ways, dogs possess particular qualities (e.g. openness, excitement) that were seen as worthy of emulating (Cavanaugh et al., 2008). Such qualities were described as strengthening relationships between people, especially couples and family members. As mindful creatures, dogs were especially adept at relieving their owners’ distress, reminding them of the importance of being “in the moment.” Several participants emphasized the meaningful ways (e.g. licking, pawing) that their dogs attempted to provide support when they were upset. Therapy dogs. In addition to describing their dogs as family members and companions, some owners reported that their dogs had been certified as therapy dogs,  82 providing support to children, adolescents, and adults in various settings (e.g. schools, hospitals, and counselling centers). In her work as a counsellor, one owner commented, “I think it’s really powerful for me how much more my kids will open when the dog is there.” Beaming with pride, another owner described the impact that her dog had on patients and their families: As I said, I used to take [Dog] to work and he worked for five and a half years at the hospital and I could see the difference he would make in the lives of patients…he just enhanced the lives of patients…and you know families I found that came to visit their loved one. It would be “okay what are we going to talk about today mom or dad?” but it was always like “let’s go see [Dog]” and it gave them a conversation thing and something to talk about…patients really responded and would do things that you couldn’t get them to do…and people would say “can my mom or dad be on the floor where the dog is?” or they would come and visit…and from a health point of view, mentally and such, I definitely saw it and it made a difference. The Inherent Value of Dogs Focusing on marginalized groups, some reports in the mainstream literature have contributed to a view that people tend to develop close relationships with pets due to a lack of friendships or an inability to develop interpersonal relationships (Morley & Fook, 2005). In some cases, efforts to understand the human-animal bond have made use of comparisons with interpersonal relationships, thereby, undermining the significance of pets. Accordingly, it is hoped that the present investigation challenges such misguided interpretations and, instead, validates findings that owners appreciate the inherent value of their dogs’ companionship. Towards this end, Morley and Fook (2005), call for a more “normalized approach” to investigating the relationship between people and pets. In line with this kind of approach, the theme, Nothing like What a Dog Can Dog, presents an alternate interpretation of the way in which people describe their relationship with their dogs.  83 As observed in other investigations (Antonacopoulos & Pychyl, 2010; Cohen, 2002; Knight & Edwards, 2008), dog owners, in this study, tended to emphasize the positive qualities of their dogs by comparing them to people in their life. Expressing a preference for their dog’s support, owners commented that their dogs are “totally themselves,” “dependable,” and “never critical,” thus, providing a kind of consistency and unconditional positive regard not experienced in interpersonal relationships (Archer, 1997). Echoing this sentiment, one owner emphasized, “I’m a person of value because my dog wants to be with me.” However, rather than minimizing the importance of dogs, such comparisons suggest that dogs provide something unique, “a whole different bond” that adds to the richness of their owners’ lives. Anything but inferior replacements, dogs are “irreplaceable.” Sense of Community Consistent with other investigations (McNicholas & Collis, 2000; Wood et al., 2007), this study found that dogs serve as an “icebreaker,” increasing the likelihood of their owners meeting and interacting with other people. In the theme, My Dog Includes Me, owners provided examples of “reciprocity” between friends and neighbours, described by Wood et al. (2007) as an indicator of social capital. Promoting a sense of belonging, it appears that the presence of dogs in neighbourhoods and communities leads to benefits for both dog owners and non-dog owners. Although by no means conclusive, the current study supports the notion that the “social catalysis” effect of dogs can lead to more substantial and enduring friendships. Moreover, the subcategory, where I belong, elucidates an aspect not frequently discussed in other reports. Namely, some studies (Greenebaum, 2004; Knight &  84 Edwards, 2008) have found that people’s relationship with their dog helps to define their membership in a group. In this study, along with increasing feelings of community integration, the very experience of being a dog owner contributes to the way that owners see themselves, in two notable ways. First, some people reported developing a reputation for being a dog owner with others recognizing them as “[Dog]’s mom or dad.” Second, some owners considered their dogs to be a reflection or extension of their own personality (Greenebaum, 2004; Hirschman, 1994). A match between the personalities of dogs and their owners seems to enhance their relationship satisfaction (Cavanaugh et al., 2008), as reported in the subcategory, personality fit. Mutual Influence Although recognized as a distinct theme, Through Their Eyes, is discussed in conjunction with the theme, We Do as We’re Told, to emphasize the mutually influential nature of the relationships observed between people and their dogs. The study revealed the importance of early bonding experiences through obedience training and spending time at home and in the outdoors. The subcategory, being out