With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019, social isolation measures were eventually enforced worldwide. During the first lockdown in March 2020, millions of Americans welcomed pets as a companion through these troubling times. Studies indicated that having companion pets can ease loneliness and improve social relationships and mental health (Morgan, Protopopova). Though it appears that the pandemic would positively impact human-dog relationships, the potential stress owners could face supporting a living creature may negatively affect the well-being of the animals. Overall, with my research project this summer, I aim to understand the pandemic’s impact on human-dog relationships by interviewing individuals from different communities, social backgrounds, and economic statuses who acquired their dogs before or during the pandemic.
So far, I have been working with Dr. Rauktis from the School of Social Work to seek out interviewees and understand their experiences. While initially, I strived to understand the acquisition process for dogs obtained during the pandemic, I am now also interested in investigating the differences in quarantine experiences between those who adopted pets during lockdown versus those who adopted pets before.
To find interviewees for this study, we reached out to local businesses and shelters to help people share their stories. Firsthand documentation of community members’ experiences will prepare me for my goal of medical school, where I plan to continue qualitative research and better understand disparities in healthcare. By documenting patient experiences to improve their care and satisfaction, I also strive to work towards confronting barriers to better healthcare practice. As I intend to be a physician, I hope to organize and lead screenings or vaccine drives with community organizations to aid the underserved, similar to how shelters host events to support underserved pets.
In the immediate future, I will analyze and present my findings to audiences at Animal Friends, the Humane Animal Rescue, Beaver County Humane Society, and Humane PA. In doing so, I aim to convey why people adopted the dogs they did, describe their experiences during the pandemic, and the challenges faced. With this presentation, I hope to promote to broader communities the work these shelters do to support families who have pets and provide helpful advice from other owners. For instance, upon talking to a low-income interviewee, I learned that Ellie’s Pet Pantry of the Humane Society provides food bags and supplements that are of great help. In addition, I learned more about a personalized exposure plan utilized by an informant to reduce rescue dog Molly’s separation anxiety.
Getty Images, & Etienne, V. (2022). Litter of Puppies in Animal Shelter. People. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://people.com/pets/california-animal-shelter-introduces-policy-requiring-support-of-gun-control-for-pet-adoption/.
Morgan, L., Protopopova, A., Birkler, R. I. D., Itin-Shwartz, B., Sutton, G. A., Gamliel, A., Yakobson, B., & Raz, T. (2020, November 24). Human–dog relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic: Booming dog adoption during social isolation. Nature News. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-020-00649-x#citeas