"Souldog": The Perceived Impact of Companion Animals on Older Lesbian Adults




Putney, Jennifer, “"Souldog": The Perceived Impact of Companion Animals on Older Lesbian Adults,” Scholar@Simmons, accessed April 4, 2020, https://beatleyweb.simmons.edu/scholar/items/show/249.


"Souldog": The Perceived Impact of Companion Animals on Older Lesbian Adults


Putney, Jennifer




This qualitative study investigated the perceived impact of companion animals on the psychological well-being of lesbian women over age 65. Twelve women, ranging in age from 65-80, were interviewed with a semi-structured interview guide. The sample was gathered through purposeful and snowball sampling strategies.

The findings suggest that human-animal interaction contributed to six dimensions of psychological well-being as conceptualized by Ryff (1989): self-acceptance, positive relations with others, personal growth, purpose in life, autonomy, and environmental mastery. Animals are integral to the chosen kinship network of some lesbian elders; in addition, animals can attenuate isolation. Caregiving for animals represents a meaningful responsibility; conversely, caregiving is also stressful. Companion animals can function as safe attachments figures in light of traumatic experiences. Additionally, animals contribute to the adaptation of this respondent group to stressful life events, which included isolation and hostility secondary to heterosexism. However, bereavement related to the loss of animals can precipitate a grief reaction.

The author offers the term “relational ecology” to explain how animals contribute to well-being. This integrates the growth task model of human development (Weick, 1983), liminality (Turner, 1969), object relations theory (Winnicott, 1956), and deep ecology (Ungar, 2002).
Social workers are uniquely suited to help older lesbian adults maintain relationships with animals for as long as possible. Social workers must understand human-animal interactions within the context of older lesbian adults’ fears of health decline and associated fear of transitioning into health care settings that may be homophobic and may disallow animals. Implications for practice include the importance of asking about pets in biopsychosocial assessments and validating the grief that can result from an animal’s death. Suicide prevention can include consideration of how animals might be a protective factor. The author introduced a framework for assessing how the health of older adults can intersect with their pets’ health.


Simmons College (Boston, Mass.)


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Doctoral Dissertations