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The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series

Series editors: Andrew Linzey and Priscilla Cohn

Associate editor: Clair Linzey
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the ethics of our treatment of
animals. Philosophers have led the way, and now a range of other scholars have
followed, from historians to social scientists. From being a marginal issue, animals
have become an emerging issue in ethics and in multidisciplinary inquiry. This
series explores the challenges that Animal Ethics poses, both conceptually and
practically, to traditional understandings of human-animal relations. Specifically,
the series will
● provide a range of key introductory and advanced texts that map out ethical
positions on animals,
● publish pioneering work written by new, as well as accomplished, scholars,
● produce texts from a variety of disciplines that are multidisciplinary in char-
acter or have multidisciplinary relevance.

Titles include
Elisa Aaltola
Aysha Akhtar
Why Treating Animals Better Is Critical to Human Welfare
Alasdair Cochrane
Eleonora Gullone
More than a Link
Alastair Harden
Ethical Perspectives from Greek and Roman Texts
Lisa Johnson
Andrew Knight
Randy Malamud
Ryan Patrick McLaughlin
The Dominant Tradition and Its Alternatives
Claire Molloy
Siobhan O’Sullivan
Kay Peggs
Thomas Ryan
A Moral Introduction
Thomas Ryan (editor)
Why and How They Matter
Joan Schaffner
Tatjana Višak
Explorations in Utilitarian Ethics

Forthcoming titles:
Mark Bernstein
The Obligation to Care
Deborah Cao
Philosophy, Law and Ethics
Anna S. King
Steve McMullen
Sabrina Tonutti
Marcel Wissenburg and David Schlosberg (editors)

The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series

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Animals in Social Work
Why and How They Matter

Edited by

Thomas Ryan
Editorial matter, introduction and selection © Thomas Ryan 2014
Chapters © Individual authors 2014
Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2014 978-1-137-37228-4
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First published 2014 by
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DOI. 10.1057/9781137372291
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To Blanca, with love

To Thomas-Liam & Fiona, Jude & Paige, Immogen & Clayton,

Mirabehn & Samantha, Nate, Ravelle & Indie, loves of my life

To Gran & Cha, with deepest gratitude

To Tess, Simone, Lucy Jayke & Clarabelle, for all those walks
and companionship

As I love nature, as I love singing birds, and gleaming stubble, and

flowing rivers, and morning and evening, and summer and winter, I
love thee.
— Henry David Thoreau (1980, p. 285)1

Thoreau, H. D. (1980). A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Princeton:
Princeton University Press.
When we open our eyes to see the reality of another creature, and so
learn to respect its being, that other creature may as easily be non-
human. Those who would live virtuously, tradition tells us, must seek
to allow each creature its own place, and to appreciate the beauty of the
— Stephen R.L. Clark (1994, p. 30)1

Let me enjoy the earth no less

Because the all-enacting Might
That fashioned forth it loveliness
Had other aims than my delight.
— Thomas Hardy (1924, p. 91)2

Clark, S. R. L. (1994). Modern errors, ancient virtues. In A. Dyson & J. Harris
(eds), Ethics and Biotechnology (pp. 13–32). London: Routledge.
Hardy, T. (1924). Time’s Laughing Stocks. London: Macmillan.

Series Editors’ Preface ix

Acknowledgements xi

Notes on Contributors xii

Introduction xv

Part I The Why: Philosophical and Theoretical


1 Deep Ecological ‘Insectification’: Integrating Small Friends

with Social Work 3
Fred H. Besthorn

2 The Meaning of Animals in Women’s Lives: The Importance

of the “‘Domestic”’ Realm to Social Work 18
Jan Fook

3 Integrative Health Thinking and the One Health Concept:

Is Social Work All for ‘One’ or ‘One’ for All? 32
Cassandra Hanrahan

4 My Dog Is My Home: Increasing Awareness of

Inter-Species Homelessness in Theory and Practice 48
Christine H. Kim and Emma K. Newton

5 Social Justice beyond Human Beings: Trans-species

Social Justice 64
Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson

6 The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency: Why

Social Work Should Respect Both Humans and Animals 80
Thomas Ryan

Part II The How: Practical Applications

7 The Impact of Animals and Nature for Children and Youth

with Trauma Histories: Towards A Neurodevelopmental Theory 105
Eileen Bona and Gail Courtnage

viii Contents

8 Animal-Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents

with Autism Spectrum Disorders 120
Shanna L. Burke and Dorothea Iannuzzi

9 ‘How Is Fido?’: What the Family’s Companion Animal

Can Tell You about Risk Assessment and Effective
Interventions – If Only You Would Ask! 135
Lynn Loar

10 The Place and Consequence of Animals in Contemporary

Social Work Practice 151
Maureen MacNamara and Jeannine Moga

11 No One Ever Asked Me That: The Value of Social Work

Inquiry into the Human-Animal Bond 167
Nina Papazian

12 Stray Dogs and Social Work in Mauritius: An Analysis

of Some Concerns and Challenges 182
Komalsingh Rambaree

13 Liquid Love – Grief, Loss, Animal Companions and

the Social Worker 199
Adrienne Elizabeth Thomas

14 Domestic Violence and Companion Animal Welfare:

The Issues, Risks and Implications for Practice 215
Deborah Walsh

Select Bibliography 229

Index 237
Series Editors’ Preface

This is a new book series for a new field of inquiry: Animal Ethics.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the ethics of our
treatment of animals. Philosophers have led the way, and now a range of
other scholars have followed, from historians to social scientists. From
being a marginal issue, animals have become an emerging issue in ethics
and in multidisciplinary inquiry.
In addition, rethinking the status of animals has been fuelled by a
range of scientific investigations that have revealed the complexity of
animal sentiency, cognition and awareness. The ethical implications of
this new knowledge have yet to be properly evaluated, but it is becoming
clear that the old view that animals are mere things, tools, machines or
commodities cannot be sustained ethically.
But it is not only philosophy and science that are putting animals
on the agenda. Increasingly, in Europe and the United States, animals
are becoming a political issue as political parties vie for the ‘green’ and
‘animal’ vote. In turn, political scientists are beginning to look again at
the history of political thought in relation to animals, and historians are
beginning to revisit the political history of animal protection.
As animals grow as an issue of importance, so there have been more
collaborative academic ventures leading to conference volumes, special
journal issues, indeed new academic animal journals as well. Moreover,
we have witnessed the growth of academic courses, as well as univer-
sity posts, in Animal Ethics, Animal Welfare, Animal Rights, Animal
Law, Animals and Philosophy, Human-Animal Studies, Critical Animal
Studies, Animals and Society, Animals in Literature, Animals and
Religion – tangible signs that a new academic discipline is emerging.
‘Animal Ethics’ is the new term for the academic exploration of the
moral status of the non-human – an exploration that explicitly involves
a focus on what we owe animals morally, and that also helps us to under-
stand the influences – social, legal, cultural, religious and political – that
legitimate animal abuse. This series explores the challenges that Animal
Ethics poses, both conceptually and practically, to traditional under-
standings of human-animal relations.
The series is needed for three reasons: (i) to provide the texts that
will service the new university courses on animals; (ii) to support the
increasing number of students studying and academics researching in

x Series Editors’ Preface

animal related fields, and (iii) because there is currently no book series
that is a focus for multidisciplinary research in the field.
Specifically, the series will

● provide a range of key introductory and advanced texts that map out
ethical positions on animals;
● publish pioneering work written by new, as well as accomplished,
scholars, and
● produce texts from a variety of disciplines that are multidisciplinary
in character or have multidisciplinary relevance.

The new Palgrave Macmillan Series on Animal Ethics is the result of

a unique partnership between Palgrave Macmillan and the Ferrater
Mora Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. The series is an integral part
of the mission of the Centre to put animals on the intellectual agenda
by facilitating academic research and publication. The series is also a
natural complement to one of the Centre’s other major projects, the
Journal of Animal Ethics. The Centre is an independent ‘think tank’ for
the advancement of progressive thought about animals, and is the first
Centre of its kind in the world. It aims to demonstrate rigorous intellec-
tual enquiry and the highest standards of scholarship. It strives to be a
world-class centre of academic excellence in its field.
We invite academics to visit the Centre’s website www.oxfordani- and to contact us with new book proposals for the

Andrew Linzey and Priscilla N. Cohn

General Editors

My heartfelt thanks go out to all the authors for making this pioneering
collection a reality, and for their enduring the editing process with good
grace. I extend my appreciation to Vidhya Jayaprakash for her prompt,
efficient and courteous assistance throughout the entire copy-editing
process. Once again, I’m indebted to Andrew Linzey for his initial
interest and encouragement in the project, without which this book
might well have remained just a good idea.

Notes on Contributors

Fred H. Besthorn, PhD, is Professor and MSW Program Director at the

School of Social work, Wichita State University, America. Author of 50
publications on integrating deep ecological awareness with social work
practice, Fred has presented at dozens of social work/environmental
conferences, and is the creator of The Global Alliance for a Deep-
Ecological Social Work (
Eileen Bona is a registered psychologist, with more than 20 years’ expe-
rience, specialising in working with people with organic brain dysfunc-
tion and multiple mental health diagnoses; 12 years ago she founded an
animal- and nature-assisted therapy programme to augment her thera-
peutic practice for children and youth with trauma histories.

Shanna L. Burke is a clinical social worker with Nonotuck Resource

Associates, Massachusetts, America, providing consultation in behav-
iour management and mental health. Her research interests include
neurodevelopmental disabilities, gene-environment interactions, and
animal-assisted therapy. Shanna is currently a doctoral candidate at
Simmons College in Boston.

Gail Courtnage is a clinical social worker in Edmonton, Canada. Starting

her career in child protection, she has 13 years’ experience working with
children and youth. Her love of animals and children brought her to the
field of animal-assisted therapy, and Gail is currently working her dream
job at Dreamcatcher Nature-Assisted Therapy.

Jan Fook, PhD, is currently Chair in Education (Critical Reflection) at

Kingston University and St. Georges, University of London. She has held
professorships in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and Norway.
She has published widely (mostly on critical social work and critical
reflection), including three books on women and animals.

Cassandra Hanrahan, PhD, teaches critical anti-oppressive social,

cultural and social work theory, and policy analysis at Dalhousie
University, Canada. She researches the interrelatedness of human, other
animal, and environmental health and welfare, and the dynamic rela-
tionships between all three that affirm our kinship and remind us of our
place in the web of life.

Notes on Contributors xiii

Dorothea Iannuzzi is a clinical social worker, working with individ-

uals and families impacted by a developmental disability, including
autism spectrum disorders. Dorothea is a Leadership Education in
Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) fellow at UMMC Eunice
Kennedy Shriver Center, Massachusetts, and is currently a doctoral
student at Simmons College School of Social Work.

Christine H. Kim is a research writer for the National Museum of

Animals & Society, Los Angeles, and curator for their fall 2013 exhibi-
tion My Dog Is My Home. Christine is also a social worker in the skid row
community of Los Angeles, with an interest in exploring the human-
animal bond in her practice.

Lynn Loar, PhD, is President of the Pryor Foundation, America, and is

a social worker who specialises in research into the role that cruelty to
and neglect of animals plays in family violence. She is the co-author
of Teaching Empathy: Animal-Assisted Therapy Programs for Children and
Families Exposed to Violence (2004) and Animal Hoarding (2006).

Atsuko Matsuoka, PhD, is Associate Professor of Social Work at York

University, Canada. Her research has addressed the intersectionality of
oppression among immigrants, ethnic older adults, and in relation to
animals. Atsuko is co-author of the journal article Human consequences of
animal exploitation: Needs for redefining social welfare (2013), and co-editor
of Defining Critical Animal Studies (2013).

Maureen MacNamara, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Social Work at

Appalachian State University, America. Maureen has scholarly inter-
ests in, and has created and implemented, the development/evaluation
of animal-assisted intervention methodologies, impact of human-an-
imal relationships in community, family, and individual functioning,
and functional assessment of animals in animal-assisted interaction

Jeannine Moga provides crisis intervention, medical case consultation,

skills training, and client counselling at North Carolina State University’s
College of Veterinary Medicine. Jeannine’s scholarly interests include
complicated bereavement, the inclusion of companion animals in indi-
vidual and family therapy, and the development/evaluation of animal-
assisted intervention methodologies.
Emma Newton is a graduate student of anthrozoology and an intern
with the National Museum of Animals and Society, Los Angeles. Emma
helped curate the fall 2013 exhibition My Dog Is My Home: The Experience
xiv Notes on Contributors

of Human-Animal Homelessness, and plans to continue researching

human-animal relationships in veterinary school.

