Animal Companions as Kin

Background

Some of my latest work, undertaken in collaboration with Nik Taylor, Clemence Due, Heather Fraser, Shoshana Rosenberg, Tania Signal, and Catherine Donovan, has focused on cross species kinship relations, specifically where humans form kinship relations with non-human animals. The primary focus of this research is on experiences of both domestic violence and animal abuse in the context of intimate relationships, drawing on a survey with sexuality and/or gender diverse people in Australia and the UK. We are also currently exploring the meanings of animal companions to refugee and migrant children, the occurrence of animal abuse in the context of families where children protection issues arise, and the meaning of animal companions to lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender women.

A full list of my research publications on the topic of animal companions as kin can be found further down the page, and are drawn on in the applications of research findings sections below.

Applications of research findings for practitioners

Our study with sexuality and/or gender diverse people found that participants who lived with an animal companion and who had experienced familial abuse reported less psychological distress than did participants who had experienced abuse and did not live with an animal companion. In addition, participants who had experienced familial abuse and who lived with animal companions reported higher social support than those who had experienced familial abuse and did not live with an animal companion. Considering that many people of diverse genders and/or sexualities experience familial abuse, the finding about the positive benefits of animal companions is significant for this population group. These findings are important for professionals to keep in mind and further explore in their practice. In addition, professionals need to be aware of the significance of animal companions to people more broadly.

Our study with children of migrant or refugee backgrounds who had resettled in Australia found that the children spoke about a sense of loss with regard to animals following migration, or about animals being a source of strength and/or connection following resettlement in Australia. For those who left animal companions behind, the sadness of this may impact on feelings of belonging or liking their new lives in Australia. For those who discussed animals after resettlement (whether in terms of living with animal companions or spending time with animals in other ways), animals offered a unique way to feel at home in Australia. These findings suggest that professionals working with children of migrant or refugee backgrounds need to consider the potential significance of relationships with animals to children, and how this can impact on the resettlement process. Furthermore, the findings support previous research that animals can be therapeutic for people who have experienced trauma, something which professionals should be aware of.

Applications of research findings for people living with animal companions

The study with sexuality and/or gender diverse people found that participants who both lived with an animal companion and had experienced familial abuse reported less psychological distress than those who had experienced familial abuse and did not live with an animal companion. In addition, participants who had experienced familial abuse and who lived with animal companions reported higher social support than those who had experienced familial abuse and did not live with an animal companion. These research findings suggest that living with animal companions may mean people experiencing familial abuse experience less psychological distress and higher social support. Whilst not suggesting that all people should live with animal companions, these are useful findings to keep in mind for people who are sexuality and/or gender diverse, as this population experiences familial abuse at high rates.

The study with children of migrant or refugee backgrounds who had resettled in Australia found that the children spoke about a sense of loss with regard to animals following migration, or about animals being a source of strength and/or connection following resettlement in Australia. For parents and carers of children of migrant or refugee backgrounds, these findings are useful as they indicate it is important to keep in mind feelings of loss children may experience if they have to leave animal companions behind, and that this may impact on their happiness and feelings of belonging in Australia. The findings support previous research that animals can be therapeutic for people who have experienced trauma, and whilst not all children can live with animal companions, parents and carers may find it therapeutic for children to interact with animals in other settings.

Resources for practitioners

Australian

Animals in Society Working Group

Australian Psychological Society – Anthrozoology: Can animals benefit our health? (by Pauleen Bennett)

International

American Psychological Association (US) – The Truth About Cats and Dogs: Pets Are Good for Mental Health of ‘Everyday People’

American Psychological Association (US) – Is that a pet or therapeutic aid? (by Rebecca A. Clay)

Animal Welfare Institute (US) – Signs of Animal Abuse for Child Protection Worker and Other Human Service Personnel

Resources for people living with animal companions

 Australian

Animals Australia

Animals Australia – Companion animals fact sheet

Australian Veterinary Association – Pet ownership statistics

Animal Welfare League Australia

Health Direct – 7 ways pets improve your mental health

Pet Industry Association

RSPCA Australia

RSPCA Australia – Knowledgebase

RSPCA Australia – Knowledgebase – Is there a link between domestic violence and animal abuse?

World Animal Protection Australia

International

Animal Legal Defense Fund (US) – Animal cruelty and domestic violence

Animal Welfare Institute (US) – Companion animals

Animal Welfare Institute (US) – Animals & family violence

Animal Welfare Institute (US) – Safety planning for pets of domestic violence victims

The Harris Poll (US) – More Than Ever, Pets are Members of the Family

PETA (US) – Companion animals

Books with personal stories

Anderegg, Z. (2015). Rescuing Riley, saving myself: A man and his dog’s struggle to find salvation. Skyhorse Publishing.

Grogan, J. (2005). Marley & me: Life and love with the world’s worst dog. HarperCollins.

Magrs, P. (2014). The story of fester cat: How one remarkable cat changed two men’s lives. Berkley.

