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Lifesaving in Every Way: The Role of Companion Animals in the Lives of Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Adults Age 50 and Over


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This study uses mixed-methods data and a life-course perspective to explore the role of pets in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adults age 50 and over and addresses the following research questions: (1) How does having a pet relate to perceived social support and social network size? and (2) how do LGBT older adults describe the meaning of pets in their lives? The qualitative data (N = 59) were collected from face-to-face interviews, and the quantitative data (N = 2,560) were collected via surveys from a sample across the United States. Qualitative findings show that pets are characterized as kin and companions and provide support; we also explore why participants do not have pets. The quantitative findings show that LGBT older adults with a pet had higher perceived social support; those with a disability and limited social network size, who had a pet had significantly higher perceived social support than those without a pet.
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Lifesaving in Every
Way: The Role of
Companion Animals
in the Lives of Older
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,
and Transgender Adults
Age 50 and Over
Anna Muraco
, Jennifer Putney
, Chengshi Shiu
and Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen
This study uses mixed-methods data and a life-course perspective to explore
the role of pets in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)
adults age 50 and over and addresses the following research questions:
(1) How does having a pet relate to perceived social support and social
network size? and (2) how do LGBT older adults describe the meaning of
pets in their lives? The qualitative data (N¼59) were collected from face-to-
face interviews, and the quantitative data (N¼2,560) were collected via
surveys from a sample across the United States. Qualitative findings show
that pets are characterized as kin and companions and provide support; we
also explore why participants do not have pets. The quantitative findings
show that LGBT older adults with a pet had higher perceived social support;
Department of Sociology, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Simmons College, Boston, MA, USA
School of Social Work, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Anna Muraco, Department of Sociology, Loyola Marymount University, One LMU Drive,
Los Angeles, CA 90045, USA.
Research on Aging
ªThe Author(s) 2018
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0164027517752149
those with a disability and limited social network size, who had a pet had
significantly higher perceived social support than those without a pet.
LGBT older adults, pets, social support, life course
The population of adults age 65 and older in the United States is becoming
more diverse and growing steadily, with estimates that it will double by 2050
(Ortman, Velkoff, & Hogan, 2014). Historically, one segment of this grow-
ing population, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adults, have
been understudied, resulting in inadequate services, elevated health risks, and
a need for more research (Fredriksen-Goldsen & Muraco, 2010; Institute of
Medicine, 2011). Two areas that require further inquiry are the risk and
protective factors associated with health and mental health outcomes and
the role of social support in its various forms (Fredriksen-Goldsen & Muraco,
2010; Muraco & Fredriksen-Goldsen, 2011).
In the United States, the role of companion animals, hereafter to be
referred to as “pets,” is also growing. Approximately 68%of U.S. households
include a pet (American Pet Products International, 2014), and pets are often
considered family members (Risley-Curtiss et al., 2006). Although empirical
research on human–animal interaction has shown positive health effects of
having a pet, the evidence provides inconsistent results (Herzog, 2011); in
theoretical works, the human–animal bond has been addressed as an impor-
tant form of kinship (Haraway, 2003; McKeithen, 2017). Studies of human–
animal interactions need to further examine the connection between having a
pet and social support, the relationship between having a pet a physical and
mental health, and the meanings that older adults subjectively ascribe to the
benefits and challenges of having a pet.
This study bridges the gaps in research about LGBT older adults’ social
support and the role of pets. Our mixed-methods study uses a life-course
perspective and examines survey and interview data from LGBT adults, age
50 and older, to examine how pet ownership relates to social resources,
including social support and networks, as well as to understand how pet
owners perceive pets’ roles in their lives. The study is comprised of data
from (N¼2,560) surveys from the national Aging with Pride study and
in-depth face-to-face interviews (n¼59) with a subsample of survey parti-
cipants. These data were collected between 2010 and 2014 and include
questions about background characteristics, mental and physical health
2Research on Aging XX(X)
status, social networks, presence of a pet, and the significance of a pet in
participants’ lives.
At the theoretical foundation of the study is a life-course perspective, par-
ticularly, the understanding that aging is a process that is shaped by cumu-
lative life experiences and dependent upon opportunities that exist within a
given social context (Dannefer & Settersten, 2010). Within this framework,
we consider how experiences within the life course intersect with the roles of
pets in later life. Structural contexts that have shaped the lives of LGBT older
adults include the history of criminalization and stigmatization of the same-
sex identities and a lack of legal protections (Hammack & Cohler, 2011;
Muraco & Fredriksen-Goldsen, 2016) but also the construction of chosen
families as a network to provide support when other forms were not readily
available (Weston, 1991). The life-course perspective addresses how cumu-
lative experience and thus the aging process itself is highly variable among
individuals and groups (Dannefer & Settersten, 2010), which can affect and
be affected by social ties.
The background of this study derives from three areas of inquiry: the
role of social support in aging, sexual and gender minority populations in
midlife and later life, and the human–animal bond. We will briefly describe
each here.
Emerging literature suggests that perceived social support has direct and
indirect effects on physical and mental health (Bekele, Carroll, Roux,
Fitzpatrick, & Seeman, 2013). Higher levels of social support are protective
against metabolic processes, such as inflammation, chronic pain, and phys-
ical aging in later life, by reducing older adults’ experience of the physiolo-
gical stress response (Carroll, Roux, Fitzpatrick, & Seeman, 2013).
Conversely, among older adults, depressive symptoms are positively corre-
lated with a small social network, living alone without a partner, and low
emotional support (Sonnenberg et al., 2013). In addition, results from a
racially/ethnically diverse community sample of men and women found that
low social support is associated with increased cellular aging in adults aged
65 and older (Carroll et al., 2013). Despite the documented risk and protec-
tive factors associated with varying levels of perceived social support, there
is little consensus in the literature about how to define it. Based on the work
of Sherbourne and Stewart (1991), this study draws on a multidimensional
model of social support that includes tangible aspects of support (i.e., pro-
vision of material aid), emotional–informational (i.e., empathic
Muraco et al. 3
understanding and guidance), positive social interaction (i.e., availability of
others to engage in activities), and affectionate support (i.e., love).
Data from Aging with Pride: The National Health, Aging and Sexuality
Study (NHAS) demonstrate that sexual and gender minorities in midlife and
later life are at elevated risk for disability, poor physical health, and depres-
sion (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2013; Wallace, Cochran, Durazo, & Ford,
2011). Results from a population-based study show that lesbian and bisexual
women have higher odds than heterosexual women of having a disability and
poor mental health; gay and bisexual men also have higher odds than hetero-
sexual men of having disability, as well as poor physical and mental health
(Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2013). Existing research also demonstrates that
social resources play an important role in resilience and quality of life of
LGBT older adults (Fredriksen-Goldsen, Kim, Shiu, Goldsen, & Emlet,
2015). Other research suggests that the social support networks of older
LGBT adults are characterized by closer ties to friends and neighbors, in
contrast to the reliance on biological family that is the cornerstone of social
support for most heterosexual older adults (Brennan-Ing, Seidel, Larson, &
Karpiak, 2014). Earlier work with a sample of 220 lesbian, gay, and bisexual
adults age 50 and over demonstrated that social support, specifically from
friends, was associated with less depression and less anxiety, but support
from family did not have the same effect (Masini & Barrett, 2008). These
findings shine a light on the ways in which sources of social support might be
associated with positive health-related outcomes for LGBT older adults.