in nature, supports findings that relationship partners tend to develop a greater sense of intimacy when they share new experiences (Cavanaugh et al., 2008). Based on the subcategory, a worthy investment, it appeared that owners “shaped” or influenced their dogs behaviour in order to conform to particular rules or expectations (Power, 2008). However, it was also clear that dogs exerted a powerful influence on their owners, providing structure and routine to their lives. Describing the impact of having a dog, the members in one focus group stated unanimously, “we do as we’re told.” Extending to contexts outside of the home, dogs were incorporated in various settings  85 including work, recreational activities, vacations (Carr & Cohen, 2009), dog-centric venues, and agility training. Dogs, in this study, were not only included in established routines, but indeed were also seen as actively initiating their own routines. Augmenting this belief, owners seemed to recognize their dog’s unique qualities or, in Fox’s (2006) words, their “inherent dogginess.” Unique Aspects Across the data, there were some distinctive comments that were mentioned by only one or two members in a focus group and were marked by group members appearing animated and expressing support. Such comments, labelled unique aspects, were followed by moments of reflective silence, as well as, affective responses including smiling, laughter, head nodding, and statements such as “I’ve never thought of that before.” These unique aspects often extended the discussion in new directions or generated insightful comments from other members. Four unique aspects are reported below using quotes from participants: welcome home; pet loss; animal cruelty; and unbreakable bonds. The section closes with some insights from the author’s personal experience. Welcome home. Regardless of the length of ownership, participants often alluded to their first experience with meeting their dogs when describing the meaningful aspects of their relationship. Providing a particularly moving example, one owner shared the following story: The first night when I got him home, I kind of held him up to the window. I’ve heard about these Native customs. When a child is born into the tribe the male takes the child and promises to look after him in front of the moon. So I held him to the window and the moon was out there and I said “I’ll always care for you and protect you”...you know life happens and people come and go and he’s always been the constant for me and it’s a really tight bond.  86 Consistent with the subcategory, spiritual connection, some owners impart a spiritual or religious identity upon their dogs through rituals (Brandes, 2009), such as the one above, or through the expression of their religious faith and values (e.g. adopting a rescue animal). According to Walsh (2009a), our love for dogs “expands the spiritual dimension of human experience.” Pet loss. In the subcategory, valuable teachers, it was clear that the experience of loss is an inevitable part of having a dog. Describing the transition between losing her previous dog and getting a puppy, one participant expressed surprise at the reactions of others: Ever since I got [Dog] (current dog), people in my building are starting to come up to me and say “oh we’re so glad you got another dog…we really liked watching you and [Dog] (dog who had passed) walking”…which I never heard after she died. I guess people were afraid to like approach me. But just to know that you’ve been noticed by all these people…it’s really funny. I had no clue that these people are all, you know, all very much affected. Suggesting a sense of acknowledgement and recognition of her loss, this example, unfortunately, does not always reflect the experiences of some owners. According to Morley and Fook (2005), the tendency to regard people’s reactions to losing a pet as abnormal or pathological undermines the significance of pets (Walsh, 2009b) and, in some cases, intensifies a person’s grief and sense of loss. Animal cruelty. In light of a recent news story about a dog who had been abused and suffered fatal injuries, two participants in one group had the following discussion. First, describing the bond with her dog, one owner stated: I think it’s just a wonderful testament to sort of humanity when you’re able to see these sort of interspecies relationships. I think that really is sort of an indication of how we’re supposed to be able to get along. In response to this comment, a second owner said:  87 That’s why there was such an outpouring about [Dog]…well I think even the shared experience of, we’ve had this relationship, this is, you just don’t do that because this is sacred, this is a sacred relationship, this is a gift. Similarly captured in the subcategory, dogs choose you, some owners expressed sadness and disbelief when reflecting on their dog’s history of abuse. Their caregiving efforts seemed to suggest a sense of duty or obligation to provide their dogs with a positive and meaningful life (Hirschman, 1994). Unbreakable bonds. Along with break-ups or divorce, some people must unwillingly separate from their dogs for various reasons including relocating for work or not having access to dog-friendly housing (Walsh, 2009a). As with pet loss, such painful experiences are compounded by a lack of acknowledgement, or worse, judgement and criticism from others. One participant described the impact upon her daughter when her relationship with her partner ended and her ex’s dog was no longer a part of their life: My older daughter was just heartbroken that the dog she slept with, that basically she cried with like this…and [Dog] and my daughter were bonded and so when the