Nina Papazian is a nephrology social worker in Peterborough, Canada,

specialising in bereavement therapy. She is developing a veterinary
social work practice and is a member of the Association of Pet Loss
and Bereavement (APLB). Nina has presented at APLB and Canadian
Association of Nephrology Social Workers conferences since 2001.

Komalsingh Rambaree, PhD, was born and grew up in Mauritius.

Currently a senior social work lecturer at the University of Gävle,
Sweden, his research area is eco-social work. Komalsingh is also working
on the setting up of a multi-disciplinary team on ‘Green Care’, which
includes animal-assisted social work education, research and practice.

Thomas Ryan, PhD, a native of Far North Queensland, Australia, is now

in his third decade of continuous full-time rural social work practice in
Tasmania. An Associate Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics,
and author of Animals and Social Work: A Moral Introduction (2011),
Thomas’ life has always been blessed with animal companionship.

John Sorenson, PhD, is Professor of Sociology at Brock University,

Canada. His books include Critical Animal Studies: Thinking the Unthinkable
(2014), Defining Critical Animal Studies: An Intersectional Social Justice
Approach (2013, co-editor), Animal Rights (2010), Ape (2009), Culture of
Prejudice (2008, co-author), Ghosts and Shadows (2001, co-author), and
Imagining Ethiopia (1993).

Adrienne Elizabeth Thomas has qualifications in health, education, social

work and counselling. Living between Aotearoa, New Zealand and Cymru,
Wales, she works as a social work practitioner/counsellor. Adrienne estab-
lished Loving Tails in 1997, to offer support to clients in animal companion
loss, and support and training to animal health professionals in loss and
bond-centred practice.

Deborah Walsh, PhD, is a social work practitioner and academic at the

University of Queensland, Australia. Specialising in domestic and family
violence, she has many years of experience working with women who
experience violence and with men who use it. Deborah’s research interests
include violence during pregnancy, companion animal welfare, and rela-
tionships between social class and violence.
Thomas Ryan

John Stuart Mill (cited in Regan, 1983, p. vi) made the observation that
‘Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion,
adoption.’ Mill, who lent his voice to numerous social reform causes,
specifically included the nineteenth-century movement to elevate the
moral standing of nonhuman animals in this process.
Mill’s observation of the challenges facing all movements seeking to
make major moral and social changes is particularly germane to the
challenges facing social workers endeavouring to have the welfare and
wellbeing of animals placed upon their discipline’s agenda. The ubiqui-
tous query one routinely encounters when social workers either come
across a piece of social work literature addressing some aspect of animals
in social work, or chance upon the issue in a discussion, is, ‘What have
animals to do with social work?’ At best, the inquiry has an element of
intrigue and hence opportunity for further exchange, and can be char-
acterised as a form of relative dismissal.
This was the response I encountered back in 1992, when having
initially intended to devote a social work honours’ thesis to the rele-
vance of Gandhian thought for social work, I approached the senior
academic responsible for the honours’ programme with a request to
change my topic to an exploration of relevance of animal rights to social
work. My request was met with a healthy degree of scepticism, but I was
fortunate to elicit an aroused curiosity and a conditional approval to
proceed. Afterwards, I corresponded with Andrew Linzey (then Director
of Studies at the Centre for the Study of Theology at the University of
Essex, England) to advise him of my subject matter, and he responded,
‘Absolutely astonished that you should venture to be so bold and adven-
turesome and even more astonished that your university is prepared to
take it on.’1 I must admit that I still look back with a mixture astonish-
ment, but more gratitude, for being accorded the opportunity – I suspect

xvi Introduction

I would have been unlikely to have been so fortunate elsewhere in the

social work academic world, but would like to think that that would no
longer be the case for current undergraduates.
However, more often than not the query is a conversation terminator,
and characterised by an implicit ridiculing and absolute dismissal.
Three instances come to mind – the first two involved the dismissal by
senior academic examiners of my honours thesis (one commented that
consideration of animals had as much to do with social work as did aero-
nautical engineering) and doctoral dissertation (the other that it was
contrary to the function of social work, in effect, a category error); the
third was from an otherwise compassionate practitioner whose bewil-
derment manifested itself in the observation that it was obvious that
animals had nothing to do with social work, and that they could have
no other purpose than be means to human ends.
Over the last decade, there has been a steady but growing body of
social work literature on animals; however the discussion is still very
much in its infancy. Barring some notable exceptions, the theoretical
and ethical literature remains conspicuously silent on the issue, whilst
much of the literature devoted to animal-assisted therapies tends to
view the animals involved in purely instrumental or functional terms.
The growth of veterinary social work in a number of North American
universities has been a noteworthy development, although both the
terminology and its conceptual scope are not without their limitations
and shortcomings.
The catalyst for this collection has been the aforementioned question,
and it has served to provide the book’s focus and structure – Part 1 is
devoted to theoretical and moral articulations as to why animals ought
to matter to social work, whilst Part 2 outlines how animals are of direct
concern to social work. This underscores the fundamental interrelation-
ship between the theoretical and moral, and the practical, but the latter
needs to be grounded in the former – as Tawney (1964, p. 41) observes:

Men may genuinely sympathize with the demand for a radical

change, but unless they will take the pains, not only to act, but to
reflect, they end by effecting nothing. For they deliver themselves
bound to those who think they are practical because they take their
philosophy so much for granted as to be unconscious of its implica-
tions, and, directly they try to act, that philosophy reasserts itself as
an overruling force which presses their action more deeply into the
old channels.
Introduction xvii

In Chapter 1, Fred Besthorn reflects upon the life-changing and

perception-transforming nature of his childhood encounters with the
world of insects, which provided catalyst for his coming to view all
living beings as co-equal members of the natural community. Drawing
upon the insights of deep ecology, he argues that it shares with social
work a fundamental emphasis upon the importance of identification
through relationship, and that social work’s longstanding championing
of contextualising the person-in-environment can no longer warrant
the exclusion of the natural world. Advocating for the necessity of social
work to discard its anthropocentrism and expand its moral community,
Fred contends that this will entail an embrace of an abiding sense of
rapport, communion and empathy with all species, especially insects, and
an acknowledgement of their moral considerability.
In Chapter 2, Jan Fook links her love of dogs since childhood with her
academic interest in aspects of ordinary life that are so often absent from
social work practice and research. Leading to a general disregard of the
importance of animals in the lives of the very people with whom social
workers work, it is conspicuously at odds with social work’s emphasis
on situating and understanding people in their social context. Arguing
that social work is almost uniquely placed among the professions to
attend to human lives in their entirety, Jan suggests that any significant
shift in social work’s responsiveness to the importance of animals in our
lives will ultimately be dependent upon a reimagining of what consti-
tutes legitimate research subject matter, and the development of new
In Chapter 3, Cassandra Hanrahan undertakes an extended examina-
tion of One Health, which seeks to encourage an integrated understanding
of health determinants and outcomes for humans, other animals, and
the environment in the disciplines of human, veterinary and conserva-
tion medicine. It conceptualises them as embedded within shared social
and ecological systems, and as being characterised by interconnected-
ness and interdependence. She highlights both its strengths and short-
comings, and what she sees as its anthropocentrism. Noting social work’s
conspicuous absence from the One Health discourse and literature, she
identifies innovative social work models that present a more expansive
and species-inclusive understanding of systems/ecological theories. In
conclusion, Cassandra advocates for a synthesis of anti-oppressive social
work and One Health, so as to develop a truly anti-oppressive biocentric
In Chapter 4, Christine Kim and Emma Newton engage in an explo-
ration of inter-species homelessness, approaching this issue from both
xviii Introduction

theoretical and practice perspectives. Addressing the specific and often

unique challenges that it presents to social work agencies, they survey
three aspects of homelessness where these issues are routinely encoun-
tered. Relating that most agencies make minimal or nil allowance for
the animals involved, or for the profound importance of the human-
animal bond, they argue this is all the more remarkable given the quali-
tative benefits that the humans in these situations readily identify, and
the sobering fact that most people will decline assistance that entails
their abandoning their animals. Christine and Emma contend that more
quantitative research is required in order to inform and influence both
policy makers and programme initiatives.
In Chapter 5, Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson make an impas-
sioned case for the adoption of a trans-species social justice, in which
animal wellbeing will come to be considered a core social justice concern.
With it’s emphasis on the systemic rather than the individualised nature
of injustice, this will entail a wide ranging reevaluation of the disci-
pline’s ethical framework, and acknowledgement of the interconnection
and interrelationship between the unjust treatment and oppression of
humans and other animals. Atsuko and John claim this reevaluation
will necessitate moving beyond the increasingly accepted therapeutic
use of animals in social work practice, and of growing acceptance of the
linkage between human and animal abuse, to the recognition of the
cognitive, emotional and social complexity of animals, and an openness
to animal rights philosophy and theory.
In Chapter 6, Thomas Ryan addresses social work concerns that the
argument from marginal cases (AMC) is antithetical to social work values,
and that any moral comparison of vulnerable humans with animals
diminishes human moral standing. In an extended examination, he
contends that not only are the concerns raised misplaced, but that they
are ultimately dependent upon reductive depictions of animality in
the first instance, which also impairs our understanding of the nature
of human disabilities. Arguing that the chief threat to vulnerable and
dependent humans comes not from the AMC, but from the principle
held to underpin social work, that being respect for persons, Thomas
contends that we ought to accord moral priority to vulnerability and
dependency independent of species membership, and to respect both
humans and animals.
In Chapter 7, Shanna Burke and Dorothea Iannuzzi address the rele-
vance of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) for social workers working with
individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Noting the increasing appli-
cation and acceptance of AAT with a wide cross-section of people, they
Introduction xix

observe that research has sought to identify its physiological, psycho-

logical and behavioural benefits for humans. They suggest that among
the benefits for those with autism are that animals may be perceived
as sharing in common non-verbal expressions of communication, to
be non-judgemental, to not have expectations or make demands, and
to provide friendship. In identifying the limitations and methodolog-
ical problems associated with current research, Shanna and Dorothea
urge that greater attention be paid to the ethical concerns surrounding
the utilisation of both domesticated and non-domesticated animals in
animal-assisted therapy.
In Chapter 8, Eileen Bona and Gail Courtnage introduce animal-
and nature-assisted therapies as representing positive influences in the
healing and development of children and youth with trauma histories.
They highlight the ongoing research in the animal- and nature-assisted
therapy fields, while hypothesising that consistent and repetitive goal-
directed animal and nature interactions can facilitate the development
of new neuronal pathways, and positive physiological change for chil-
dren and youth who have structural organic brain damage due to their
early trauma histories. Several case studies provide readers with exam-
ples of the application of such therapies, and given the important role
that animals and nature play in human emotional, cognitive and social
development, Eileen and Gail contend that they have much to offer
contemporary social workers.
In Chapter 9, Lynn Loar observes that despite many social workers’
familiarity with the importance of companion animals in the lives
of children, there nevertheless remains scant appreciation of the role
that animals play within troubled families. Because there can often
be a strong correlation between the abuse and neglect of animals and
humans within the same household, she contends that social workers’
initial attention to the former can serve to alert them to behaviours that
place at risk the safety of all household members. To this end, Lynn
provides some innovative interview and assessment tools as practical
applications, and she urges the necessity for collaborative interdiscipli-
nary practice in order to most effectively assess risks and to focus inter-
ventions, as well as to ensure cross-species accountability.
In Chapter 10, Maureen MacNamara and Jeannine Moga observe that
social work’s failure to attend to animals, and their centrality in the lives
of many people, results in missed opportunities to engage individuals,
families, and communities. Noting the conspicuous absence of models
that would integrate and provide practical guidance, they propose a
methodology and articulate guidelines that will enable social workers to
xx Introduction