However, much remains to be understood about who LGBT older adults
identify as sources of support, the relationship between social resources and
physical and mental health among LGBT seniors, and the factors that
enhance their perceptions of social support.
A small but emerging area of inquiry has demonstrated positive effects of
having a pet; however, this remains a contested hypothesis. Limited prior
research suggests that the presence of a pet can improve an individual’s
symptoms associated with a disability or chronic illness. Human–animal
bonds appear to act in similar ways to more traditional social supports with
improved outcomes documented in individuals with depression, AIDS, and
dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies show gender differences in
attitudes toward and reasons for having animal companions. Women without
children demonstrate greater levels of attachment to their companion animals
and value their company, need for care, and entertainment (Herzog, 2007;
Ramon, 2010); women were also more likely than men to report that they
keep a companion animal to avoid loneliness and get them through hard
times, though the differences between men and women were small (Staats,
4Research on Aging XX(X)
Wallace, & Anderson, 2008). By remaining nonjudgmental, providing an
outlet for love and attachment, day-to-day comfort through their reliable
presence, and imparting episode-specific support during times of heightened
stress, it has been advanced that pets increase individuals’ perceived social
support (Hutton, 2015; Siegel, Angulo, Detels, Wesch, & Mullen, 1999). Pets
appear to make a unique contribution to helping fulfill their owners’ needs
related to belongingness and meaningful existence, but this is independent of
their level of human social support. In other words, pets seem to complement
rather than substitute for human support (McConnell, Brown, Shoda, Stay-
ton, & Martin, 2011). In a landmark study, Serpell (1991) showed that
compared to a control group of people who did not adopt a pet, those who
acquired a cat or dog showed subsequent improvement in exercise, health,
and psychological well-being at 10-month follow-up.
For older adults, specifically, research examining the impacts of having
a pet has produced inconsistent results. Antonacopoulos and Pychyl (2008)
suggest that animals provide social support and companionship, thereby
reducing participants’ experience of stress. Qualitative research with a
sample (n¼12) of lesbian identified women 65 and over suggested that
human–animal interaction supported specific aspects of psychological
well-being including connection to others (Putney, 2014). Pet ownership
has also been demonstrated to maintain or even elevate older adults’ capa-
cities to perform activities of daily living (Raina, Waltner-Toews, Bonnett,
Woodward, & Abernathy, 1999). Conversely, some research has not
demonstrated physical or psychological benefits of having an animal
among the elderly (Parslow, Jorm, Christensen, Rodgers, & Jacomb,
2005). For example, animals can pose hazards in the form of risk of falls
and bone fractures for older adults (Pluijm et al., 2006). Additionally,
among a convenience sample of community-dwelling older adults over
60 years old, pet ownership could not explain the variance is health status
(Winefield, Black, & Chur-Hansen, 2008).
The following questions emerge as these findings are considered
together. Specifically, given their experiences over the life course, among
sexual and gender minorities in midlife and later life, does having a pet
relate to perceived social support and social network size? Given the dis-
proportionately high rate of disability among LGBT older adults, how does
the presence of a pet impact the perceptions of social support among LGBT
older adults with a disability as compared to those who do not have a
disability? Finally, to understand how pets may influence perceptions of
social support, how do LGBT midlife and older adults describe the meaning
of pets in their lives?
Muraco et al. 5
This study used qualitative and quantitative data from Aging with Pride:
National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study (Fredriksen-Goldsen
& Kim, 2017). In this study, the project investigators collaborated with 11
community organizations across the United States and surveyed 2,560 LGBT
midlife and older adults aged 50 and older. The surveys asked questions
about lifetime and current experiences, health, and well-being of LGBT older
adults. Inclusion criteria were that participants were aged 50 or older, self-
identified as LGBT, or engaged in sexual behavior or were in a romantic
relationship with someone of the same sex or gender. For more in-depth
information about the study design and methodology, see Fredriksen-
Goldsen et al. (2013).
The qualitative interview data were collected in the Greater Los Angeles
area in two time periods between 2011 and 2014. The total sample size for the
qualitative analysis is 59 (N¼59). Trained researchers interviewed a sub-
sample (n¼35) from the cross-sectional study in 2011–2012, Aging with
Pride (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2011). Survey participants who indicated that
they were willing to participate in future research were contacted by the
research team via a mailed letter, and those who responded to the inquiry were
screened for participation by phone via a short set of demographic questions
and, during that phone call, interviews were scheduled for a later time. Inclu-
sion criteria for interview participants were as outlined above as well as that
participants live within a drivable radius (30 miles or less) of Los Angeles. Six
months later, 24 additional interviews using the same set of interview ques-
tions were collected as a means of increasing the sample diversity. These
second set of participants were recruited into the study through a mix of
convenience and snowball sampling starting with an older lesbian community
member who had worked with LGBT and HIV-related organizations in the
region. This individual assisted with targeted recruitment to increase the diver-
sity in the sample’s racial, socioeconomic, and sexual orientation representa-
tion. Additionally, the researchers sent fliers to other local organizations to
recruit participants. As was the case with original participants, individuals who
contactedthe project were screened for participation by phone via a short set of
demographic questions, and subsequently, interviews were scheduled. The
inclusion criteria for the additional set of interviewees were the same as the
first: age 50 and over, self-identify as LGBT, and live within a drivable radius.
All study procedures were reviewed and approved by the institutional review
boards at the authors’ institutions.
6Research on Aging XX(X)
Qualitative data were collected in face-to-face interviews with LGBT adults,
age 50 and older, at a time and location of their choice where privacy could
be insured. Most interviews were conducted in their homes or at a local
LGBT center that serves midlife and older adults. A few interviews were
carried out in public locations such as shopping centers and cafes, in which
cases, the researcher and interviewee sat in the location that provided the
greatest level of privacy. Prior to beginning the interview, the participant
reviewed and signed an informed consent form. At the end of the interview,
participants were each paid US$25 as a token of appreciation for their time
and participation in the study; the study and remuneration funds were sup-
ported by a federal grant from the National Institute on Aging, R01
AG026526 (Fredriksen-Goldsen, PI).
The interviews were between 45 and 90 min and were audio-recorded
with the permission of the participant. Interviewers were experienced in
working with these populations and trained in methods and techniques for
effective interviewing of LGBT older adults. The semistructured interview
began with the interviewer building rapport with the participant and asking
questions intended to elicit conversation. The interview questions addressed
a range of topics about health, aging, support networks, relationships, hous-
ing, important life events, experiences of discrimination, and caregiving. In
some cases, the participant discussed their pet prior to being asked any
specific questions about pets. One of the questions in the interview protocol
directly asked participants whether they currently had a pet and if so, what
was that pet’s role in their life. If the participant did not have a pet, we asked
a follow-up question about why they did not have a pet. When the interviews
were conducted in the participants’ home, the interviewer often saw pets, and
then asked whether the participants had other pets. The interview protocol
did not include questions about the role of pets throughout participants’ lives,
but some participants offered that information.
Quantitative data were collected using a set of questions that determined
whether an individual had a pet, social support, and health-related measures
and demographic questions. The specific questions are detailed below.
Having a pet. An item, “Do you have a pet or pets?” was asked and partici-
pants were categorized into either having or not having pets.