relationship with [Partner] ended, I actually spent about a year and a half not ending the relationship because of the dog and which is kind of silly but it’s what you do. In response to this example, several participants commented that hearing this story helped them to think about their own experiences in a new way. Personal Note from the Author To my surprise, one of the most unsettling experiences I have had since Dally was a puppy has been some of the comments and questions we receive while out walking. Such interactions go something like this: “Is that a Bulldog? How old is he? Oh, what’s the usual life expectancy? They don’t usually live that long, do they?” Although I smile and attempt to summon up some sort of response, I walk away puzzled and deeply  88 saddened as to why such questions seem okay to ask, especially, since half of these encounters occur with other dog owners. We would never ask these questions about people in our lives. Believe me, I have no delusions about the comparatively brief time I will have with my dog, but I hope that sharing my experience will give others some pause (or paws) to think about how much our dogs mean to us. To echo one of my participants, this is a “sacred relationship.” Limitations Offering flexibility, focus groups can capture novel perspectives that emerge during the course of data collection. However, despite their unique advantages, focus groups present a number of challenges concerning the composition and dynamics of the group that require attention from researchers. First, one risk of having a smaller group size is the potential to generate a more limited range of ideas. We attempted to obtain greater diversity in the results by conducting several groups and by comparing and contrasting the data across the groups (Krueger & Casey, 2009). Providing another source of diversity was the age range of participants and the length of dog ownership. Second, the presence of two group facilitators helped to address one of the drawbacks associated with using flip charts which can distract participants or impede them from elaborating upon their experiences (Krueger & Casey, 2009). Participants appeared to be engaged during the discussions and several commented at the end that they were surprised to see how much information the group had generated. Presenting a third challenge in conducting focus groups, some group members may attempt to dominate the discussion or lead the group off topic (Vogt et al., 2004). Pressures to conform may lead some members to distort their views to be more  89 compatible with established group norms or standards (Seal et al., 1998). Finally, some members may be reluctant to share their beliefs about their pets for fear of stigmatization or derision (Hickrod & Schmitt, 1982; Ipsos-Reid, 2001). Cultural and social conventions that create a boundary between people and animals can influence participants’ willingness to disclose their views. However, we attempted to minimize these concerns by creating a non-judgmental environment and selecting people with a common interest. Moreover, contrary to the suggestion that prior contact between group members can discourage self-disclosure (Krueger & Casey, 2000; Morgan, 1996; Vogt et al., 2004), in this study, the social catalysis effect (Wood et al., 2007) observed between dog owners appeared to enhance participants’ willingness to share their experiences. In addition to the use of systematic procedures, our efforts to establish researcher neutrality helped to promote the accuracy of the findings and to encourage the participation of group members (Krueger & Casey, 2000). Prior to beginning each group discussion, the moderator described her role in the study as an impartial interviewer with limited knowledge of the objectives of the study. The moderator had training and experience in facilitating groups. Adopting a neutral stance, the moderator’s role was to ask the interview questions, ensure that all members had an opportunity to participate, and help the members to stay on track. Attending to divergent viewpoints, the moderator elicited the opinions of group members and was careful to avoid expressing approval or disapproval of respondents’ views (Krueger & Casey, 2000). Furthermore, the moderator invited participants to play an active role in creating the norms and guidelines for the group.  90 Implications Using qualitative data from focus group research, this study extends previous research on the relationship between people and their dogs. Underlying this measurement approach is a belief in the importance of expanding human notions of family and attending to the relational significance of companion animals for their owners’ sense of well-being (Walsh, 2009a). The findings from the present study have a number of implications for counselling research and practice. Challenging some traditional views, these implications are discussed along with some recommendations for counsellors and other health care professionals. Although some pet owners report feeling a closer bond with their pets than their human companions (Archer, 1997), this bond has been minimized or pathologized, traditionally, among those in the field of mental health, social services, governmental institutions, and the general public (Cohen, 2002; Walsh, 2009a). Characterized as being unable to form meaningful relationships with other people (Archer, 1997; Franklin, 2006), pet owners have been criticized for treating their pets like family members (Hickrod & Schmitt, 1982). However, despite their appeal and simplicity, such explanations seem inadequate given the pervasive nature of the human-animal bond (Archer, 1997) and the results of some recent