utilise these relationships diagnostically and to facilitate the integration

of animals into the full gamut of social work practice. Recommending
the incorporation of human-animal relationships as a foundational
component of undergraduate studies, and in the ongoing training of
social work practitioners, Maureen and Jeannine contend that this will
enable social workers to be effective advocates and to take positions of
leadership in the creation of informed animal welfare policies.
In Chapter 11, Nina Papazian presents findings from a qualitative pilot
study into the human-animal bond, undertaken in conjunction with
her role as a hospital nephrology social worker. Relating that patients
invariably face physiological, psychosocial and existential challenges to
their quality of life, her study unequivocally confirms the importance
and benefits of companion animals in patients’ day-to-day lives. Given
social work’s commitment to identifying barriers to human wellbeing,
and to implementing behavioural, cognitive and interpersonal changes
to enhance it, she contends that social work would be remiss not to
include animals as part of all psychosocial assessments. To do so will
greatly enhance the comprehensiveness, effectiveness and relevancy of
social work interventions, and Nina says that it all starts with a simple
query, ‘Do you have any companion animals?’
In Chapter 12, Komalsingh Rambaree examines the problem of stray
dogs in his native Mauritius, reflecting upon the many challenges this
presents, with specific reference to the involvement of social workers.
Using an inductive discourse analysis, he places the issue in historical
context, relating the various responses of government and animal welfare
organisations, and the underlying negative attitudes that underpin
the frequent inhumane treatment of the dogs. Noting that the social
workers are mostly motivated by an explicit sense of their moral obliga-
tions to the animals, he pinpoints three critical roles that they have to
play – the promotion of animal welfare informed by rights and social
justice perspectives; advocating for and accessing resources to assist the
companion animals of the poor; and the fostering and inculcation of
more compassionate attitudes.
In Chapter 13, Adrienne Thomas addresses the grief experienced by
the loss of beloved animal companions for any number of reasons. She
observes that although human-animal relationships can be as deep and
enduring as our attachments to other humans, and sometimes more
so, their significance is rarely acknowledged or validated by the wider
society, or by social work specifically. This lack of recognition, and the
minimisation of the accompanying loss, results in a disenfranchised
Introduction xxi

grief. Interspersing her chapter with poignant vignettes, she also identi-
fies our often conflicted and contradictory attitudes towards animals.
Adrienne articulates the necessity for social work’s affirmation of the
human-animal bond, its validation of relationships and the normalisa-
tion of grief, its advocacy for both human and animal wellbeing, and the
inclusion of animals in social work codes of ethics.
In Chapter 14, Deborah Miles explores the linkage between domestic
violence and companion animals, and argues that compelling reasons
exist for social workers to be cognisant of the connection. Drawing
upon significant empirical data that has served to corroborate anecdotal
evidence, she relates that the greater the attachment women have to the
animals in their lives, the greater the vulnerability of both women and
their animals. She argues that it is critical that social workers include
animals in any risk assessments and interventions, and also identifies
the problems inherent in shelters not being equipped to accept animals,
and the fact that women often experience difficulty in finding animal-
friendly accommodation. Deborah also bemoans the dearth of research
on the direct impact of domestic violence upon animals themselves.
Being the first published collection of essays devoted to animals in
social work, the book will have succeeded if it does nothing else but act
as a catalyst in moving the conversation beyond ridicule and knee-jerk
dismissal to discussion. Social work has slowly come to acknowledge
that it can no longer constrict the conceptual framework of person-in-
environment to the social, and to the exclusion of the natural, world.
What remains to be acknowledged is that humans are not the only
sentient creatures inhabiting the social and natural worlds. Until such
time as animals are directly referenced in social work’s codes of ethics, in
the same way that the natural world has in some instances come to be
(AASW, 2010), they will continue to be seen as ancillary but peripheral
to the practice of social work. What is required is that codes of ethics not
merely address ethical usage of animals, but identify animals as moral
subjects in and of themselves.
I suspect that there will come a day when future social workers will
be incredulous that social work could have been so blind to an issue so
ubiquitous and so commonplace in daily practice, and for so long. From
here on in, whenever someone poses the question, ‘What have animals
to do with social work?’, they could do worse than use this collection as
their starting point, as a prompt to ongoing reflection, discussion, and
hopefully in the not too distant future, adoption.
xxii Introduction

1. Personal correspondence from Andrew Linzey, June 24, 1992.

Australian Association of Social Workers. (2010). Code of Ethics. Canberra: AASW.
Regan, T. (1983). The Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley: University of California
Tawney, R.H. (1964). The Radical Tradition. New York: Pantheon.
Part 1
The Why: Philosophical and
Theoretical Explorations
Deep Ecological ‘Insectification’:
Integrating Small Friends with
Social Work
Fred H. Besthorn

A childhood filled with insects

As a child, I was raised in the vast, wide-open spaces of the boundless

prairie grasslands of the central United States. This immense expanse is
commonly known as the ‘Great Plains’. It was hot, dusty and windy, but
afforded ample opportunity for out-of-doors play and exploration – a
wild place of sorts, where birds, small animals and especially insects were
prolific. During these formative years I forged deep connections with
the wind-swept land, the wild flowers and grasses, and the tiny, ubiqui-
tous creatures we simply referred to as bugs. I was particularly entranced
by ants. I vividly remember spending hours tracking the movement,
activities and community interactions of these small creatures as they
navigated their way through the vast expanse of our backyard – an area
that, from a child’s spatial perspective, seemed akin to hiking across
continental North America.
On hands and knees, with heightened determination and tenacity
that eluded most other areas of my life at the time, I spent endless hours
following a single ant as it traversed its way from one corner of the yard
to the other. I remember my astonishment at the dogged persistence of
the ant’s journey. It moved much faster than I had anticipated, while
repeatedly taking a seemingly endless number of alternative routes –
often doubling back and ambling far afield time and time again before
finally setting course straightaway for some ultimate but unknown
Time passed quickly as all my childhood concerns were temporarily
subsumed under the sheer exhilaration of participating in the existence

4 Fred H. Besthorn

of another living being who seemed oblivious to my presence and who

did not judge, assault, or shame. On one particular five-hour tracking
expedition, I observed my small ant friend find and then enter what
seemed an insignificant ant colony some fifty yards or more from where
we first began our journey together. I could not have been more pleased
or amazed. I was beginning to learn in a child’s way that in nature there
is wisdom, intellect, intention and perhaps even consciousness. Ants
had become teachers, mentors, and small friends. They allowed me,
for brief moments, to enfold myself in their world where words were
unnecessary, dogmas and beliefs were superfluous, and social expecta-
tions were non-existent. By escaping into the ant’s world, I had begun to
find a developing sense of my own self in complex relationships, which
were, in one sense, far smaller and yet much greater than myself and the
human world I inhabited.

Bug battles: a legacy of fear

I am a social worker, not an entomologist or a biological scientist. I work,

teach and research within the context of the social and psychic life of
human beings. I know few if any of the scientific names for insects;
neither am I schooled in the classification system that experts find so
important. I refer to common names and broad categories of insects
used by the average person. And while I understand that not all small
invertebrate animals (for example, spiders, centipedes) are technically
insects, for convenience I use the term insect to refer to all small, flying,
buzzing, striding, chirping, singing, slithering, scampering, climbing,
hiding, creeping and crawling life-forms we commonly refer to as bugs
or, perhaps more often, as pests.
My adult involvement with insects would not be terribly unlike
what most in the Western world might experience when coming face
to face with an ‘insect event’– those moments when, for example, a
horde of ants invades one’s kitchen, or when nearly microscopic little
mites known in my part of the world as ‘chiggers’ inject their digestive
enzymes under the skin, creating a small hole and localised inflam-
mation and the most intense itching one could ever experience. One
treads lightly in grass and shrubbery when chiggers are on the prowl.
And, for most in the Western world, insects are to be avoided at all
Seldom does anything create as powerful an emotional or physical
response in human beings as a close encounter with a member or
Deep Ecological ‘Insectification’ 5

members of the insect world. In fact, those encounters can scarcely be

avoided. Recent estimates suggest that there are over one million known
insect species with perhaps another ten to 30 million extant species yet
unknown and/or unclassified (Raffles, 2011). Insects represent anywhere
from 80 to 90 per cent of all living organisms on earth and at any one time
there may be as many as 10 quintillion individual insects (Waldbauer,
2004). Insects outnumber human beings by a factor of approximately
200 million to one (Smithsonian Institute, 2013). It is truly a ‘bug’s life’ if
one understands this to mean that, literally, insects rule the world.
Insects have a long geological and biological history on the planet.
Their adaptive ability to survive under the most extreme circumstances
and their remarkable fertility and reproductive capacities ensure that
inestimable numbers of insects will continue to populate the world.
Most people are at least vaguely aware that insects are sometimes bene-
ficial to humans with respect to, for example, pollination, the creation
of silk, the ingestion of carrion, their use for medicinal purposes, their
important role in biological research, and occasionally as a source of
food. Far fewer recognise that insects held religious, social, and cultural
symbolism in many ancient aboriginal and tribal cultures. And, many of
us on occasion have been fascinated, and at times awed, by the beauty
of a butterfly, the intricacies of a dew enshrouded spider’s web, or the
graceful aerobatics of a dragonfly. However important these periodic
glimpses into the functions and experiences of insects might be, it is
unfortunately true that, in the main, human interactions with insects
are most often characterised by disaffection at best, and at worst, fear,
loathing, and venal hatred.
Our hostile attitudes towards insects have deep roots both in evolu-
tion and in culture. Kellert (2012) suggests that human apprehension of
and aversion to the natural world, especially of insects, reflects fears and
anxieties that evolved over thousands of years when quick responses
to unsafe features in the natural environment were critical to survival.
These survival instincts were functional and are not easily suppressed or
extinguished, at least from an evolutionary perspective. They are a part
of our genetic heritage. Our pre-historic ancestors learned to be wary of
and to avoid those things and circumstances in the natural world that
could be harmful or fatal.
Unfortunately, the intrinsic distancing and precautionary tendencies
of early humans have, over time, morphed into excessive, irrational
and even genocidal responses to nonhuman members of the earth’s
ecosystems. Lauck (2002) notes this is especially true with respect to
6 Fred H. Besthorn

our responses to insects. Lauck (2002) also suggests that the Cartesian/
Newtonian paradigm shift of the seventeenth century ushered in a
desacralised and mechanistic model of the natural world. This eventu-
ally gave rise to a Western cultural belief system suggesting that science
could, indeed must, control nature, and that humans were wholly other
than and above nature. That which was not us or not similar to us was
suspect, frightening, monstrous and perhaps deserving of extermina-
tion. The demarcation between self and non-self, between I and other,
between us and them, became quite rigid and intricately proscribed.
Some ‘others’ might be allowed close to our sequestered human
community – agricultural animals, domesticated pets, certain primates –
but most others were strictly forbidden – snakes, aggressive carnivores
and particularly insects. Again Lauck (2002, p. 5) notes:

By drawing our boundaries of self and community too small, we

have created a world outside that frightens us. Imbuing the unfa-
miliar and strange with malevolence has transformed the once-sacred
earth community into an environment populated by monsters. It has
also exaggerated and distorted whatever survival instincts – whatever
healthy fear – we had evolved as a species to keep us cautious and
appropriately alert.

The myth of human domination: insects ‘r not us’

If one of the defining features of modern industrialised culture is the

preoccupation with defining ourselves in contradistinction to all that
is other, then there is likely no other that exhibits greater difference
from us than insects. They are conspicuously not us. To begin with,
they outnumber us by a factor of thousands. A single ant colony
contains millions of living creatures, and there are millions of ant colo-
nies. As suggested earlier, the population of insects is almost beyond
our comprehension, and this profoundly threatens a deep cultural bias
of a powerful, unique, unitary and dominant human species. From an
insect’s perspective, our numbers are quite insignificant.
Secondly, insects pay us little mind. They do not flee from us as most
vertebrates. They take up residence right under our noses, and some
species seem to almost delight in targeting us and our so-called protected
spaces with impunity. Indeed, it appears that they are quite indifferent to
our presence. We claim to be the dominant species, but that seems to
make little difference to an insect – most times they don’t even seem
to notice us. Humans find being ignored terribly difficult to deal with,
Deep Ecological ‘Insectification’ 7