Perceived social support. Perceived social support was measured by the abbre-
viated Social Support Instrument (Sherbourne & Stewart, 1991) and used
Muraco et al. 7
four questions to assess available social support. The social support measure
assesses four dimensions of support including tangible, emotional–informa-
tional, positive social interaction, and affectionate, for example, “someone to
love and make you feel wanted.” The participants rated each question from 1
(never)to4(always). A composite score was calculated, averaging across the
4 items with higher scores representing greater support (Cronbach’s a¼.85).
Social network size. Social network size was determined by participants’ self-
report of the number of people they typically interacted within a month.
The total size of social network was computed into quartiles to handle
skewed distributions and dichotomized into the lowest quartile (25%)
versus higher quartiles.
Disability. We followed the recommendations in Healthy People 2020 (Office
of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2010) and defined disability by
participants’ affirmative response to either of the two questions: “Are you
limited in any way in any activities because of your physical, mental, or
emotional problems?” or “Do you now have any health problem that requires
you to use special equipment?”
Demographic characteristics. Demographic characteristics included age (ran-
ged 50–95), biological sex (female vs. male), education (high school and
below vs. some college and above), poverty (living at or below vs. above
200%of federal poverty level), and race and ethnicity (White, Hispanic,
African American, and others).
Analytic Strategies
Qualitative data. Each of the interviews was transcribed verbatim and then
reviewed for accuracy by the lead author. The authors coded Word docu-
ments where data that were relevant for a theme had been copied and pasted
from the full interview transcript. The lead author initially coded the tran-
scripts by examining the participant responses to questions about pets, “Do
you have a pet and what is your pet’s role in your life?,” and by searching the
rest of the interview transcript for mentions of pets. The first author con-
ducted nearly all the interviews with participants and made some initial
jottings about pets in notes after leaving the interview session. A trained
undergraduate research assistant also reviewed the data transcripts to identify
all instances where pets were discussed throughout the interviews.
8Research on Aging XX(X)
The data were coded through the process of open coding (Charmaz, 2006;
Saldana, 2016), where the material was reviewed repeatedly in order to
identify common themes or concepts that emerged from the interviews. The
lead author initially identified the codes using In Vivo coding, which focused
on the language that participants used in their discussion of pets (Saldana,
2016). Such initial codes included participants’ description of pets as “kids”
or “family” and differentiated participants who had pets but did not use this
terminology. The data from participants without pets were also In Vivo
coded according to their responses about why did not have a pet. The first
author continued the In Vivo coding process by examining what role pets as
kids or family played in participants’ lives, which is how the themes of kin,
companion, and support developed. While there is overlap between these
three themes in that kin provide companionship and support, companionship
may be characterized as a form of support, and so on, the themes were
differentiated according to the language used by participants. Thus, the codes
were not a priori or initially derived from the prior research on human–pet
interactions rather they emerged from the words spoken by the participants.
Quantitative data. The missing data rate for the pet question was 7.5%; there-
fore, the final sample size for this analysis was 2,364 as we employed
complete-case analysis. Next, descriptive statistics were applied to examine
study sample demographics and other variables of interest. Bivariate analy-
ses were conducted to compare those with pet versus without subsamples
regarding the selected factors. Finally, stratified, multivariable linear regres-
sions were utilized to estimate the relationships between having a pet, social
network size, and perceived social support in the context of disability. To
further test the potential effects of having a pet, we also included an inter-
action term between having a pet and social network size. Model fit indices
(Akaike Information Critierion (AIC) and Bayesian Information Criterion
(BIC)) as well as likelihood ratio test were used to assist decision-making
regarding whether the interaction term increased model fit. Huber–White
robust estimator was applied to calculate the standard errors. All the statis-
tical analyses were conducted in Stata 14 (StataCorp, 2015).
Qualitative Findings
The qualitative findings from the study provide rich data that illustrate the
role of pets in participants’ lives. Of the 59 qualitative interviewees,
Muraco et al. 9
35 currently reported that they have pets (59.32%); there was not a distin-
guishable pattern by gender, sexual orientation, or race related to having a
pet. The demographic profile of the sample was 36 male and 23 female
participants and by sexual orientation, 35 gay men, 18 lesbians, 4 bisexual
(1 woman and 3 men), and 2 other (both men). None of the participants
indicated that they were gender nonbinary, meaning that all participants
identified as male or female. Three participants identified as transgender
(two male and one female). Participants ranged in age from 54 to 88 with
a mean of 68.16 years. Twenty participants were aged 50–64, 33 aged 65–79,
and 6 aged 80þ. By race, the sample was 41 White and 17 people of color
(including 7 Black, 8 Latino, and 2 other), and 1 declined to state. Relation-
ship statuses were 25 partnered or married, 33 single, and 1 other. Of the
sample, only five individuals (three men and two women) had children. We
have divided the participants into three income categories: 20 participants
under US$20,000, 17 participants at US$21,000 to US$74,000, 16 partici-
pants at $75,000 and above, and 6 decline to state. In presenting the results,
we have assigned pseudonyms to the participants to preserve confidentiality.
Participants with pets typically describe them in affectionate terms. In the
following section, we address the primary ways in which the participants
characterize the important role that pets play in their lives, which are that pets
serve as kin, affect mental and physical health, and provide a sense of con-
nection and love. Not all participants view their animal companions as having
a central role in their lives, which we also address in the findings. We also
address the self-reported reasons why some participants do not have pets.
Pets as kin. Participants often characterize their animal companions in famil-
ial terms. Patricia, a 77-year-old Black lesbian, who has a dog and a cat
stated: “I also consider them my little family for right now, my biological
family, nuclear family has died.” She continues, “the animals and my room-
mate comprise my little family.” Some participants characterize their pets as
their children. For instance, Matthew, a 60-year-old partnered gay White
man, described his and his partner’s two miniature dachshunds: “They’re
just like our kids” and noted that the dogs have been an integral part of their
life for the 31 years they’ve been together. Similarly, Letitia, a 72-year-old
Latina lesbian who has been partnered with Miller for 37 years, noted of their
two dogs, “They are like our children.” Some participants, however,
expressed a different view. For example, Fred, a 78-year-old Black man,
said, “They’re just dogs and cats. They’re not people. I’m not one of those
people that they fulfill everything they’re not my children. They’re dogs and
cats and I like them. If they die, they’re dead. I’ll bury them in the yard.”
10 Research on Aging XX(X)
Pets as support. Gladys, a 69-year-old White lesbian, characterized the role of
her pets in her life: “Everything. They mean everything to me.” She further
summarized how pets provide support:
The dog for me is God’s special gift to those of us who wouldn’t be able to
survive on the planet without them. They get you through and if you have a
particularly difficult life and you don’t have a dog you may not make it. It is the
difference between making it and not making it, that’s what a dog is as far as
I’m concerned that’s what I consider a dog to be, life-saving in every way.
Pets also contribute to social support by expanding participants’ human networks
and keeping them active. Leslie, who is a 65-year-old White lesbian, stated,
I’ve met most of my friends through my dogs, actually. There was a large group
of us that used to walk up in [a local] Park every Sunday morning and [my close
friends] were part of that ...I’ve met a lot of people through the dogs and it’s
also, well, they’re good for getting you out again and, you know, exercise.