studies. Contrary to traditional beliefs, studies have shown that people who have a strong bond with animals also tend to demonstrate love and compassion for other people (Walsh, 2009a). Consistent with the results of the present study, Cohen (2002) found that having an attachment to a pet is not associated with a lack of human companionship. Moreover, the benefits of pet ownership  91 are not limited to individuals who are marginalized or socially isolated (McNicholas et al., 2005). Impacting the delivery of counselling services, pets have been given little consideration in family systems and family therapy (Walsh, 2009b). Thus, it is hoped that an improved understanding of the benefits provided by pets can inform counsellors’ efforts to strengthen their clients’ social support networks without undermining the significance of their pets (Podrazik et al., 2000). Given the capacity of pets to foster resilience, counsellors can include pets as part of their clients’ therapeutic team. Counsellors can acknowledge pets when inquiring about a client’s network of support (Walsh, 2009b). This line of inquiry can provide rich information concerning the dynamics between family members and can be helpful for encouraging children to participate in counselling (McNicholas & Collis, 2001; Walsh, 2009b). For children coping with familial discord, dogs can promote emotional regulation and pro-social behaviours, thus, allowing children to achieve a sense of “mastery” in situations over which they may have little control (Strand, 2004). The impact of losing a pet upon an individual’s well-being is another challenge facing mental health practitioners. Many people experience grief and mourn the loss of their pet (Cohen, 2002). For children, the loss of a pet often represents their first experience with death and can influence how children respond to death in the future (Turner, 2005). Among people of all ages, the loss of a pet can be as profound as the death of a human family member (Archer, 1997; Podrazik et al., 2000) and can affect family functioning (Eckstein, 2000; Turner, 2005; Walsh, 2009b). Experiencing isolation or having others treat their grief as an abnormal response may deepen their sense of loss.  92 Therefore, it is vitally important for practitioners to validate and normalize their clients’ experiences, help them cope with the process of bereavement (Eckstein, 2000; Walsh, 2009b), and help them to find ways to honour their beloved pet’s memory (Turner, 2005). One final area of concern requiring attention has a direct impact on the accessibility of health care and social services (Knight & Edwards, 2008). Some people fail to comply with medical advice or delay seeking medical attention for fear of being hospitalized or separated from their pet (McNicholas et al., 2005; Walsh, 2009b). These findings are particularly troubling as some vulnerable members of society, including the elderly, children, and those experiencing domestic violence, may not receive much needed help and resources. In response, physicians, nurses, and social workers have been called upon to ask patients about pets as part of their routine assessments (Friedmann et al., 1980). Cohen (2002) recommends that professionals inquire about pets during the intake process. Helping patients to find temporary or permanent accommodations for their pets could help to remove an important barrier to accessing health care services (McNicholas et al., 2005). For clients residing in hospitals or other facilities, having an opportunity to interact with their own pet or a therapy animal could be beneficial for their health and well-being (Cohen, 2002). Future Directions Follow-up investigations would be helpful for addressing some methodological limitations and threats to credibility of the present study. One useful avenue would be to use methods triangulation by combining the results of individual and focus group interviews with the same participants (Johnson, 1997; Morgan, 1996). Expanding upon the findings from the focus groups, researchers could conduct individual follow-up  93 interviews in order to explore particular themes or unique aspects in greater depth (Seal et al., 1998). Alternatively, the qualitative insights gained from this investigation could be used to develop a questionnaire. This questionnaire could be administered to a larger sample in order to explore the relationship among various aspects of the human-dog bond and their associated health benefits. Such efforts could lead to an improved understanding of the conditions under which dog ownership is most beneficial among particular groups such as cancer patients. Moreover, while the current study supports findings that dogs facilitate social interactions, questions remain concerning the alternate possibility that dogs actually hinder or otherwise interfere with people’s friendships and relationships with family members. A few participants, in this study, reported that their family or friends felt uncomfortable or fearful around their dogs. Some participants mentioned that other people get annoyed when they talk about their dogs frequently or bring them along on outings or vacations. Providing another example, one participant said that her son used to be jealous of their dog and that her youngest daughter thinks that their dog is the “favourite child.” Such examples invite further research on some of the negative ways that dogs may impact family processes and dynamics. Another area little explored concerns the processes through which pets come to be regarded as family members (Power, 2008). More than half of participants in the study reported growing up with a family dog, some since birth. Although the theme, Through Their Eyes, elucidates some important bonding experiences, this area could benefit from research that explores the relationship between these kinds of experiences and some potential life-long benefits of having a dog. Longitudinal studies that incorporate a  94 developmental perspective could be helpful for examining changes in the nature of the relationship as people acquire their dogs and as their bond develops over time. Finally, missing in some investigations, including the present study, is the impact of cultural variability on the human-animal bond (Fox, 2006). Although it may be permissible in some settings to express physical and emotional affection toward pets, cultural norms and values regarding proper hygiene or appropriate behaviour toward pets may preclude such displays of affection. 