and insects ignore us at nearly every turn. Finally, insects are so wholly
different that most look almost otherworldly. There are few outward
similarities between an insect and a human being. They have multiple,
if not hundreds, of legs or appendages. They have bulging multifunc-
tional eyes and sensing antennae protruding from various parts of their
bodies. Some look like a small stick or twig, yet they walk. Add to this
that some insect species sting, destroy agricultural crops and transmit
disease; then it is not difficult to see why insects are far more likely to be
thought of as aliens from a science fiction movie than fellow members
of the earth community (Imes, 2003).
Modern media culture exploits and accentuates this largely unexam-
ined fear of and hostility towards insects. Rarely does a science fiction
thriller not have at least some insect, or insect-like being, running
rampant across the landscape, thirsting for human blood or the power
to enslave humankind. This insect/monster/alien genre has been a
common theme of the film industry for nearly sixty years. The alien life
forms in the immensely popular Independence Day movie were conspic-
uously insect-like. The cinematic remake of Orson Welles’ War of the
Worlds has the hero fending off three-legged, bloodlusting, mechanical
extraterrestrials which cannot easily be mistaken for their similarity to
giant, ambulating insects. The enormously popular Men in Black movie
series depicts the alien villain as a cockroach-like being with a penchant
for sloughing-off real cockroaches from its skeleton throughout the
course of the movie.
Insects don’t fare much better in popular story and fairy tale. Little
Miss Muffet wasn’t frightened by a big burly bear but by a spider. In
Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Through the Looking Glass, when queried by
a kindly gnat about what insects Alice rejoices in from her far away land,
Alice responds that she doesn’t rejoice in insects at all.
In recent decades, there is no mistaking the fact that Western attitudes
towards the natural world have changed markedly. Protecting endan-
gered species, preserving wilderness areas, moderating global warming
and sustaining fragile ecosystems are common themes of modern life.
So, too, is the newfound emphasis on reincorporating the restorative
powers of connection with the natural world and its healing potential
for human physical, spiritual, sensory and community health. Finding
affinity with, respect for, and opportunities for interactions with animals,
both wild and domesticated, is a rapidly emerging part of what Louv
(2011) refers to as the new or renewed mind/body/nature connection.
Eco-therapy, nature therapy, animal-assisted therapy, green therapy, eco-
psychology, and eco-social work are increasingly common areas of study
8 Fred H. Besthorn

for those in the helping professions. Unfortunately, however, this appar-

ently newfound love for and connection to the natural world has not
pervaded the insect world. How is it that we have come to embrace the
preservation of and a deep affinity with whales, wolves, polar bears, cats,
dogs and gerbils, to name just a few, while at the same time kill without
hesitation any and all creeping, crawling things that have the misfortune
of crossing our paths? For all the progress the human species has made
in recent decades towards finding its way back to nature, the language of
war, loathing and eradication still informs our attitude towards insects.
We seem locked in an engrained specicide that sanctions the wholesale
extermination of insects – as if by doing so the world would be a much
better and safer place for everyone. When it comes to insects, it seems
our mantra is ‘Kill often, kill on sight, and kill mercilessly’.

Nature and human/animal affiliation in social work

Due in large measure to the emergence in the 1970s and 1980s of the
worldwide environmental movement, an expanded form of ecological
social work began to take shape. A new generation of theorists began to
recognise conceptual problems with social work’s conventional ecolog-
ical/systems frameworks. While social work spoke the ecological and
systems language of environments in interaction, in reality the focus
was mainly on individual behaviour in static environments.
Beginning in the 1980s and early 1990s, several social work
scholars (Hoff & McNutt, 1994; Hoff & Polack, 1993; Resnick & Jaffee,
1982) began to argue that the core values of social work and its conven-
tional ecological/systems models must be extended to support the
natural world and the impending environmental crisis. A new ecologi-
cally minded social work could not fully realise its stated commitment
to person-in-environment until it seriously considered the inseparable
link between human wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet.
Since then, there has been a flowering of published works on the
interrelationship between the natural environment and the theory
and practice of social work. A growing number of social workers from
North America, Europe, and Australia began to speak compellingly
concerning the importance of incorporating the natural environment
into the profession’s theoretical formulations and practice modalities
(Besthorn, 2008, 2012; Borrell, Lane, & Fraser, 2010; Coates, 2003,
2005; Gray & Coates, 2012; Jones, 2010; Hawkins, 2010; Lysack, 2010;
Mary, 2008; McKinnon, 2008; Molyneux, 2010; Peeters, 2012; Rogge,
2008; Shaw, 2008; Zapf, 2009). In an attempt to differentiate it from
Deep Ecological ‘Insectification’ 9

social work’s conventional ecological/systems frameworks, this alter-

native ecological perspective of social work has been referred to in
several different ways (for example, environmental social work, deep-
ecological social work, eco-spiritual social work). For its advocates,
this alternative ecological perspective better positioned a profession
often conspicuously absent in the emerging international consensus:
that earth’s ecosystems and its capacity to support life are in deep
trouble. Indeed, until the profession began to take seriously the impor-
tance of the natural world in its understanding of social work, the
profession could not fully realise its core commitment to person and
Closely related to social work’s newfound focus on the natural envi-
ronment has been a growing impetus to utilise the many beneficial
dimensions of the human-animal bond as an integral part of treatment
processes. Animal-assisted treatment, animal-assisted intervention,
animal-assisted therapy, animal-assisted techniques, and animal-facili-
tated interventions are increasingly common topics in the theoretical,
practice and research literature of helping disciplines such as nursing,
psychology, psychiatry, medicine, rehabilitation counselling, occupa-
tional therapy, hospice, gerontology, and corrections (Chandler, 2012;
Fine, 2010; Lind, 2009; Pichot, 2011; Trotter, 2011). Social work has
been a bit more reticent than other helping professions to incorporate
an understanding of human/animal bonding into its conceptualisa-
tions of and intervention on behalf of human health and wellbeing.
But in recent years this has changed, albeit incrementally (Bach, 2008;
Burgon, 2011; Dietz, Davis, & Pennings, 2012; Geist, 2011; Schaffer,
2009; Tedeschi, Fitchett, & Molidor, 2005; Walsh, 2009a, 2009b), with
a growing number of social work scholars and practitioners adding to
an expanding body of knowledge with respect to the importance of
relationships between animals and human beings, particularly in the
context of therapeutic practice.
This is, in many ways, a sea change for social work. The profession’s
philosophic legacy has been deeply ensconced in the enlightenment-
informed and humanistic-embedded idea of the primacy of human
beings residing at the pinnacle of the created order (Besthorn, 1997,
2008, 2012, 2013; Coates, 2003, 2005). The profession’s conventional
practice wisdom and statements of ethical responsibility have focused
almost exclusively on the inherent worth and value of human beings,
the importance of understanding human persons in the context of their
social environments, and the necessity of establishing and maintaining
healthy and supportive inter-human relationships.
10 Fred H. Besthorn

Social work scholar Thomas Ryan (2011, p. 4), in his work on the
necessity of expanding the profession’s moral considerability to animals,
makes this observation:

Contemporary social work’s moral framework does not allow for

the moral considerability of any creatures but human beings, who
are seen as not only possessing inherent value and dignity, but are
deemed to be the only beings having such status.

Infusing an appreciation for animals, particularly with respect to their

instrumental utility in helping social work intervention on behalf of
human persons, is a welcomed and, for this author, an eagerly antici-
pated emerging trend. But, there are several reasons for me to be both
optimistic and a bit wary.
First, at least as it is expressed in terms of animals and their impor-
tance to enhancing human wellbeing, I am hopeful this trend represents
a segment of some rediscovery of humanity’s deeper affinity for and
interconnectedness with the natural world on its own terms. Dogs, cats,
horses, fish, birds, rabbits, dolphins and a host of other domesticated
or quasi-domesticated mammalian species are frequent participants in
the profession’s discovery of the importance of animals to the practice
of social work, and I trust that with this comes a deeper appreciation for
their inherent dignity and worth. Secondly, I am also optimistic that
with this appreciation for animals comes a considerably more impor-
tant critical reflection on the deeply embedded anthropocentrism that
has largely informed social work’s philosophical and ethical frameworks
as well as its practice regimens. The world is not just a human world.
The world is not a place of humans and everything else. It is a world
of all beings – human and nonhuman in interrelated and reciprocal
Finally, I am a bit wary that the emergence of animal-assisted prac-
tices may simply represent another iteration of human exploitation of
animals for our own ends, however nobly therapeutic the language we
employ. The historic record is not encouraging. In truth, the human
species has always utilised animals to benefit their survival. But with
the advent of agribusiness and factory farming of animals and similar
practices, the modern Western industrial worldview has also pushed
consumer-fixated society to ever more cruel and exploitative manipu-
lations of animals for human benefit. Notwithstanding the newfound
focus on the therapeutic benefit of animals, we perhaps have not
come far from the viewpoint that while animals are indispensable
Deep Ecological ‘Insectification’ 11

to human survival, they are still little more than useful, but nonetheless
dumb and expendable, beasts.

Deep ecological identification: affiliation with all beings

As indicated earlier, I have concern that the new focus on the impor-
tance of animals in social work practice runs the risk of enshrining what
I call domestico-centrism – which is just another iteration of anthropo-
centrism to the degree that humans grant privilege to select categories
of species over others because of their utility for us and their deemed
similarity to us. That is, while playful kittens, cuddly dogs, and powerful
but gentle horses may be important to animal-assisted awareness, they
also share one thing in common: they are all closely affiliated with
human beings, and in large measure are all domesticated species. This
is perhaps in some cases a necessity, but it also represents a narrowing
of our perspectives of what counts in our moral and therapeutic consid-
eration of nonhuman species. I fear that insects will be no better off,
and perhaps even worse off, than before we rediscovered the therapeutic
potential of animals.
For many years I have suggested that the norms, rule postulates and
value priorities of deep ecology can help inform social work values,
ethical priorities and how it goes about its core activities (Besthorn,
1997, 2006, 2012; Besthorn & Canda, 2002). Deep ecology offers a way
of revisioning relationships between human and nonhuman beings that
takes into account a deeper identification with all beings. Its language
and descriptions can help social work better depict and explain the rela-
tionship between humans and nonhuman others. In this sense, it can
help the profession change the character of its understanding of, and
transactions with, other species.
The term deep ecology was coined in 1973 by Norwegian philosopher
Arne Naess (1973). Naess sought to describe a philosophically grounded
and experientially informed approach to human/nature relationships
(Drengson & Devall, 2010). He distinguished between ‘shallow’ and
‘deep’ ecology. Shallow ecology is concerned with ecological issues
because of their potential impact on humans, particularly privileged
classes and societies. This concern is steeped in an anthropocentric
(human-centred) perspective on humanity’s relationship with nature.
In contrast, deep ecology takes an ecocentric perspective on humanity’s
relationship with nature and is concerned more with issues of ecosys-
temic equality and less about rectifying specific ecological problems
(Naess, 1995a). From a deep ecological worldview, all peoples and all
12 Fred H. Besthorn

beings are accorded intrinsic and equal respect and moral considerability
(Naess, 2008). The intrinsic value of all life forms stems from the view
that all beings share an essential, interdependent relationship with each
other as part of a greater ecosystemic whole and thus an equal right to
flourish and develop to their full expression (Naess, 1989). Since all are
part of the greater whole, all are equal in intrinsic worth, independent
of their perceived usefulness for human purposes.
From a deep ecological perspective, these interdependent relation-
ships between human and nonhuman others constitute the very heart
of self-development, or what deep ecology would call maximum self-
realisation. Naess (1989, p. 263) distinguishes between his concept of
maximum self-realisation and that commonly used in Western society to
mean the ‘competitive development of a person’s talents and the pursuit
of an individual’s specific interests.’ From this conventional view, an
ongoing conflict arises between individual self-development and culti-
vating bonds with significant others – family, community and the more-
than-human world. According to this view, care for others is a moral
quality developed by suppression of selfness – by sacrificing one’s own
self-interests in favour of others. Development becomes a competitive,
dualistic, zero-sum game. One either becomes self-expanded through
increasing differentiation from others or becomes self-suppressed
through acquiescence to others.
Deep ecology challenges this either/or proposition, suggesting that one
can cultivate relationships with friends, with family, with other species,
without losing some part of self. Indeed, for deep ecology, there is no
self outside the context of expansive relational identification. Maximum
self-realisation arises only in the context of maximum relational identifi-
cation, thus increasing and insuring the potential for persons, societies,
other species, and all other life forms to come to their full realisation.
From this viewpoint, self-development involves a process of widening
one’s sense of self and deeply identifying with others – family, friends,
communities, our own species, and then every dimension of nonhuman
life (Naess, 1995b). There is no need to sacrifice self in preference to
other, since the interests of those with whom we deeply identify, other
species included, may be seen as one’s own best interests as well. Self
becomes most fully realised not solely when self-interests are met, but
rather when one begins to identify with more-than-one’s-self. We are
nature in relationship with itself – conscious, soulful, alive and able to
communicate with one another (Besthorn, 2007). Thus, maximum self-
realisation takes place in the context of relationship, and relationship is
forged in an expanding process of deepening identification. The depth
Deep Ecological ‘Insectification’ 13

of self-realisation depends upon the profound pleasure and satisfaction

we receive from deepening identification with other forms of life.