Morse, S. (2014). The dog stays in the picture: How my rescued greyhound helped me cope with my empty nest. Open Road Media.

Picture books

Little Parachutes – Picture books about owning a pet

My Little Bookcase – Books about pets and caring for animals

My research publications

Riggs, D. W. (forthcoming). Diverse pathways to parenthood: Translating research to practice. Elsevier.

Taylor, N., Riggs, D. W., Donovan, C., Signal, T., & Fraser, H. (under review). People of diverse genders and/or sexualities caring for and protecting animal companions in the context of domestic violence. Violence Against Women.  

Riggs, D. W., Taylor, N., Fraser, H., Donovan, C., & Signal, T. (under review). The link between domestic violence and abuse and anima cruelty in the intimate relationships of people of diverse genders and/or sexualities: A bi-national study. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 

Riggs, D. W., Fraser, H., Taylor, N., Signal, T., & Donovan, C. (under review). People of diverse genders and/or sexualities and their animal companions: Experiences of family violence in a bi-national sample. Journal of Family Issues.

Taylor, N., Fraser, H., & Riggs, D.W. (Online First 2017). Domestic violence and companion animals in the context of LGBT people’s relationshipsSexualities.

Riggs, D.W., Due, C., & Taylor, N. (2017). “I want to bring him from the aeroplane to here”: The meaning of animals to children of refugee or migrant backgrounds resettled in Australia. Children & Society, 31(3), 219-230.

Riggs, D. W., & Peel, E. (2016). Critical kinship studies: An introduction to the field. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Other research publications (selected)

Australian

Franklin, A. (2007). Human-nonhuman animal relationships in Australia: An overview of results from the first national survey and follow-up case studies 2000–2004. Society & Animals, 15(1), 7-27.

Taylor, N., & Signal, T. (2008). Throwing the baby out with the bathwater: towards a sociology of the human-animal abuse “link”. Sociological Research Online, 13(1).

Taylor, N., & Twine, R. (Eds.) (2014). The rise of Critical Animal Studies: From the margins to the centre. London: Routledge.

International

Ascione, F. R. (1997). Battered women’s reports of their partners’ and their children’s cruelty to animals. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 1(1), 119-133.

Ascione, F., Weber, C., & Wood, D. (1997) The abuse of animals and domestic violence: A national survey of shelters for women who are battered. Society & Animals, 5(3), 205-218.

Carr, S., & Rockett, B. (2017). Fostering secure attachment: Experiences of animal companions in the foster home. Attachment and Human Development, 19(3), 259-277.

Charles, N. (2014). “Animals just love you as you are”: Experiencing kinship across the species barrier. Sociology, 48(4), 715-730.

Charles, N., & Davies, C. A. (2008). My family and other animals: Pets as kin. Sociological Research Online, 13(5).

Collis, G., & McNicholas, J. (1998). A theoretical basis for health benefits of pet ownership: Attachment versus psychological support. In C. Wilson & D. Turner (Eds.), Companion Animals in Human Health (pp. 105-122). London: Sage.

Crawford, E.K., Worsham, N.L., & Swinehart, E.R. (2006). Benefits derived from companion animals, and the use of the term “attachment”. Anthrozoos, 19(2), 98-112.

DeGue, S., & DiLillo, D. (2009). Is animal cruelty a “red flag” for family violence? Investigating co-occurring violence toward children, partners, and pets. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24(6), 1036-1056.

DeMello, M. (2012). Animals and society: An introduction to human-animal studies. New York: Columbia University Press.

Faver, C.A., & Strand, E.B. (2003). Domestic violence and animal cruelty: Untangling the web of abuse. Journal of Social Work Education, 39(2), 237-253.

Flynn, C. (2000). Woman’s best friend: Pet abuse and the role of companion animals in the lives of battered women. Violence Against Women, 6(2), 162-177.

George, K. A., Slagle, K. M., Wilson, R. S., Moeller, S. J., & Bruskotter, J. T. (2016). Changes in attitudes toward animals in the United States from 1978 to 2014. Biological Conservation, 201, 237-242.

Gilbey, A., & Tani, K. (2015). Companion animals and loneliness: A systematic review of quantitative studies. Anthrozoos, 28(2), 181-197.

Podberscek, A. L., Paul, E. S., & Serpell, J. A. (Eds.). (2000). Companion animals and us: Exploring the relationships between people and pets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Power, E. (2008). Furry families: Making a human-dog family through home. Social and Cultural Geography, 9(5), 535-555.

Pręgowski, M. P. (Ed.). (2016). Companion animals in everyday life: Situating human-animal engagement within cultures. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Putney, J. (2014). Older lesbian adults’ psychological wellbeing: The significance of pets. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 26(1), 1-17.

Risley-Curtis, C., Holley, L.C., & Kodiene, S. (2011). “They’re there for you”: Men’s relationships with companion animals. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 92(4), 412-418.

Serpell, J. (1996). In the company of animals: A study of human-animal relationships. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.