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More than a furry companion: The ripple effect of companion animals on neighborhood interactions and sense of community. Society & Animals: Journal of Human-Animal Studies, 15(1), 43-56.  101 Appendices Appendix A: Recruitment Flyer a place of mind THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA  What Does Having a Dog Mean to You? If you are interested in talking about your experience with having a dog, please join us for a group discussion. About the Study: This is a research study aimed at investigating how people view their relationship with their dog. We are inviting dog owners (ages 19 and older) to participate in a group discussion to talk about what their dogs mean to them. The discussions will take 1 to 1.5 hours approximately. How to Get Involved: To participate, please phone (xxx) xxx-xxxx or send an email to the following address xxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxxx.ubc.ca Eligibility: You may be eligible to participate if you:  Are a dog owner and are 19 years or older  Currently reside with at least one dog  Are fluent in English (able to read and write) Contact Us: Please contact: Nan Phone: (xxx) xxx-xxxx Email: xxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxxx.ubc.ca Thank you for your interest in our study!  102 Appendix B: Interview Guide  Interview Guide Introduction: Participants are given a card and are invited to write their dog’s name on the card while they introduce themselves to the group. Each participant is asked to describe his/her dog briefly. Some examples include the dog’s age and breed. Following this introduction, the tape begins recording in order to keep their identity confidential. 1. Let’s hear about what your dog is like. Can you tell us about your relationship with him or her? 2. Can you tell us what having a dog means for you in your everyday life? 3. How has your dog influenced your life? 4. What are some things that you do in your relationship with your dog that are meaningful to you? 5. What are some things that your dog does that are meaningful to you? How does he or she contribute to your relationship? 6. What do you think your dog means to other people in your family? Examples of neutral probes: You mentioned that your dog is like this ______. Let’s take that apart. You described your relationship with your dog as this ______. Let’s talk more about that relationship. You mentioned this ______. How does that tell you that your dog is important? In describing your relationship with your dog, you mentioned this ______. Can you say a little more about your dog’s relationship with other people in your home life?  103 Appendix C: Consent Form a place of mind THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA  Consent Form The Significance of Companion Dogs in the Everyday Lives of their Human Caregivers Who is conducting the study? Principal Investigator: Dr. Colleen Haney, UBC Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology, and Special Education, (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Co-Investigators: Dr. William A. Borgen, UBC Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology, and Special Education, (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Nandini Maharaj, Graduate Student, Master of Arts (MA), UBC Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology, and Special Education, (xxx) xxx-xxxx. This research is part of a thesis (public document) in fulfillment of a Master of Arts Degree in Counselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia. Who is funding this study? The study is being funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Why should you take part in this study? The purpose of this research study is to explore people’s experiences with having a dog. You are being invited to take part in this research because you currently have a dog and are at least 19 years old. What happens if you decide to take part in the study? If you participate in this study, you will come to the UBC Point Grey Campus or a location in the Dunbar neighbourhood for a one-time visit which will take approximately 1 to 1.5 hours. You will participate in a group discussion with other dog owners. You will be interviewed about your relationship with your dog and what having a dog means to you.  104 These interviews will be audio-taped. In addition, you will complete a brief demographic questionnaire. How will the results be used? The results of the study will be reported in a graduate thesis and may also be published in journal articles and books. The demographic information will be used to describe, in general terms, the group of participants in the study. Potential Risks: There are no anticipated risks for participating in the study. Potential Benefits: Possible benefits to participants include an opportunity to meet with other dog owners and learn about each