Deep ‘insectification’: Extending identification to

the insect world

The knowledge base of social work shares similarities with deep ecology.
Both have maintained a robust emphasis on the importance of iden-
tifying with ‘other’ through relationship. But, as I’ve suggested, for
social work, this relational identification has tended to be limited to
human beings and is thus, from deep ecology’s perspective, anthropo-
centric. There is an additional complication as well. As pointed out, the
healing and restorative potential of animals has led to the incorpora-
tion of animal-assisted activities into many of the helping professions,
including social work. It is relatively easy for people to experience rela-
tional identification with those animal species under human control –
beloved pets, domesticated livestock, and occasionally wild species.
Additionally, one of the recognisable features of these human/animal
relationships is that these animal species are ‘near-human’ in char-
acter, at least to the extent that they seem to be more ‘like us’ with
respect to their behaviours, physical characteristics, and, perhaps, their
sentience – their ability to experience pain and suffering. From deep
ecology’s perspective, this kind of near-human identification is simply
a form of anthropomorphism – projecting human traits upon selective
life forms. This creates a hierarchy of value between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’
life forms and thus establishes justification for the preferential treat-
ment of some species while others may be ignored or, in the case of
insects, annihilated.
My concern is that even while social work appears to be moving
towards a more morally inclusive stance with respect to our relationship
with certain animal species, this may unwittingly serve to obscure our
ongoing indifference to insects. From a deep ecological perspective, this
kind of near-human identification contributes to the continuation of
the pernicious, all-out assault on insects; for there are few other species
generally more ‘unlike us’ than insects. As social workers, we need what
I call a deep ‘insectification’ – encompassing a sense of rapport, moral
considerability, communion and profound empathy for and participa-
tion with all species, but especially with insects.
Insectification does not presume to imagine insects being more like
people so that we may then value them. Rather, their value is intrinsic
to their being precisely because they are, in most respects, not like us.
14 Fred H. Besthorn

What we share and, indeed, the ground for our empathy with them, is
our coequal membership in the natural community. They are nature
expressing as insects, we are nature expressing as humans but, in the
end, we are all nature expressing as life.
The idea of deep insectification may simply be a amusing pun, but
perhaps it serves to remind us, as deep ecology has so clearly explained,
that to be fully human is to be abundantly engaged in deep relational
identification with ‘all’ that is. I am not contending that it is unrea-
sonable for social work to make human beings a core focus of change
activity. Nor is it unreasonable to include animals in our helping enter-
prises as long as we understand that this inclusion stems from recog-
nition of our shared identification with their intrinsic value, and not
simply from how useful they may be to our therapeutic endeavours. I am
contending, however, that it is unreasonable and unethical to exclude
insect species from this sense of shared identification. Such shallow iden-
tification is both anthropocentric and anthropomorphic. It leads to the
absurd result of trying to help people through recognition and utilisa-
tion of one species, seen as convivial and beneficial, while neglecting or
blithely contributing to the destruction of another species seen as alien
and threatening. In the short term, select animal species may live better,
and we feel better for our efforts to protect and utilise them for compas-
sionate purposes. But in the long run, we continue our adversarial rela-
tionship with the insect world, somehow failing to contemplate what
life might be like if we were somehow able to eradicate them all.
As a child, ants were often a source of wonder, and their journeys
almost seemed heroic. They transformed my perception of all life. They
broadened my small circle of community, and they allowed me to enter
their world. They had become in many ways companions and friends.
If social work is to take seriously a re-envisioned idea of including all
beings into its understanding of its ethical commitments, it cannot do
so unless this also includes our friends in the insect world.

Bach, C. (2008). “His ears are so soft!” Vepets: An animal-assisted visitation/
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The Meaning of Animals in
Women’s Lives: The Importance
of the ‘Domestic’ Realm to
Social Work
Jan Fook

Almost my first awareness of my own identity was as a dog lover. I do

not know how this came about. It almost feels as if my love of dogs was
born with me. I was about five years old when I became fully aware of
loving dogs. I mention this here, at the outset, because it seems remark-
able to me now that over 50 years later, after I have built almost an
entire career writing about social work practice and theory (and mostly
not about dogs), that I am finally writing about how the two connect –
dogs and social work.
I work largely now with critical reflection in professional practice.
Using critical reflection, I have been able to examine some of the very
deep assumptions underlying the cultural norms in our profession (Fook
& Gardner, 2007). Often these assumptions are evident in personal expe-
rience. And so this is what I plan to do in this chapter – to reflect on this
separation between the two realms – animals and social work – in our
profession, in order to uncover some of the deeper influences that have
sustained it, using my own experience as a starting point.
I wonder why, for instance, academic writing and research in social
work have largely disregarded the importance of animals in people’s
lives? What are the broader cultures that have influenced our thinking
as professionals in devaluing people’s relationships with animals in
their domestic lives? How does our thinking need to change in order
to develop a more animal-cognisant, and therefore a more well-
rounded, understanding of how human beings live, and sustain them-
selves to live, in sometimes ordinary, sometimes highly inhospitable

The Meaning of Animals in Women’s Lives 19

In this chapter, I focus my interest on the role of animals in what I

have termed the ‘domestic’ or home realm. I also focus on the experi-
ence of women. There is good reason for these two choices. I do feel
that, to some extent, the role of domestic animals has been downplayed
in much the same way that the role of women has been downplayed
in a patriarchal world. The domestic realm has often been associated
with the worlds of women and/or children, and therefore deemed to
be of less significance than the more public world inhabited by adult
men and widely recognised social achievement. In this sense, women
and animals can both be said to belong to groups that have experienced
marginalisation (Gaarder, 2005). The social devaluing of women, of
course, is not news.
However what I am particularly interested in is how and why the
importance of animals in human lives has also been relegated to a subser-
vient position in the thinking of many academics and professionals
who, frankly, should know better. By this, yes, I mean social workers,
whose profession is built on social justice and challenging of oppres-
sions. As well, our profession prides itself on understanding the whole
person in social context. Why then have we been party to ignoring such
an important element of the domestic context of a significant number
of households? There is, to be fair, a reasonable amount of work, cham-
pioned by social workers, on the significance of animals, particularly
in therapeutic contexts (for example, Walsh, 2009). But still, as much
other literature claims, this inclusion of animals remains a minority
view (Risley-Curtiss, Rogge, & Kawam, 2013).

Reflecting on some of my experiences

Let me return to some of my own experiences in order to examine this

I have lived with at least one dog from about seven years of age; I
have always wanted to have one near me. I have no special powers with
dogs, but somehow my life does not feel complete without a dog in it.
It might seem obvious that I should have chosen a career working with
animals, but this did not fit with my parents’ idea of what I should do.
I suppose there must have been some status concerns (my parents were
Australian-born Chinese, and status and education were important). So
the choices were limited, and I became a social worker. It seemed then
that a working life with animals was out of the question, so animals
became relegated to the realm of ‘hobbies’, as if I could not earn a living
from a ‘hobby’ (perhaps only more leisured classes thought this was
20 Jan Fook

acceptable). I remember clearly being told that social work was working
with ‘people’. So there it was – animals and people already split into two
separate categories, same as ‘work’ and ‘hobby’.
As I progressed in my academic career in social work, I still maintained
an interest in animals, and often toyed with the idea of developing a
research strand in animal companionship. I remember, long ago, being
especially moved by the story of one of the participants in my partner’s
research study of dying people (Kellehear, 1990). There was a woman,
with less than a year to live, who euthanised her dog because she was
uncertain who would care for it after her death, and she could not bear
this additional anxiety. This was extremely traumatic, and only added
to her own distress at the end of her own life. I felt strongly that some-
thing was seriously wrong with a society where people felt that this was
their only choice. I really wanted to turn my social worker’s attention to
addressing this issue and went so far as to write one paper on companion
animal loss and the implications for professionals (Morley & Fook,
2005). However, I kept being held back from doing more work in this
area by thinking that I needed to pursue only one strand of academic
research (critical social work) and that I couldn’t manage to work in an
entirely different direction as well. Such is some of the academic culture
(which I fear is worsening) that encourages increasingly narrow special-
isms that are not necessarily borne out of the passions of experience.
I feel even more strongly, towards the end of my career, that research
that emerges, or even better, bursts out of experience is still the best to
pursue (Moustakas, 1990). The new research funding-driven culture has
the potential to distance professionals from experience-led reasons for
research, and of course by implication, from doing research that might
have direct and immediate applicability in their current life and work.
A second critical point arose for me when I was working in a bullying
workplace. A feminist colleague and I were talking about what helped
us cope with such an environment. Unequivocally, we both sponta-
neously volunteered that it was our dogs who sustained us. From this
conversation came a series of three books on the meaning of animals
in women’s lives – dogs, cats and horses. I remember insisting that the
photos be ‘domestic’ – just ordinary snapshots. I felt that this kind of
perspective was important in order to rectify a gap I had identified in
popular literature.
As a ‘hobby’, I had begun collecting dog literature some years earlier. I
favoured non-fiction – stories written about real life dogs. I noticed that
the bulk of this literature was written by men, and most of it was about
‘hero’ dogs (for example, Fitzpatrick, 1913) or working dogs. Especially in
The Meaning of Animals in Women’s Lives 21

the fictional world, ‘hero’ dogs were most famous (for example, Knight,
1965, Lassie Come Home). When I would go to search for this literature
in secondhand bookshops, it would either be in a ‘natural history’ or
‘animals’ section, or in a ‘children’s’ section. Even though I discovered
some very distinguished authors such as John Galsworthy (1930) and his
wife Ada (Galsworthy, 1935) had written about their lives with their own
dogs, such works were not included in a ‘biography’ section. Somehow
the topic was not considered mainstream (or ‘human’?). Perhaps some
distinguished authors (for example, Sir James & Lady Fraser, 1937) only
felt they could write about their dogs if they wrote the book for children.
There seemed to be a distinct gap in the literature about ordinary dogs
involving ordinary women.
So when my colleague wondered out loud what we could do about our
difficult workplace situation, we decided to produce a book, written by
women, about their own dogs in their own lives (Fook & Klein, 2000).
This was so successful that one on cats, and later one on horses followed.
These gave very personal, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, insights
into the meaning of these animals in the women’s lives. I will return to
some of these stories and analyse their themes in the second part of this
What was interesting about editing these three books was that,
although I entered them on my curriculum vitae, I categorised them as
‘non-academic’ books. Various interview committees (when I applied
for different jobs) would ask me sheepishly about them, or not at all.
I was aware that their status, in academic and professional terms, was
marginal, or at best uncertain. I of course had reflected this uncertainty
in my own behaviour. Sometimes when I was being introduced as a
speaker at conferences, these books would be referred to in a humourous
way, or sometimes in a warm way, but always as somehow being outside
the norm of what should be expected of an academic like me.
As I reflect now on my thinking back then, I think I still had great
ambivalence about how normal stories, written by normal people,
could be seen as academic. Of course now, with the huge acceptance of
narrative approaches (Selbin, 2010), this prejudice has largely broken
down. However, I do think that much of it still remains in more subtle
forms. For instance, I think it seems more difficult to justify (in a
profession like social work) a focus on the ordinary. We are so used
to our research focus needing to be on pathology or social problems
in order for it to be seen to be directly applicable to social work. For
example, I do note that much of the academic literature pertaining to
animals in social work focuses on mental health (Miltiades & Shearer,
22 Jan Fook