Many participants noted that they suffer from physical and mental health
conditions and that their pets help them cope. Gabriel, a 69-year-old Latino
gay man, has two cats and explained:
I adore them. They’re an incredible support system and we take care of each
other. When I’ve had anxiety episodes, sad or cry, they are on me. They make
sure that they’re right there. I couldn’t imagine walking into my environment
and not having these guys there. I look forward to coming in. I talk to them like
they were kids. I tell them when I’m coming back, or be a little longer. I
apologize if I haven’t done something.
Alberto, a 58-year-old Latino gay man, who lives in a homeless shelter
regularly visits his sister’s pets which: “[helps] me with my depression.”
Cynthia, a 65-year-old White lesbian, said, “I’d be so depressed if I didn’t
have a cat.” Some participants credit their pets with motivating them to stay
alive. Ernest, who is a 59-year-old Black gay man with HIV disease and
severe depression, explained how central a role his dog plays in his life:
If there hadn’t had been him, I would’ve had no reason to ever get out of bed,
[for] many days, many weeks, but because he has to be walked twice a day,
every day, that excuse is out the window. I have to get up and because I have to
get up, I have to take medicine and because I have to take medicine, I have to
eat. He’s been my lifeline the past three years.
Muraco et al. 11
Pets as companions. One of the most common interview responses was that
pets are a source of companionship. Michael, a 67-year-old gay White man,
explained: “My cat plays the role of someone who keeps me company a lot at
home.” He noted further noted:
When I first became [HIV] positive, someone told me, why don’t you get a pet?
So, I did, I always had a cat. This is the third one since then, so I think that plays
an important role. Even when I was in a relationship just something to take care
of; there is unconditional love from animals.
Rafael, a 72-year-old Latino gay man, characterized his three cats as “a
source of love” and “companionship. [They’re] very sweet.” Kendra, a
58-year-old White bisexual woman, explained that her cats are “important
to me because I live alone and they’re my companions.”
No pets. Many participants explained why they did not have pets. Frank, a
72-year-old White gay man, gave away his dog because
I was trying to train her with rope and she would run off and I’d end up with
rope burns, or she would be so excited and she would walk around me and trip
me or other people and I realized I was too old [to train a strong, young dog].
Others like Jack, a 63-year-old White man, explained that he “[doesn’t want
to have to clean up after a dog. And I like, I live alone so I can do what I
want when I want.” Several participants are renters who live in buildings
that prohibit pets, which limits their ability to have a dog or cat. Marcia,
who is a 52-year-old White transwoman, explained that she has a prescrip-
tion for a service animal and has “wanted a dog for years” but has a troubled
relationship with the owner of her building and neighbors and, therefore,
“fears that the owner” would find a reason to evict her, even though she can
have a pet legally.
Quantitative Findings
Table 1 summarizes the overall sample characteristics as well as the results
of the bivariate analyses. Among the sample, 37%were female, 23.5%were
people of color, 31%were at or below 200%of the federal poverty level, 8%
had high school or less education, and 47%had a disability. Forty-four
percent (43.9%,n¼1,039) of the participants had at least one pet. Compared
to those without pets, participants with a pet were more likely to be younger,
12 Research on Aging XX(X)
female, above 200%of the federal poverty level, and more likely to have a
disability. Those with pets also had higher levels of social support.
Table 2 presents the model fitting results for the stratified multivariable
linear regression models. As summarized in Model 1, the results reveal that
among LGBT older adults, both social network size and having a pet are
independently associated with perceived social support, even after control-
ling for demographic characteristics and for both participants living with or
without a disability. Compared to those with a larger social network size,
having the smallest social network size (25%quartile) was associated with a
.30 (SE ¼.06, p< .01) unit decrease in perceived social support for partici-
pants with a disability and a .38 (SE ¼.06, p< .01) unit decrease for
participants without a disability. In contrast, compared with participants
having no pets, having a pet was associated with a .19 (SE ¼.05, p< .01)
unit increase in perceived social support for participants with a disability and
Table 1. Quantitative Data Demographic Characteristics and Bivariate Analysis.
Background Characteristics Total Sample Pet(s) No Pets p
N2,364 1,039 1,326
% 100.00 43.93 56.07
Demographic backgrounds
Age (mean, SD) 66.41 (9.10) 64.56 (8.37) 67.88 (9.37) <.001
Female (%) 36.71 49.02 27.08 <.001
Race/ethnicity .15
White (%) 86.50 88.29 85.11
Hispanic (%) 3.53 3.68 5.02
Black (%) 5.53 3.00 3.95
Others (%) 4.43 5.03 5.93
200% Federal poverty level (%)
At or below 30.66 28.30 32.57 .03
High school or less (%) 7.54 7.54 8.40 .45
Psychosocial factors
Perceived social support
(mean, SD)
3.08 (.79) 3.19 (.76) 2.99 (.80) <.001
Social network size
Lowest quartile (%) 24.32 24.45 24.21 .90
Any disability (%) 47.13 49.85 45.00 .02
Muraco et al. 13
a.11(SE ¼.05, p< .05) unit increase for participants without a disability.
However, as shown in Model 2, the interaction term between having a pet
and social network size was significantly associated with perceived social
support only among participants with a disability (b¼.29, SE ¼.11, p< .05).
The model fit indices as well as the likelihood ratio test further suggested that
the model fit significantly improved from Model 1 to Model 2 only for the
subsample of LGBT midlife and older adults with a disability.
Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between having a pet, social network
size, and perceived social support by disability group (those with vs. without
Table 2. Quantitative Outcome: Social Support by Disability Status.
Disability No Disability
Model 1 Model 2 Model 1 Model 2
Age .007* (.003) .007** (.003) .002 (.003) .002 (.003)
Female (vs. male) .20** (.05) .20** (.05) .17** (.06) .17** (.05)
Hispanic (vs. White) .06 (.13) .07 (.13) .08 (.12) .08 (.12)
Black (vs. White) .05 (.14) .03 (.14) .27** (.10) .27** (.10)
Others (vs. White) .08 (.11) .10 (.11) .05 (.13) .05 (.13)
200% Federal poverty level
Above (vs. at or
.30** (.05) .30** (.05) .27** (.06) .27** (.06)
> High school
(vs. HS)
.20* (.10) .20* (.10) .14 (.10) .14 (.10)
Social network size
Lowest 25%
(vs. 26–100%)
.30** (.06) .43** (.08) .38** (.06) .38** (.07)
Pet(s) (vs. no pet(s)) .19** (.05) .11
(.06) .11* (.05) .12* (.05)
Social Network Size Pet
Pet Social Network
.29* (.11) .01 (.11)
Constant 2.93** (.22) 2.96** (.21) 3.80** (.18) 3.80** (.19)
AIC 1,924.026 1,971.502 2,129.913 2,178.950
BIC 1,919.563 1,971.786 2,131.905 2,185.847
Likelihood ratio test w
(1) ¼6.46, p¼.011 w
(1) ¼0.01, p¼.933
p< .10. *p< .05. **p< .01.
14 Research on Aging XX(X)
a disability). As shown, LGBT older adults with a pet had higher perceived
social support, regardless of their disability status, particularly when they had
a larger social network size. However, for LGBT older adults with a dis-
ability and limited social network size, those with a pet had significantly
higher perceived social support than did those without a pet.