other’s experiences with having a dog. Some potential benefits for society include contribution to academic research and the recognition among scholars that dogs can be valued companions. How will your privacy be maintained? We encourage all participants to avoid disclosing the contents of the discussion outside of the group. However, we cannot control what other participants do with the information discussed. Only limited confidentiality can be offered in group discussions as the investigators cannot control what other participants do with the information discussed. The principal investigator, co-investigators, and graduate research assistants will have access to the audio recordings and raw data. All study data will be identified only by a code number and kept in a locked filing cabinet. The data will be kept for five years after the study is presented. All audio recordings and written documents will be destroyed. In any reports of the completed study you will not be identified by name. Who can you contact if you have questions about the study? If you have any questions concerning any of the procedures or would like further information with respect to this study, you may contact Dr. Haney at (xxx) xxx-xxxx or Dr. Borgen at (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Who can you contact if you have concerns about the study or the rights of research participants? If you have any concerns about your rights as a research participant and/or your experiences while participating in this study, you may contact the Research Subject Information Line in the UBC Office of Research  105 Services at 604-822-8598 or if long distance e-mail to RSIL@ors.ubc.ca or call toll free 1-877-822-8598. Consent: Your participation in this study is entirely voluntary. You may refuse to participate or withdraw from the study at any time without any personal repercussions. Your signature below indicates that you have received a copy of this consent form for your own records. Your signature indicates that you consent to participate in this study.  Participant Signature  Printed Name of the Participant signing above  Date  106 Appendix D: Demographic Questionnaire Demographic Questionnaire Is this your first time having a dog? If not, at what age did you first have a dog? ________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________ Are you the primary caregiver of your dog? If not who takes care of your dog primarily? ________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________  How many pets do you currently have in total?____________________ Please list the type (dog, cat, bird, etc.) and length of ownership for each current pet: ________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________  Gender: Please circle one  Male /  Female  Age:_______ Cultural or Ethnic Background:______________________________________________  Household composition: (Who do you live at home with?)_____________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________  107 Appendix E: Identification of the Themes Identification of the Themes Themes:  Subcategories:  1. Part of the Family    Dogs as children  Description: Referring to the ways that dogs are considered family members, this theme includes the perceived role of dogs in relation to other family members and the ways in which they actively contribute to family life.    Dog owners as parents    Teaching family values    Connecting family members  2. We Do As We’re Told    Keeping me on schedule  Description: This theme includes statements indicating that owners recognize their dog’s needs and preferences and make decisions to accommodate their dogs in the way they organize their work and leisure time.    Dog-friendly work life    Home and leisure (no dogs allowed?)  3. Dogs Know    Protective instincts  Description: In addition to capturing the protective nature of dogs, this theme reflects their immense capacity to understand and communicate with their owners.    Uniquely intuitive    No need for words  4. Natural Healers    Promoting exercise  Description: This theme captures the impact of dogs on their owners’ physical, emotional, and spiritual health.    Stress-relievers    Social support    Valuable teachers    Spiritual connection  5. Nothing Like What a Dog Can Do    Constant companions  Description: This theme reflects some of the unique qualities of the bond between people and dogs that are perceived as lacking in interpersonal relationships.    Uniquely canine  108 Themes:  Subcategories:  6. My Dog Includes Me    Dog walking  Description: This theme captures the influence of dogs on their owners’ social network including the ways they facilitate interactions between people and promote a sense of belonging.    Where I belong    Community integration  7. I’m the Alpha Dog    Personality fit  Description: This theme refers to a view among dog owners that their dogs have unique and identifiable personalities, traits, habits, and preferences.    Creature habits    Canine characteristics  8. Dog People Are a Rare Breed    Other people don’t get it  Description: This theme reflects some of the challenges experienced by dog owners including the negative responses that they and their dogs receive from other people, as well as, some social and financial drawbacks of having a dog.    Limiting their social life    Managing the chaos    Costly companions    Veterinary care  9. Through Their Eyes    A worthy investment  Description: This theme reflects some of the ways that dog owners influence and shape their dogs’ behaviour leading to meaningful and rewarding relationships with their dogs.    Being out in nature    Dogs choose you  

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