2011), domestic abuse (Fitzgerald, 2007), or child protection (Girardi

& Pozzuto, 2012). Of course these are laudable and necessary topics.
However, I also believe that in order to understand how animals can
be helpful in any of these areas, we also need a more ‘normalised’
understanding of the role they play for people (who are not clients or
service users) in everyday life. I think it is sometimes assumed in social
work that unless our research is focused directly on problem-solving or
program development that it is somehow not ‘applied’ enough (and
therefore not really social work). I would argue that social work is one
of the few professions that can and should try to see the people in
their entire context; this means understanding from the point of view
of the mainstream, as well as how specific and diverse populations
and experiences fit with this. This also, of course, assists in developing
preventative programmes and policies.
Another time I strayed from ‘social work’ writing as I saw it, I
conducted a study of lost companion animal notices (Kellehear & Fook,
1997). This study examined 100 notices and theorised about grieving
over animals. What we observed were the different strategies the writers
of the notices used to gain support from the general public in searching
for their animals. The majority seemed to assume that their personal
grief would not be shared, so they appealed to medical concerns (‘the
dog needs medicine’); they depersonalised the animal (as if it was simply
a lost possession); or they displaced their grief onto their children. Only
a minority were open about their own personal grief or distress. These
kinds of appeals indicate that most people assumed that to simply feel
an unassuaged loss for their companion animals would not be socially
These findings were salutary, as in fact the study had been motivated
as a direct reaction to the experience of a friend and colleague. This
person had lost a small, sweet puppy who was accidentally poisoned.
Our friend had attended a work meeting the next day at which she
appeared teary. When asked about it, she responded that her dog had
just died. Someone in the room was crass enough to laugh.
This type of reaction points up the ‘disenfranchised grief’ (Doka,
1989) experienced by people who are deemed not to have a social right
to grieve over particular types of losses. Typically, this might be the grief
perhaps experienced by a gay lover, where the relationship was not
public. In our friend’s case, her grief was disenfranchised presumably
because the love and loss of a dog are not considered worthy of ‘normal’
sympathy. This propensity to measure and compare the degrees of
attachment and loss of animals with the loss of humans (and to consider
The Meaning of Animals in Women’s Lives 23

those of animals less worthy) is part of this broader cultural context that
separates human and ‘animalkind’.
This brings to mind an incident experienced by another colleague of
mine in a seminar where studies of death, dying and grief were being
discussed. The topic of grief over the loss of animals arose, and a member
of the audience volunteered that she resented the idea that her grief
over the loss of her son could be compared to someone else’s loss of
their dog. In her mind, this amounted to a comparison of her son with
a dog. This appears to be a common (but erroneous) type of thinking:
that somehow the degree of the loss equates to the value of the essence
of the being which was lost. And again, since it is assumed that animals
are somehow lesser than humans, then by definition the grief over one
must be far less than the other. I suggest that such thinking misinterprets
and measures loss in far too static terms. The loss is meaningful because
of the relationship of the being that was lost to the grieving person, and
the degree of loss felt will accord with this meaning. It is the loss of the
relationship that is important, not the intrinsic value of the being that
was lost (Lagoni, Butler, & Hetts, 1994).
Of course it may be argued that the type of relationship is partly
determined by the nature of the beings involved, and this is true, too.
For instance, the type of protection afforded by a big powerful animal
like a horse may make for a different relationship from that based on
nurturing a small, vulnerable kitten. However the type of relationship
is a different matter from the degree of attachment or loss felt when the
relationship is lost. To compare or quantify losses does not seem to be
helpful as a way of understanding or recognising the experience.
Therefore, this tendency to quantify or compare, which lies at the
heart of much of our orientation to research, is problematic when it
comes to appreciating the human-animal bond. The attempt to repre-
sent the experience of human-animal relationships in the terms in which
human-human relationships are understood, and to also compare the
two by measurement, is, I believe, deeply erroneous. It does not provide
an accurate basis for understanding how human-animal relationships
are experienced.

Deconstructing these assumptions

It is clear from my own experiences that research and professional cultures

seem to work against valuing the contribution of animals, especially in
the domestic life of women. If we deconstruct some of the thinking
involved, it becomes evident that our tendency to develop polarised
24 Jan Fook

categories, and create ‘binary opposites’ (Berlin, 1990) lies at the heart
of the split we create between the worlds of ‘animals’ and ‘humans’,
‘leisure/hobby’ and ‘work’, and the domestic and public realms. In addi-
tion, personal experience is less valued as a source of research investiga-
tion, and this tendency is growing with the newer funding-led research
cultures. And of course, focusing only on one main topic area, whilst
perhaps being a more efficient way to capitalise on research efforts, may
mean that different strands of research are not brought together in a
way that might foster more creative ways of understanding complex
phenomena. This narrowness is enhanced by ‘scientific’ orientations
to research that value measurement-based methodologies, and thus
counter more open-ended ways to understanding experience. In turn,
focusing on problem-driven or ‘applied’ topics can also draw attention
away from the everyday.
So the role of animals in the everyday lives of ordinary women, as
told in accounts of personal experience, is not a topic deemed particu-
larly noteworthy in mainstream social work research. However, as I have
shown above, there is no good reason to perpetuate this bias. It may in
fact be simply an artefact of taken-for-granted thinking, of deep assump-
tions embedded in our professional and research cultures that have not
been questioned adequately. In fact, I believe this is precisely the kind
of understanding we need if we are to begin to understand how any
human life might be enhanced through companionship with an animal
(Sable, 2013; Tedeschi, Fitchett, & Molidor, 2005). This is also precisely
the kind of focus that captures the spirit of social work with its emphasis
on ‘person-in-context’ (Hamilton, 1951).

Stories from ordinary women

So what do the stories of ordinary women tell us about the meaning of

animals in their lives?
In the following section, I answer this question by analysing the
experiences of women as told in the three books I co-edited on dogs
(Fook & Klein, 2000), cats (Fook, Hawthorne, & Klein, 2003) and horses
(Fook, Hawthorne, & Klein, 2004). These pieces are written by women
of all ages, from across the world. The majority are Australian and have
university degrees. Many have careers as writers of fiction, although
some are academics. They are not, therefore, a cross section of all types
of women, but they do write as people who are telling stories of their
animal companions in their own way. In total, there are 249 contri-
butions, 84 about dogs, 78 about cats, and 87 about horses. The vast
The Meaning of Animals in Women’s Lives 25

majority are prose narratives, about real life animals and real life expe-
riences. A very small minority are in the form of poems, and an even
smaller number are fictional narratives.
I have focused only on the non-fictional prose accounts. Approximately
half (about 130) of these stories are simply about the lives or character-
istics of the animals themselves. I have not focused on these, but rather
on the pieces that speak directly about the writer’s relationship with the
animal or what their companion has meant to them. In these types of
accounts, the specific meaning of the animal in the woman’s life is spelt
out directly.
I have grouped the themes that arose into three main categories that
I have titled: ‘animals as friends and beyond’, ‘meeting specific needs’,
and ‘existential meanings’. These three groupings were reasonably
self-evident: the first category includes what most of us might assume
are the usual benefits of living with a companion animal, but many
women have also extended their appreciation of their animals beyond
what might normally be expected of a friendship. The second category
includes themes involving particular periods or incidents in, or aspects
of, women’s lives where an animal provided what they needed at the
time. The last category, which I have termed ‘existential meanings’,
covers themes relating to broader ways of being or understanding the
world or themselves as people.
With the quotes, I have referenced the name of the specific author
with the page number of the specific book (referred to as either Dogs,
Cats or Horses1) rather than using a more traditional form of academic

Animals as friends and beyond2

Many women refer to the animal they live with as ‘friend’ or ‘companion’.
They do not on the whole speak about ‘owning a pet’ and the term
‘friend’ denotes a strongly perceived equality between the person and
the animal. Sometimes the animal is spoken of as a family member. The
women derive comfort and emotional support from this relationship,
as would be expected of a family member. One woman refers to ‘The
sheer contentedness of a small curled up dog nestled in my lap in the
evening’ (Simmons, p. 123, Dogs) and captures the domestic bliss that
can be afforded by the presence of an animal in one’s home. Often the
animal adds the dimension of enjoyment to women’s home lives. Most
of the women happily speak about ‘loving’ their animals. None of this,
of course, is surprising.
26 Jan Fook

What is surprising is that a large proportion of the stories speak of

a quality or intensity of relationship that goes beyond that of friend-
ship: ‘What Branka and I shared together was much more than a friend-
ship. She was my companion in the saddest time of my life’ (Blattmann,
p. 172, Dogs). The word ‘unique’ is a common descriptor of this relation-
ship. Many women speak about a ‘unique understanding‘ that develops
between them and the animal, or sometimes of a ‘unique bond’. This
suggests it is a relationship never experienced before, perhaps never
experienced with another person: ‘I love no human like I love the horse’
(Johns, p. 107, Horses); ‘Maybe a dog can be patient, understanding
and loyal in ways that a human being cannot’ (Beech, p. 40, Dogs), and
perhaps never expected to be experienced again. They refer to a devotion,
often so strong or deep that they can only believe it to be a ‘one-off’ and
may want to sustain this uniqueness in memory of the animal (Rowland,
p. 102, Dogs). Several women refer to the animal as their ‘soul mate’: ‘We
had a connectedness that just doesn’t happen through chance. A special
relationship; intuitively knowing how the other feels: a friendship that
lasts forever’ (Barber, p. 69, Dogs).
There is something about how the relationship unfolds and develops,
too, that is integral to what it may mean to the woman. Some women
speak of ‘coming to an understanding’, of developing a mutual and
trusted relationship with a companion who is not of their kind. One
woman referred to the relationship with her horse: ‘It’s not even about
getting there. It’s about her being my trusted companion along the way’
(Maroney, p. 57, Horses), another of the bond as ‘we are two yet one’
(Taylor, p. 12, Horses). The development of understanding and mutuality
was particularly a theme with horses, where the relationship started as
one of trainer (the woman) to trainee (the horse). The women in these
instances often speak about having to learn from the horse about how
to respect another being, and how to grow a relationship where their
respective needs and personalities are accommodated and can flourish
into a true partnership. One woman described how her relationship
with her beloved cat developed so that she derived a ‘sense of belonging’
(Moseley, p. 109, Cats).

Meeting specific needs

Many of the above themes relate to a broader quality of relationship

that is sometimes harder to detail and describe. It does seems easier
to pinpoint the meaning of animals in women’s lives when it comes
The Meaning of Animals in Women’s Lives 27

to meeting more specific needs, in particular in times of crisis, loss, or

when security is needed. It is common, particularly with horses, that
women feel these animals are a type of ‘protector’ or ‘guardian’. Another
common theme is to see the animal as a ‘saviour’. This may be because
of emotional support provided in an abusive situation (Fearn, p. 178,
Cats), companionship or support through mental illnesses, or simply
‘curing a broken heart’ (Taylor, p. 75, Horses). Sometimes the ‘therapy’
(Cameron-Szirom, p. 118, Dogs) can be on a very domestic level, such as
one woman who talks of ‘lightening up’ from the day’s woes whenever
she comes home and sees her dogs (Le, p. 140, Dogs). One woman’s
words sum it up well when speaking about her relationship with her
dog: ‘which just goes to show how loving things can help you through
the bad times’ (Burton, p. 203, Dogs).
In reflecting on their relationship with their animal companions,
some women delve further into the importance of their animal to their
own identity, and how their animal has helped them grow and develop
as a person. For instance, several women acknowledged how their cat
or dog was a kind of role model for them, showing them ways of being
which they desired for themselves: ‘I wish I could throw away my inhibi-
tions and enjoy life the way she does’ (Geraghty, p. 151, Cats). Another
woman spoke of her cat as being able to do or take what she wanted,
and this being her reason for loving her: ‘She rules her territory with
an iron claw, she does exactly what she likes, and that is why I love her
so’ (Fletcher, p. 28, Cats). Another talked about learning more about
herself through her dog, and her ability to recognise that what she loved
was what she was not, and savouring her time with him: ‘I loved his
dogness ... that time was wordless’ (Adams, p. 29, Dogs).
Other women gained specific learning from their animals. Quite a few
women felt they gained a sense of freedom and control, especially when
riding their horses, but also when observing the horses’ way of being.
Learning to ‘live without fear’ (Eve, p. 125, Horses) was mentioned several
times. Quite a few spoke of learning how to teach, especially from their
horses, where a mutual understanding needed to be reached in order
to enjoy riding together. The theme of power was particularly common
in the pieces about horses, and presumably this is partly to do with the
physical freedom and safety (from other humans) that is afforded by
being astride a horse.
Sometimes the meeting of these more specific needs evolves into a
pattern that influences the rest of the woman’s life. These are what I
have included in the next section.
28 Jan Fook