Both the qualitative and quantitative findings suggest that having a pet is
beneficial to the LGBT older adults in our study, which is consistent with
some of the past studies (Antonacopoulos & Pychyl, 2008; Putney, 2014;
Raina et al., 1999). Some of the unique contributions of the study are that it
expands our understanding of the lives of LGBT older adults and through the
quantitative results, the role of pets in increasing their perceptions of social
support. The qualitative results illustrate the ways in which the LGBT older
adult participants experience their pets’ roles in their lives. In the remainder
of this article, we address each of these contributions.
Through the lens of a life-course perspective, the study results illustrate
how the aging process for these LGBT older adults has been shaped by the
social contexts in which they have lived. For example, prohibitions on legal
same-sex marriage and adoption over the course of current cohorts’ lives, in
addition to the AIDS/HIV epidemic that killed and disabled many who were
part of this cohort, may make pets especially meaningful forms of social
Figure 1. Having a pet by disability status and social network size and perceived
social support.
Muraco et al. 15
support for LGBT older adults. Our qualitative findings illustrate that pets
provide kinship and support in various ways. Two interviewees with HIV
disease characterized their pets as a “life line” and “someone who keeps me
company,” respectively. While HIV disease is not confined to LGBT popu-
lations, the historical context of HIV’s disproportionate effect on gay and
bisexual men may particularly shape the importance of pets to our study
participants. The qualitative results also show that having a pet, particularly
a dog, can also help LGBT older adults remain physically active and engaged
in their communities, which promotes mental and physical health.
The quantitative results show demographic differences within the sam-
ple: LGBT older adults who had a pet, compared to those who did not
have a pet, were more likely to be younger, female, higher income, and
living with a disability.
Women’s greater tendency to have pets may be related to prior research
findings that show their greater desire for companionship, having someone to
care for (Herzog, 2007; Ramon, 2010; Staats et al., 2008), and, as illustrated
in the qualitative findings as well, to “get you through” hard times. Yet,
existing studies caution the emphasis on gender differences with respect to
attitudes toward or attachment to companion animals, since the effect sizes
tend to be small and there is a great deal of overlap between men’s and
women’s experiences (Herzog, 2007). Moreover, we do not know how con-
ventional gender norms may be differently articulated and experienced
within LGBT older adult samples.
As illustrated in both the quantitative and qualitative results, having a pet
is not equally available for all LGBT older adults. The financial costs of pet
care present a challenge to people living on a limited income or in poverty
(Putney, 2014) or who rely on subsidized forms of housing that do not allow
renters to have pets. Accordingly, the quantitative results show that those
who have pets have higher incomes than those without the pets. Some older
adults do not want to have a companion animal due to the inconvenience of
having to care for a pet (Chur-Hansen, Winefield, & Beckwith, 2008). Mobi-
lity issues are also a consideration; for example, Frank noted that he needed
to surrender his dog because he could not physically handle training him, and
prior research notes that having a pet can increase the risk of falls (Pluijm
et al., 2006). Thus, LGBT older adults’ decisions to have a pet are con-
strained by external factors.
The finding that younger participants of the study are more likely to have
pets is consistent with prior research (Saunders, Parast, Babey, & Miles,
2017), though being younger was also correlated with being in better health.
Having a pet may be particularly important for LGBT older adults, given
16 Research on Aging XX(X)
their higher rates of depression, disability, and loneliness compared to het-
erosexual peers (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2013; Wallace et al., 2011).
Many LGBT older adults have different family and household structures
than heterosexuals: Half of older gay men live alone, as compared to
13.4%of heterosexuals, and about 1/3 of older gay men are married or living
with a partner, as compared to 3/4 of their heterosexual counterparts (Wal-
lace et al., 2011). One quarter of older lesbians live alone, as compared to 1/5
of older heterosexual women, and about 1/2 of older lesbians are married or
living with a partner, as compared to 2/3 of older heterosexual women
(Wallace et al., 2011). According to the quantitative results, pets appear to
make a unique contribution to helping fulfill their adopters’ needs related to
belongingness and meaningful existence, but this is independent of their
level of human social support. In other words, consistent with prior research
findings, pets seem to complement rather than substitute for human support
(McConnell et al., 2011). Given the differences in relationship status and
household composition, however, having a pet may be more consequential
for LGBT older adults in providing companionship, support, and affection
when their networks are otherwise limited.
The study findings also illustrate the ways that some LGBT older adults
exercise agency and build support by choosing to live with a pet. Many
LGBT older adults have built and maintained the same-sex relationships,
and some participants have partners and close friends to assist them if they
need help. Yet, many of our study participants live alone, do not have chil-
dren (or ongoing close relationships with them), and do not have partners;
thus, many may turn to pets for companionship and affection. Some theore-
tical discussions of human–animal companionship characterize these bonds
as “queering” family relationships, such that pets are substitute children
(Haraway, 2003) and challenge expectations of heteronormativity in expres-
sions of love (McKeithen, 2017). Nast (2006) notes, “Pets have in many ways
become more salient as love objects in post-industrial contexts where fewer
children are available” (p. 900), a characterization that is especially relevant
for current cohorts of LGBT older adults. The qualitative finding that many
of the LGBT older adults in our study compare their pets to children may
represent a substitution of pets as a source and subject of love that were easier
to acquire, given the structural constraints they encountered throughout their
lives. Yet, while providing emotional support and companionship, they can-
not assist with meal preparation, transportation to medical appointments,
ensuring safety, and other types of tangible needs that emerge as people age,
so LGBT older adults who rely upon pets for kinship ties may lack other
types of instrumental support.
Muraco et al. 17
The findings also reveal that generally having a pet was independently
associated with higher levels of perceived social support. However, having a
pet also seemed to compensate for the negative effect of a smaller social
network size on perceived levels of social support, particularly for LGBT
older adults living with disability. When coupled with disability and limited
social network, sexual minority adults with pets had higher perceived social
support than those without pets.
One of the elements that is not clearly borne out in the quantitative
findings is the role of pets for LGBT older adults in our sample who are
partnered or married, as there were no statistically significant results related
to relationship status. In the qualitative interviews, some coupled participants
characterized their pets as children, which may reflect their shared affection
and responsibility toward their animal companions. Because this finding was
also evident for single participants, it is not clear, however, how being in a
committed relationship may influence perceptions of pets. It is also not clear
whether this finding is unique to LGBT older adults or whether it is also true
of heterosexual older adults who are lifelong singles, do not have children, or
are empty nesters. For example, though the total percentage has dropped over
the past 25 years, an estimated 69%of older women live alone (Stepler,
2016); this population may benefit from the companionship of a pet. Future
research is needed to address these issues.
Despite the findings that pets make positive contributions to the lives of
LGBT older adults in our study, we must also consider the downside of pets
being a source of social support. For participants who characterize their pets as
companions, risks of this bond include the death of a pet or the need to surrender
the pet to move into a facility or housing situation that disallows pets. Many
people grieve the loss of the pet similarly to the death of a close family member
and older adults who livealone may feel the loss intensely (Quackenbush, 1984;
Turner, 2003); as such, it is important to consider the types of support older
adults may need when faced with the death or loss of a pet.