Existential meanings

In this category, I refer to the broader and more lifelong meanings that
women derive from their relationship with their animals. First, the
animal companion is often seen as bringing joy and enriching one’s life.
Many women describe the contentedness, the domestic satisfaction, that
sharing life with a beloved animal can bring. One woman described her
dog as teaching her ‘absolute joy in the moment of being’ (Dunsford,
p. 189, Dogs). Another describes her dog poetically as ‘a sublime exten-
sion to my life’ (Sen, p. 38, Dogs). In one case, a woman casts her cat as
a being who actually gives her a domestic life: ‘There are now stories
to share, moments to capture on film, adventures to experience and
record. There is hope, challenge and laughter. We are a family of the
21st century. Our lives are filled with joy and passion moreso’ (Fonseca,
p. 124, Cats).
This theme is perhaps echoed in the idea that animals can sometimes
make people more human, specifically because the nurturance they
require brings out a softer side of people. One woman recalled how her
own mother was a tough disciplinarian on the children in the family, but
indulged the dog. They understood her caring side through witnessing
this (Munro, p. 2, Dogs). The opportunity and ability to nurture is also
seen as something that an animal gives to a human.
Animals can also be seen as connectors – obviously with other people,
but it goes broader than that. One woman spoke of her cat: ‘What I do
know is that cats are the point at which I connect with the universe’
(Quain, p. 132, Cats). Animals also provide grounding, as space for
reflection and for ‘peace within the storm’ (Eve, p. 124, Horses).
Another woman describes the experience of glimpsing her horse
during a time when she was distressed and consumed by grief, as ‘Her
call brought me back from the dark place I had created inside myself and
reminded me what I had to live for’ (Edgecumbe, p. 140, Horses). This
broader existential platform provided by an animal companion is also
cast in more positive terms by another woman who characterised the
moment of realising that she had successfully managed to ride and jump
her horse, as ‘it’s not everyday you see your future and it swallows you
whole’ (Stumbo, p. 31, Horses). One woman summed up the nine years
of her time with her dog: ‘We shared nine years of our lives and she let
me understand the world in a different way. She was singular, passionate
and strong and she was my guardian in more ways than one’ (Moseley,
p. 78, Dogs).
The Meaning of Animals in Women’s Lives 29

Lastly, the experience of getting to know, love and work with a horse
is characterised poignantly by Anne Game (p. 204, Dogs) as ‘interbeing’,
a state of mutual dependence which develops over a long period of time.
This term seems to capture, for many women, the life of living with a
beloved companion who just happens not to be human: ‘We created a
personal legend together and it saved and changed my life’ (Bellamy,
p. 74, Dogs); and on a very domestic level, ‘a comfort in things small and
ordinary ... frees me up to be me’ (Fook, p. 206, Dogs).
The accounts of human-animal companionship I have analysed in
this chapter suggest one thing very clearly – that our lives and very being
as humans are immeasurably enriched by sharing with animals. Some
research literature now exists that supports some of these themes, specif-
ically the redemptive contribution of animals (Irvine, 2013) and the
role of animals in connecting humans with their broader world (Faver,
2009). Animals are, in fact, an important, perhaps for some people, an
integral part of who we are as human beings. They may in fact be an
important part of what makes and keeps us human, as is refreshingly
told by a serviceman returned from Iraq who pulled out all stops to save
a puppy found in Baghdad (Kopelman, 2008). If this is the case, then I
can see no reason for leaving animals out of the human story. As social
workers, we are responsible for ensuring that this story is developed as
fully as possible by recognising the contribution of companion animals
in the domestic lives of the people that we engage with.

Where to from here?

How do we redress this lack of attention to companion animals in

people’s lives in our profession? The obvious answer to this is to simply
factor domestic animals into our research, and also into our basic prac-
tices (for example, social assessments, community program develop-
ment, and so on). However, I do think there are some broader, and
perhaps less obvious, changes we need to make.
Foremost amongst these are the changes we need to make concerning
our hidden assumptions about what constitutes legitimate research
subject matter and research methodology. What my reflections illus-
trate starkly to me is how we need to keep up with the challenge of
researching what is important in people’s everyday lives (and in this I
include ourselves as people and professionals). By this I mean valuing
the research problems that arise out of daily experience, and contin-
uing to value and develop relevant ways to research them, rather than
30 Jan Fook

being driven solely by research agendas and cultures that may arise from
current funding or policy initiatives (which are not necessarily of our
own making).
An important methodological point that arises for me from this chapter
is that I am reminded of how difficult it can be to present experience
from the point of view of the protagonist. This is particularly the case
where the experience being researched may be under-researched, and the
thematic and language categories may not exist to adequately describe
the experience. The stories of the women I have spoken about here have
found ways of speaking about their relationship with their animals
that are not necessarily adequately encompassed by the ways we have
of speaking about our relationships with other people. It is a reminder
that simply using terms or categories that we already know, or trying to
compare the new phenomenon with already known phenomena, may
not do justice to the new experience we are trying to present. In other
words, trying to characterise relationships with animals in comparison
with relationships with people may not be a valid way of understanding
the experience of companionship with an animal. There may of course
be many other human experiences that also suffer by comparison with
dissimilar phenomena. And so we need to stay with the challenge of
developing methodologies that allow us to be open to new and unex-
plored vistas of human experience.

I am extremely grateful to Tracy Monaghan for assistance in collecting the
academic literature for this chapter.
1. The books are Fook & Klein (2000), and Fook, Hawthorne, & Klein (2003,
2004) respectively.
2. Emphasis added for all quotes on pp. 10–14.

Berlin, S. (1990). Dichotomous and complex thinking. Social Service Review, 64(1),
Doka, K. (Ed.) (1989). Disenfranchised Grief. Lexington: Lexington Books/DC
Heath & Co.
Faver, C. (2009). Seeking our place in the web of life: Animals and human spiritu-
ality. Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work, 28(4), 362–78.
Fitzgerald, A. (2007). “They gave me a reason to live”: The protective effects of
companion animals on the suicidality of abused women. Humanity and Society,
31(4), 355–78.
Fitzpatrick, P. (1913). Jock of the Bushveld. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
The Meaning of Animals in Women’s Lives 31

Fook, J., & Gardner, F. (2007). Practising Critical Reflection. Maidenhead: Open
University Press.
Fook, J., Hawthorne, S., & Klein, R. (Eds.) (2003). Cat Tales: The Meaning of Cats in
Women’s Lives. Melbourne: Spinifex Press.
Fook, J., Hawthorne, S., & Klein, R. (Eds.) (2004). Horse Dreams: The Meaning of
Horses in Women’s Lives. Melbourne: Spinifex Press.
Fook, J., & Klein, R. (Eds.) (2000). A Girl’s Best Friend: The Meaning of Dogs in
Women’s Lives. Melbourne: Spinifex Press.
Fraser, J., & Fraser, L. (1937). Pasha the Pom. London: Blackie & Son.
Gaarder, E. (2005). Connecting Inequalities: Women and the Animal Rights Movement.
(Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Arizona State University, America. ProQuest
Dissertations and Theses, Order No. 3166091.
Galsworthy, A. (1935). The Dear Dogs. Kingswood: Windmill Press.
Galsworthy, J. (1930). Memories. London: William Heinemann.
Girardi, A., & Pozzuto, J. (2012). The significance of animal cruelty in child
protection investigations. Social Work Research, 36(1), 53–60.
Hamilton, G. (1951). Theory and Practice of Social Casework. New York: Columbia
University Press.
Irvine, L. (2013). Animals as lifechangers and lifesavers: Pets in the redemption
narratives of homeless people. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42(1),
Kellehear, A. (1990). Dying of Cancer. New York: Harwood Academic Press.
Kellehear, A., & Fook, J. (1997). Lassie come home: A study of ‘lost pet’ notices.
Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 34(3), 191–202.
Knight, E. (1965). Lassie Come-Home. London: Cassell & Co.
Kopelman, J. (2008). From Baghdad, With Love. Guildford: First Lyons Press.
Lagoni, L., Butler, C., & Hetts, S. (1994). The Human-Animal Bond and Grief.
Philadelphia: W. Saunders.
Miltiades, H., & Shearer, J. (2011). Attachment to pet dogs and depression in rural
older adults. Anthrozoos, 24(2), 147–54.
Morley, C., & Fook, J. (2005). Pet loss and the implications for professionals: A
review. Mortality, 10(2), 127–43.
Moustakas, C. (1990). Heuristic Research. Newbury Park: Sage.
Risley-Curtiss, C., Rogge, M., & Kawam, E. (2013). Factors affecting social workers’
inclusion of animals in practice. Social Work, 58(2), 153–61.
Sable, P. (2013). The pet connection: An attachment perspective. Clinical Social
Work Journal, 41(1), 93–9.
Selbin, E. (2010). Revolution, Rebellion, Resistance: The Power of Story. London: Zed
Tedeschi, P., Fitchett, J., & Molidor, C. (2005). The incorporation of animal-as-
sisted intervention in social work education. Journal of Family Social Work, 9(4),
Walsh, F. (2009). Human-animal bonds II: The role of pets in family systems and
family therapy. Family Process, 48(4), 481–99.
Integrative Health Thinking and
the One Health Concept: Is Social
Work All for ‘One’ or ‘One’ for All?
Cassandra Hanrahan


During the past 20 years, the three branches of medicine – human, veter-
inarian or other animal, and conservation – have undergone a signifi-
cant shift towards greater integrative thinking about health and welfare.
The global emergence of the concept of One Health has grown out of
a number of sociopolitical, biomedical, and environmental pressures
and influences, acting both internally on the theoretical limits of the
health professions and disciplines, and externally on their relationships
to one another and to their respective service sectors. Such myriad forces
combine increasingly complex issues that traverse and merge the tradi-
tional boundaries of local and global terrains, resulting in far-reaching
changes. Many of these global changes are fundamentally ‘concomitant
with the increase in human population and its ramifications of rapid
urbanisation, intensified livestock production, encroachment of ecosys-
tems and globalised trade and traffic’ (Zinsstag, Schelling, Waltner-
Toews, & Tanner, 2011, p. 149). In addition, increased knowledge about
and risks of zoonotic diseases that mutually affect all animals, including
humans, are challenging the traditional academic boundaries of the
‘helping’ professions, including social work.
The contemporary unsettling of the traditional material and theo-
retical terrains of both local and global health realities highlights the
accumulative failures of conventional health fields and disciplines to
solve or resolve the various problems and issues they address within the
existing modernist worldview:

The world has become a global community, made up of villages

as small as a group of bandas in rural Tanzania and as large as the

Integrative Health Thinking and the One Health Concept 33

13 million people in Mumbai, India. The smoke from one village

blows over the hills, pastures, and oceans only to be inhaled in distant
villages. Health issues are no different. What happens in one nation
or geographic area has repercussions for the health and well being of
that region and potentially the whole global community. (Conrad,
Mazet, Clifford, Scott, & Wilkes, 2009, p. 268)

This globalised vision of the world, with its competitive transactions

between groups of separate and distinct entities with fixed inherent
characteristics, is re-envisioned within the concept of One Health. The
One Health concept promotes a greater understanding of ecosystem
health that encourages a reassessment of the relationships that make
up the whole of the universe as vitally dynamic, interconnected, inter-
dependent and diverse. Accordingly, the concept of One Health can
facilitate a much-needed exploration of and discourse about the inter-
connectedness and interdependence of humans, other animals, and
natural environments in social work.
The One Health (One Health Initiative, 2013a) concept is a ‘worldwide
strategy for expanding interdisciplinary collaborations and communica-
tions in all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environ-
ment’. As such, One Health offers not only a broader definition of health,
but a possible template for a vital new paradigm to address not only
existing and increasingly complex and chronic health problems, but also
the wicked1 health and environmental problems associated with globali-
sation. By way of highlighting the magnitude of the existing issues and
problems, and the imperative for an innovative framework for thinking
about and responding to the multifarious negative impacts, it is worth
quoting at length from a discussion paper on the One Health approach to
global health education. Conrad et al. (2009, p. 270) argue that

In addition to infectious disease, the veterinary and public health

professions are called upon to solve environmental (ecosystem) health
problems involving the management of agricultural byproducts,
environmental contaminants, and air and water quality. The rapidly
increasing human population, along with the industry, agriculture,
and commerce needed to sustain it, has dramatically expanded the
rural-urban interface, accelerating the movement of pathogens and
pollutants among people and animals. In addition, the influx of
human-generated toxins and chemicals seriously erodes the health
and vitality of animal populations and communities. The challenge
of sustaining healthy ecosystems defies simple solutions and narrow
34 Cassandra Hanrahan

approaches. Pathogens, toxins, and environmental change are taking

an increasing toll on the health of ecosystems. Although the prob-
lems are complex, they all point to one conclusion. We must develop
the research, and service capacity and infrastructure to prevent and
respond to these rapidly expanding problems, focusing not only on
disease, but also on the promotion of health at individual, popula-
tion, and ecosystem levels.