While our results point to the positive effect of having a pet for LGBT older
adults, the study relies on cross-sectional data and it is impossible to discern
the direction of the relationship between social support and having a pet. We
know little about how pets contribute to mental and physical health over
time, and this is an area for future inquiry in longitudinal studies of LGBT
adults. Relatedly, though we use a life-course framework for this study, the
interview protocol did not address the role of pets throughout participants’
18 Research on Aging XX(X)
lives; the focus was solely on the experience with pets at the time of the
interview, which presents a limitation to the study. The results show that
among LGBT adults in midlife and older who have a disability, having a pet
likely compensates for the loss of social network size. This finding suggests
the need to understand more about relationships with pets for more general
populations over the life course, particularly those with disabilities.
The study does not also engage with the growing body of research that
examines the relationship between stress, illness, and pets. Researchers have
identified the effects of cumulative stress as “allostatic load,” which occurs
when a person experiences recurrent “fight or flight” responses associated with
stress (Seeman, Singer, Rowe, Horwitz, & McEwen, 1997). The effects of
allostatic load among older adults includephysical and cognitive decline,mem-
ory loss, diabetes, and cardiac disease (Seeman et al., 1997). Given that stress
hormone levels seem to decrease whenpeople interact with their dog (Odendaal,
2000), this can help explain how human–animal interactions may relate to
physical and mental health outcomes. The cumulative effects of minority stress
(Meyer, 2003) could expose LGBT adults to a risk for elevated allostatic load
and associated adverse health consequences. Future research with LGBT adults
can collect data through biomarkers that will shed light on whether pets attenu-
ate stress and ultimately contribute to improved physical and mental health.
Another limitation is that the study focuses only on LGBT older adults
and does not provide comparative data from heterosexual older adults; as a
result, it is unclear whether the findings from this study are consistent across
older adult populations. There is little research about the role of pets in the
lives of older adults, and the existing studies provide contradictory conclu-
sions. Given the projected growth of the population of older adults, the role
of pets is an important area of research that could contribute to our knowl-
edge of health, social support, and other aspects of aging. Moreover, since the
present study shows that having a pet is associated with social resources and
that pets are often considered family members, to gain a fuller understanding
of this relationship and its effects, future research about older adults, partic-
ularly longitudinal studies, should include questions about having a pet,
losing a pet, and constraints to having pets over time.
This study contributes to the gerontological literature by considering how
different forms of social support, including nonhuman ones, affect aging for
LGBT older adults and address the roles that pets play in their lives. The
quantitative results provide evidence that pets can enhance the feelings of
Muraco et al. 19
social support for those with disabilities and limited social networks, while the
qualitative results illustrate how LGBT older adults experience their relation-
ships with pets. While the findings are specific to the study populations, they
have implications for older adults more broadly, particularly as we see the
aging segments assume a larger proportion of our overall population over time.
Authors’ Note
The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily rep-
resent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The lead author would
like to thank the following individuals for their contributions to this research at its
various stages: Hyun-Jun Kim, Freddy Puza, Nerissa Irizarry, Christopher Duke, Kira
Jatoft, Paige Vaughn, Danielle Jaime, Jill Dannis, Aaliyah Jordan, Cole Cavanaugh,
and Kenneth Cavanaugh.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article: Research reported in this publication
was supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health
under Award Number R01 AG026526 (Fredriksen-Goldsen, PI). Additional support
for this work came from the Martin Duberman Fellowship from the Center for
Lesbian and Gay Studies and Loyola Marymount University to Anna Muraco and
from the Hartford Foundation (Fredriksen-Goldsen, PI).
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Author Biographies
Anna Muraco is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Loyola Marymount Univer-
sity in Los Angeles.
Jennifer Putney is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Simmons College in
Chengshi Shiu works in the School of Social Work at the University of Washington.
Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen is a Professor and Director of Healthy Generations
Hartford Center of Excellence in the School of Social Work at the University of
24 Research on Aging XX(X)
... Among older lesbian adults, pet ownership can provide supportive emotional connections and caregiving to promote self-acceptance, positive social ties, personal development, and a sense of purpose (Putney, 2014). Similarly, pets have been shown to promote a sense of social support among older adult LGBTQ+ people, particularly those with a disability who otherwise had limited social network options (Muraco et al., 2018). Research examining the role of pets within the context of domestic violence among LGBTQ+ people finds that companion animals can serve as key sources of support and prompt leaving violent relationships if the abuser victimizes the survivor's pet (Taylor et al., 2019). ...
... Finally, a general sense of positive self-concept around one's LGBTQ+ identity can help queer people dynamically frame their life challenges as growth building rather than simply as liabilities (Schmitz & Tyler, 2019). As companion animals can be critical sources of support for LGBTQ+ people facing distinctive challenges such as homelessness , violence and abuse , and aging processes (Muraco et al., 2018), pets' role in coping processes warrants further examination as possibilities for resilience. To promote a strengths-based understanding of marginalized people's mental well-being that resists the conceptual marginalization of LGBTQ+ lives, we utilize a minority resilience framework to emphasize the myriad ways LGBTQ+ people secure strength and sources of support when navigating societal stigma and stressors (Meyer, 2015;Perrin et al., 2020). ...
... Therefore, the unconditional nature of pet relationships described by participants in this study points to the significant potential of human-animal bonds in cultivating positive well-being on a wider scale, particularly when marginalized people are faced with the often uncertain nature of social dynamics. Among older LGBTQ+ adults specifically, pet ownership has been linked to enhanced feelings of broader social support, which can in turn bolster positive health outcomes (Muraco et al., 2018). Therefore, pets can be distinctively valuable in helping socially marginalized people develop a sense of belonging in the world that often only hinges on human-based supports (Hale et al., 2005). ...
Full-text available
Health disparities persist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ+)-identified people, often shaped by minority stress through anti-LGBTQ+ stigma. Resilience and coping are important for LGBTQ+ people widely, especially through social supports, but further examination is needed into more diverse, expansive mental health assets. Companion animals, or pets, have significant positive mental health benefits in the general population, but more understanding is needed to validate LGBTQ+ people’s lived experiences of minority stress, mental health challenges, and pet-based sources of resilience. We employ the minority resilience framework to ask: What role do pets play in how LGBTQ+ people navigate and cope with stress? This U.S.-based study centers the voices of 45 LGBTQ+ people’s qualitative interview narratives characterizing the diverse coping and resilience-building processes they develop through pet relationships. Findings demonstrate diverse processes surrounding pets as contributing to resilience, as participants emphasized the unique beneficial emotional connections pets provided. Second, pet family members were conceptualized as vital sources of support that promoted thriving. Finally, pet relationships fostered happiness and life enjoyment that augmented participants’ life satisfaction. This study delineates more diverse understandings of how LGBTQ+ people manage stress through their pet relationships, which can provide vital information to service providers and policymakers in more holistically attending to marginalized communities’ health needs.
... B. Ärzt*innen, Psycholog*innen, Ergotherapeut*innen, Physiotherapeut*innen, Sozialarbeiter*innen, Pädagog*innen, usw.) sind eine notwendige Voraussetzung, um Tiere in den jeweiligen Grundberufen professionell einzusetzen. (Fach)-Personen mit Tieren gelten als resilienter (Lass-Hennemann et al., 2020), denn für Menschen jeden Alters (besonders für jene mit erhöhtem Förderbedarf) können Tiere zudem wichtige Bindungspartner sein, die Zuwendung und Trost bieten (Beetz et al., 2012;Graf, 1999;Julius et al., 2013;Kidd & Kidd, 1995;Kurdek, 2009;Muraco et al., 2018;Odendaal & Meintjes, 2003;Pores-ky et al., 1988;Raina et al., 1999;T. D. Smith & Van Valkenburgh, 2021;Wright et al., 2019). ...
... Interessant dabei ist, dass die vorherige Erfahrung mit Tieren keinen signifikanten Einfluss auf diese Bewertung hatte (Schneider & Harley, 2006). Ein Grund könnte sein, dass im Gegensatz zur Psychotherapie, in der vorwiegend mittels Sprache gearbeitet wird, Tiere das Grundbedürfnis (in einigen Fällen auch Nachholbedürfnis) erfüllen können, Wärme, Nähe und Berührung zu erleben (Kurdek, 2009;Muraco et al., 2018). Dies sollte für Tier und Mensch auf freiwilliger Basis entstehen und keine Belastung oder reine Bedürfnisbefriedigung werden. ...
Die Tiergestützte Therapie ist keine eigene Therapieform, sondern ergänzt durch ihren integrativen Ansatz und ihre Methodenvielfalt verschiedene andere Therapien auf wertvolle Weise, um Genesungsprozesse zu fördern. Ähnlichkeiten zur Verhaltenstherapie finden sich hinsichtlich von Erklärungsmodellen und Methoden. Das Wohlbefinden aller beteiligten Lebewesen muss beachtet werden. Dieser Artikel beschriebt Grundlagen, Wirkmechanismen und Ablauf bei der psychotherapeutischen Arbeit mit Tieren und legt dabei den Fokus auf Gemeinsamkeiten zur Verhaltenstherapie anhand von Grundbedürfnissen und Wirkfaktoren.
... B. Ärzt*innen, Psycholog*innen, Ergotherapeut*innen, Physiotherapeut*innen, Sozialarbeiter*innen, Pädagog*innen, usw.) sind eine notwendige Voraussetzung, um Tiere in den jeweiligen Grundberufen professionell einzusetzen. (Fach)-Personen mit Tieren gelten als resilienter (Lass-Hennemann et al., 2020), denn für Menschen jeden Alters (besonders für jene mit erhöhtem Förderbedarf) können Tiere zudem wichtige Bindungspartner sein, die Zuwendung und Trost bieten (Beetz et al., 2012;Graf, 1999;Julius et al., 2013;Kidd & Kidd, 1995;Kurdek, 2009;Muraco et al., 2018;Odendaal & Meintjes, 2003;Pores-ky et al., 1988;Raina et al., 1999;T. D. Smith & Van Valkenburgh, 2021;Wright et al., 2019). ...
... Interessant dabei ist, dass die vorherige Erfahrung mit Tieren keinen signifikanten Einfluss auf diese Bewertung hatte (Schneider & Harley, 2006). Ein Grund könnte sein, dass im Gegensatz zur Psychotherapie, in der vorwiegend mittels Sprache gearbeitet wird, Tiere das Grundbedürfnis (in einigen Fällen auch Nachholbedürfnis) erfüllen können, Wärme, Nähe und Berührung zu erleben (Kurdek, 2009;Muraco et al., 2018). Dies sollte für Tier und Mensch auf freiwilliger Basis entstehen und keine Belastung oder reine Bedürfnisbefriedigung werden. ...
Der Tiergestützten Therapie (TGT) durch ihren integrativen Ansatz und Methodenvielfalt verschiedenste andere Therapien auf wertvolle Weise ergänzen, um Genesungsprozesse zu fördern. Dabei werden oftmals Erklärungsmodelle und Methoden der Verhaltenstherapie angewandt. Das Wohlbefinden aller beteiligten Lebewesen (Patient*in, Tier, Therapeut*in) muss berücksichtigt werden. Dieser Artikel beschreibt Grundlagen, Wirkmechanismen und Ablauf der psychotherapeutischen Arbeit mit Tieren und legt dabei den Fokus auf Gemeinsamkeiten zur Verhaltenstherapie anhand der Grundbedürfnisse und der fünf Wirkfaktoren nach Grawe. Schlüsselwörter: Tiergestützte Therapie (TGT), Verhaltenstherapie (VT), 5 Wirkfaktoren nach Grawe, Grundbedürfnisse.
... Walsh (7) underscores how transgender, non-binary, and older sexual minorities who experience social stigma value the nonjudgmental acceptance of companion pets (8). Additional research from the National Health, Aging and Sexuality Study (NHAS) demonstrates that sexual and gender minorities in midlife and later life are at elevated risk for disability, poor physical health, and depression (9). Nevertheless, uncharted opportunities remain elusive to designing innovative, solution-oriented community-based programs to address isolation among aging sexual minorities. ...
... Minority stressors experienced by LGBTQ+ individuals often are interpersonal in nature, including overt (e.g., victimization) and covert (e.g., microaggressions) actions (Fulginiti et al., 2020;Hall, 2018;Kosciw et al., 2020;Meyer, 2003;Toomey et al., 2010). Experiences of interpersonal stressors during emerging adulthood, such as victimization and exposure to microaggressions, place LGBTQ+ youth at increased risk of living alone and lacking human connections (Dakin et al., 2020;MacNamara, 2019;Muraco et al., 2018); this can have a negative impact on the development of healthy coping strategies, self-esteem, and overall resilience (Goldbach & Gibbs, 2017;Kosciw et al., 2013;Russell & Fish, 2020;Seelman, Colón-Diaz, et al., 2017). For example, among college students, Seelman, Woodford, and Nicolazzo (2017) found that experiences of microaggressions and victimization were associated with lower self-esteem; these findings are consistent with other research examining self-esteem among LGBTQ+ individuals (Johns et al., 2013;Parra et al., 2018;Wright & Wegner, 2012). ...
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[In press in Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin (HAIB)]. Human-animal interaction (HAI) is associated with positive psychological adjustment. Although these benefits are hypothesized to be most pronounced for individuals who experience adversity and compromised social relationships, such as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other sexual/gender minority identities) individuals, this hypothesis has not been tested. The current, cross-sectional study examined whether the strength of the relationship between emotional comfort from companion animals and self-esteem and personal hardiness varies as a function of exposure to LGBTQ+ interpersonal stressors (i.e., victimization, microaggressions). Our sample included 155 LGBTQ+ emerging adults who lived with a dog and/or cat in the past year (Mage = 19.34 years, SD = 1.12 years). To test the hypothesis, we conducted simple and multiple moderation analyses. We found evidence that the magnitude of the association between comfort from companion animals and personal hardiness was greater for those who experienced high levels of interpersonal microaggressions. Similarly, victimization moderated the relation between comfort from companion animals and self-esteem. Including victimization and interpersonal microaggressions in the same model resulted in only one significant interaction effect: the relation between comfort from companion animals and self-esteem was positive at high levels of victimization and negative at low levels of victimization. Our results suggest that among LGBTQ+ emerging adults, the benefits of HAI on self-esteem were only present when high levels of victimization were reported. Future research should continue to examine factors that may influence the benefits and risks associated with HAI to identify for whom and under what circumstances HAI is beneficial.
Exposure to microaggressions can have detrimental impacts on the mental health of LGBTQ+ emerging adults. Positive social relationships are a well-documented protective factor that help to buffer the impact of adversity on mental health in this population. However, the role of social relationships with pets has received minimal attention in research on LGBTQ+ mental health, despite the high prevalence of pets in U.S. households. This cross-sectional study examined whether the association between interpersonal microaggressions and depressive symptoms among LGBTQ+ emerging adults varied as a function of attachment to pets across three domains: love, emotion regulation, and personal growth. We recruited 163 LGBTQ+ emerging adults (18-21 years) who lived with a cat and/or dog within the past year (98.8% sexual minority, 47.2% gender minority, 37.4% racial/ethnic minority). We found that love and emotion regulation significantly moderated the positive association between interpersonal microaggressions and depressive symptoms. Specifically, this association was only significant when love and emotion regulation were at moderate or high levels. These findings have important implications for practice with LGBTQ+ pet owners, as it suggests that high levels of pet attachment may amplify the relation between interpersonal microaggressions and depressive symptoms.
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A 10-month prospective study was carried out which examined changes in behaviour and health status in 71 adult subjects following the acquisition of a new pet (either dogs or cats). A group of 26 subjects without pets served as a comparison over the same period. Both pet-owning groups reported a highly significant reduction in minor health problems during the first month following pet acquisition, and this effect was sustained in dog owners through to 10 months. The pet-acquiring groups also showed improvements in their scores on the 30-item General Health Questionnaire over the first 6 months and, in dog owners, this improvement was maintained until 10 months. In addition, dog owners took considerably more physical exercise while walking their dogs than the other two groups, and this effect continued throughout the period of study. The group without pets exhibited no statistically significant changes in health or behaviour, apart from a small increase in recreational walking. The results provide evidence that pet acquisition may have positive effects on human health and behaviour, and that in some cases these effects are relatively long term.
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There is conflicting evidence about whether living with pets results in better mental and physical health outcomes, with the majority of the empirical research evidence being inconclusive due to methodological limitations. We briefly review the research evidence, including the hypothesized mechanisms through which pet ownership may influence health outcomes. This study examines how pet and non-pet owners differ across a variety of sociodemographic and health measures, which has implications for the proper interpretation of a large number of correlational studies that attempt to draw causal attributions. We use a large, population-based survey from California administered in 2003 (n = 42,044) and find that pet owners and non-pet owners differ across many traits, including gender, age, race/ethnicity, living arrangements, and income. We include a discussion about how the factors associated with the selection into the pet ownership group are related to a range of mental and physical health outcomes. Finally, we provide guidance on how to properly model the effects of pet ownership on health to accurately estimate this relationship in the general population. © 2017 Saunders et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
At a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals--often referred to under the umbrella acronym LGBT--are becoming more visible in society and more socially acknowledged, clinicians and researchers are faced with incomplete information about their health status. While LGBT populations often are combined as a single entity for research and advocacy purposes, each is a distinct population group with its own specific health needs. Furthermore, the experiences of LGBT individuals are not uniform and are shaped by factors of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographical location, and age, any of which can have an effect on health-related concerns and needs. The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People assesses the state of science on the health status of LGBT populations, identifies research gaps and opportunities, and outlines a research agenda for the National Institute of Health. The report examines the health status of these populations in three life stages: childhood and adolescence, early/middle adulthood, and later adulthood. At each life stage, the committee studied mental health, physical health, risks and protective factors, health services, and contextual influences. To advance understanding of the health needs of all LGBT individuals, the report finds that researchers need more data about the demographics of these populations, improved methods for collecting and analyzing data, and an increased participation of sexual and gender minorities in research. The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People is a valuable resource for policymakers, federal agencies including the National Institute of Health (NIH), LGBT advocacy groups, clinicians, and service providers. © 2011 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
This article extends Morrison, Johnston, and Longhurst’s argument that love is spatial, relational, and political by tracing the ways that home situates both intra- and interspecies intimacy. It examines the ‘crazy cat lady’ as a discourse that entangles heteronormative and speciesist rules for loving, living, and making ‘a home.’ In a post-industrial moment when pet love has become a centerpiece of ‘normal’ life, the crazy cat lady occupies a queer periphery. She not only loves cats too much, she loves them more than humans, instead of a husband, and literally in place of heteronormative domesticity. To understand these complicit logics, this article reconceptualizes home as a queer ecology in which the sociospatial politics of nature, gender, humanity, sexuality, animality, domesticity, and intimacy collide. Using this framework, this article examines how women-with-cats–the ‘real’ crazy cat ladies–(re)inhabit normative ideals in their everyday practices and how this multispecies homemaking unfolds through more-than-human agencies. In queering ecologies of home, this article offers animal, posthumanist, feminist and queer geographers of home, as well as everyday homemakers, a wi(l)der bestiary of conceptual tools to understand intimacies that entangle across the boundaries of home/nature, wild/domestic, queer/straight and human/animal.
Led by dogs—and especially by an athletic herding dog named Cayenne, whom Haraway calls the dog of her heart—“The Companion Species Manifesto” insists that cyborgs are only one member of a much more bumptious litter of worldly critters with whom pasts, presents, and futures are at stake. Beginning with an (in)famous kiss between dog and woman, Cayenne and Donna are engaged in forbidden conversation, “training each other in acts of communication [they] barely understand.” Never innocent, always off category, and relentlessly full of what might still be possible for those who become-with each other, love is a core theme of this manifesto. Topics range from Whiteheadian process philosophy and biology, through tales of breed and species, to evolutionary speculative facts and fabulations, to dog-training doctrines in the sport of agility, to the fraught and edgy practices of international canine rescue and adoption.
We are pleased to present this supplemental issue of The Gerontologist dedicated to reporting on the 2014 data from Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study (NHAS), the largest national survey to date focused on the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults. The articles in this issue explore a breadth of topics critical to understanding the challenges, strengths, and needs of a growing and underserved segment of the older adult population. This introduction to the supplement provides foundational information to frame the papers that follow. We begin by reviewing population-based findings regarding the size and health status of the LGBT older adult population. Next, we summarize the Health Equity Promotion Model (HEPM; Fredriksen-Goldsen, Simoni, et al., 2014), the conceptual framework that guides our study. We then briefly review some of the key methodological challenges that exist in conducting research in this hard-to-reach population. Next, we present an overview of study design and methods as well as the study’s primary substantive and content areas. Lastly, we provide an overview of the articles in this issue, which cut across three major themes: risk and protective factors and life course events associated with health and quality of life among LGBT older adults; heterogeneity and subgroup differences in LGBT health and aging; and processes and mechanisms underlying health and quality of life of LGBT older adults.
The grounded theory approach to doing qualitative research in nursing has become very popular in recent years. I confess to never really having understood Glaser and Strauss' original book: The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Since they wrote it, they have fallen out over what grounded theory might be and both produced their own versions of it. I welcomed, then, Kathy Charmaz's excellent and practical guide.
Little is known about how lesbians and gay men perceive the turning points that define their life trajectories. This study uses qualitative interview data to understand which experiences lesbian women and gay men age 50 and older identify as turning points and explore gender differences. In depth, face-to-face qualitative interviews were conducted with a subset of participants (n = 33) from the Caring and Aging with Pride survey. The most common turning points identified were relationship and occupation-related. Lesbians more frequently identified the break-up of a relationship and occupational and educational related experiences as turning points. Gay men more commonly indicated that the beginning of a relationship and HIV/AIDS related experiences were turning points. The turning points were analyzed according to principles of the life course theory and narrative analysis.