The call to develop an integrative research, service capacity and infra-

structure to address multi-dimensional and multi-locational problems
that resist resolution within the current worldview, propitiously sets the
stage for what I suggest could amount to a paradigm shift.
Conventional health thinking and practice are grounded in the liberal
individualism and humanism that distinguish the modernist worldview,
which in turn privileges rationalism and positivist science over other
ways of seeing the world. The momentum for a scientific paradigm
shift and the application of One Health that would fundamentally alter
humanity’s relationship to, and way of being in, the world, is contin-
gent upon its pivotal concepts of interconnectedness, diversity, and
interdependence. Notably, these core concepts are also of crucial impor-
tance to critical postmodern critiques of liberal humanism, in particular
the socially constructed nature of personhood, other animals, and our
relationships to one another. The salient question for ascertaining the
real transformative potential of One Health is therefore a political one –
whose interests are to be served by greater integrative health thinking,
and why?
Presently, there is no commonly agreed upon definition of One Health.
Nonetheless, ‘evidence for added value of a coherent application of “one
health” compared to separated sectorial thinking is, however, now
growing’ (Zinsstag et al., 2011, p. 148, emphasis added), and it has been
suggested that

integrative thinking is increasingly being considered in academic

curricula, clinical practice, ministries of health and livestock/agricul-
ture and international organizations ... challenges remain, focusing
around key questions such as how does “one health” evolve and what
are the elements of a modern theory of health? (emphasis added)

In this chapter, arguments about the theoretical limits of One Health

will be explored by examining the ontological and epistemological
scope and depth of its integrative thinking, and hence its strengths and
Integrative Health Thinking and the One Health Concept 35

limitations as a framework for transformative and sustainable ecosystem

health strategies, programmes, and services. This chapter will also briefly
explore why even where integrative thinking is manifest within conven-
tional and critical social work, social work is conspicuously absent from
the One Health discourse.

One Health

The interrelationship between human and veterinary medicine is not

a new concept. Historical precedence for a broader understanding of
health can be traced throughout the traditions of comparative medicine
and anatomy, from the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, to the
Chinese dynasties, and Greek and Roman civilisations (Day, 2011). The
modern era’s precursor to One Health is the nineteenth century concept
of One Medicine that sought to integrate human and veterinarian medi-
cine. Based on his ‘discovery of similar diseases processes in humans and
animals’ (Zinsstag et al., 2011, p. 149), German physician and patholo-
gist Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), the founder of comparative medicine,
cellular biology and veterinary pathology, coined the term ‘zoonosis’
to describe an infectious disease transmitted between species (Conrad
et al., 2009; Day, 2011; Kahn, Kaplan, & Steele, 2007). According to the
annals of veterinary medicine, Virchow recognised that ‘between animal
and human medicine there is no dividing line, nor should there be. The
object is different, but the experience obtained constitutes the basis of
all medicine’ (Kahn et al., 2007, p. 6).
The Canadian physician Sir William Osler (1849–1919), considered to
be the ‘father’ of modern medicine, and who studied under Virchow in
the late nineteenth century, brought the concept of collaborative compar-
ative human and veterinary medicine to North America, where he was
the ‘first to establish the field of veterinary pathology as an academic
discipline in a North American school of veterinary medicine’ (Conrad
et al., 2009, p. 269). Despite these significant advances, the prescient
concept of One Medicine stagnated in the modern silos of clinical care
and management, public health, and biomedical research (Kahn et al.,
2007). It was not until the publication of Veterinarian Medicine and Human
Health by the veterinary epidemiologist Dr Calvin Schwabe (1984) in the
latter half of the twentieth century that the concept of One Medicine was
reintroduced and popularised in Western medical discourse. According
to Schwabe (as cited by Conrad et al., 2009, p. 269), ‘the critical needs of
man [sic] include combating of diseases, ensuring enough food, adequate
environmental quality, and a society in which humane values prevail’.
36 Cassandra Hanrahan

Both Schwabe and Osler are credited with coining the term One Medicine
(Day, 2011; Conrad et al., 2009; Zinsstag et al., 2011).
Today, the One Medicine concept has expanded comparative medical
thinking to include conservation medicine, largely due to the ‘increasing
number and significance of zoonotic diseases emerging worldwide’
(Hodgson & Darling, 2011, p. 189), such as Ebola, HIV, rabies, bovine
spongiform encephalitis (BSE) or mad cow disease, Lyme disease, SARS,
and avian influenza. A 2008 joint strategic framework on One Health
developed and published by the three major international organisa-
tions charged with animal health and human health – the UN Food
and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal
Health (OIE), and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – endorse the
American Veterinary Medical Association’s definition of One Health as
‘the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nation-
ally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and our
environment’ (FAO, 2008, p. 9).
More recently the One Health Initiative (2013b), established in 2010 as
an autonomous American-based clearinghouse for local, national, and
international research studies and position papers, and managed by an
international advisory board, purports that ‘One Health (formerly called
One Medicine) is dedicated to improving the lives of all species – human
and animal – through the integration of human medicine, veterinary
medicine and environmental science’. As the most recent articulation
of integrated health thinking, the One Health concept extends the scope
of One Medicine, a recognition that the health of humans and other
animals is intrinsically linked to shared and shifting environmental
habitats – environments that are social and physical, built and natural.
In one study on systemic approaches to health and wellbeing, Zinsstag
et al. (2011, p. 150) have argued that the One Medicine paradigm ‘reflects
insufficiently the interactions between human and animal health that
reach far beyond individual clinical issues and include ecology, public
health and broader societal dimensions’.
While zoonosis remains a priority concern of One Health, its systemic
conceptual development fosters an increased awareness of the structural
influences of zoonoses,2 including social, cultural, economic, and polit-
ical determinants of health. Hodgson and Darling (2011, p. 189), like so
many other proponents of One Health, have pointed out how

the increasing number and significance of zoonotic diseases emerging

worldwide are due to multiple converging factors ... [including] climate
change, increasing urbanisation, human encroachment in wild areas,
Integrative Health Thinking and the One Health Concept 37

increased global travel and, for companion animals, increasing inti-

macy with humans.

Complex health issues and problems that are simultaneously shaped by

and shape the world can no longer be explained within the conventional
unilateral, one-dimensional framework. Within the more comprehen-
sive perspective of One Health, health determinants and outcomes are
understood as mutually interactive, not merely overlapping, but rather
embedded within shared social and ecological systems. According to
Zinsstag et al. (2011, pp. 150, 153, emphasis added), ‘the concept of
“ecosystem health” extends “one medicine” to the whole ecosystem,
including wildlife’, and they propose an even broader integrative health
paradigm that goes beyond the One Health concept, provisionally called
‘health in social-ecological systems (HSES)’.
Indeed, as a worldwide interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral governance
model that is being used to prevent and control disease and manage
the associated consequences, a growing body of literature, collaborative
projects, and training initiatives distinguishes the One Health concept.
These generally seek to expand the epistemological limits of the partner
disciplines, such that improved collaboration and cooperation amongst
the variously positioned stakeholders can support and legitimise One
Health’s ultimate goal of prevention.

One Health and anthropocentrism

In recent years, supporters of a more comprehensive envisaging of the

scope of health have left an indelible mark on the One Health literature;
however, a comprehensive review of this literature would take us far
beyond the scope of this chapter. The list of publications in the One
Health Initiative clearinghouse covers topics ranging from antibiotic-
resistant infections and germs; foodborne illness; better preparedness
in prevention and control of zoonoses; interdisciplinary cooperation to
achieve One Health; biomedical technology; and how veterinary medi-
cine benefits people and not only animals, to name but a few. These
contributions have come from practitioners, educators, researchers and
policy makers from multiple disciplines, including medicine, osteop-
athy, veterinary medicine, dentistry, nursing, public health and other
scientific-health and environmentally related disciplines.
As noted in the introduction, a common characteristic of the One
Health literature is the prominence of the related themes of trans-
disciplinarity, collaboration, interdependence, and interconnectivity.
38 Cassandra Hanrahan

However, ‘despite these integrative conceptual and methodological

developments, large portions of human and animal health thinking and
actions still remain in separate disciplinary silos’ (Zinsstag et al., 2011,
p. 148). Indeed, a critical point overlooked by the One Health concept
is that the enduring appeal of specialisations is due in part, I strongly
suggest, to an adherence to separate ontological silos.
Although the major definitions of One Health, including the two
noted above, include all species within the scope of the initiative – ‘One
Health is dedicated to improving the lives of all species – human and
animal’ (One Health Initiative, 2013b), and ‘The collaborative efforts
of multiple disciplines working ... to attain optimal health for people,
animals and our environment’ (FAO, 2008, p. 9) – the animal perspec-
tive is conspicuously absent. The emphasis on integrative themes, while
substantial, highlights relatedness in terms of ‘doing’, not ‘being’. The
anthropocentrism that informs One Health’s ontological organisation
remains fundamentally intact, and as such limits the full extent of the
potential benefits to the members of one species. In this way, the concept
of ‘one’ in One Health is constricted rather than enlarged, thus instead of
signalling life and/or sentience, it implies the anthropocentrism of the
modernist worldview.
Hodgson and Darling (2011, p. 189) contend that the concept of
zooeyia, or animal health, derived from the ‘Greek root words for animal
(zoion) and health (Hygeia was the ancient Greek goddess of health, the
same source as “hygiene”)’, is best understood as ‘the positive inverse of
zoonoses (from the same “zoion” and “nosos”, or disease)’. Indeed, the
positive pairing of animal with health infuses zooeyia with potential to
be a pivotal conceptual development in advancing a species-spanning or
other animal perspective within the One Health approach. Such radical
promise is, however, imperiously undermined by an ontological double
standard, whereby the animal in ‘zooeyia’ is equated with the human
animal. Non-human animals are jettisoned as subjects of health in their
own right, being reaffirmed as utilitarian handmaidens. According to
Hodgson and Darling (2011, p. 189, emphasis added):

One Health is not limited to the prevention of zoonoses; it also

encompasses the human health benefits from animals. Benefits to
humans include animals used in the production of food for human
consumption, animals as models for research of human diseases,
and pet-assisted therapy ... the benefit of companion animals to their
families ... To discuss this positive impact on human health, we have
coined the term “zooeyia” ...
Integrative Health Thinking and the One Health Concept 39

While animal-assisted therapy and human-companion animal interac-

tions can and do have mutual advantages, the same cannot be said of
the first two animal usages that are identified as benefits. This particular
conceptualisation of zooeyia is more accurately a component of the One
Health concept for our species.
In common with Akhtar (2013), who argues for improved treatment
of other animals as a key missing component of One Health (a subject
that I will address below), my intention here is not to apportion blame
or to undermine the significant contributions made by the developing
One Health literature, but rather to highlight how the One Health concept
misses a critical opportunity by ultimately adhering to an anthropo-
centric definition of health, whereby other animals are seen only in
terms of risks (zoonosis) or benefits (zooeyia). Although the One Health
concept encourages collaborative endeavours between veterinarians,
human health practitioners and environmentalists, thereby embodying
a prescient evolutionary development in integrative health thinking
and practice, there is a notable absence of rigorous discussion about the
ontological meaning of health. Such discussions, I add, would neces-
sarily draw attention to and entail evaluation of human behaviours and
actions as essential elements in moral progress.
This absence of ontological considerations can be traced to the gener-
alised acceptance of the international definition of health that clearly
endorses human interest as the ultimate measure of wellbeing. The
World Health Organisation (2013b), a major contributor to One Health
thinking, defines health as:

1. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being

and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. 2. The extent
to which an individual or a group is able to realise aspirations and
satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment. Health
is a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living; it is a posi-
tive concept, emphasising social and personal resources as well as
physical capabilities ... 4. A state of equilibrium between humans and
the physical, biologic and social environment, compatible with full
functional activity.

This broad definition, unlike that of zooeyia, above, is clearly, and I

would argue, strategically or intentionally political. According to the WHO,
humans constitute a separate ecosystem in relation to, but outside,
the collectivity of other organisms and ecosystems. Without explicitly
taking up the obvious ethical issues associated with this anthropocentric
40 Cassandra Hanrahan

formulation of health, the question I want to raise here concerns the

disconnect between the highly politicised character of the WHO’s defi-
nition, and the highly selective applications of health within the One
Health approach.
For example, in a study tracing the evolution of the One Medicine
concept into the One Health approach to global research, training
capacity, and service infrastructure, Conrad et al. (2008, p. 268,
emphasis added), stress that the focus of such efforts is ‘not only
on disease, but also on health at the individual, population, and
ecosystem levels’. Quite literally, the definitions of the three nouns
are presumed to be self-evident, and health is presented as a simpli-
fied non-politicised concept. However, for those committed to the
holistic and hence transformative character of the One Health strategy,
with its potential to address the most pressing global health issues
and problems today, the issues are largely political in nature: whose
health, and which individuals and populations? I want to suggest that
the greater integrative thinking about health and welfare combines a
transformative epistemology within a totalising ontology. From the
perspective of the One Health concept, the nature of being, or more
specifically, wellbeing or health, remains ultimately within the ambit
of humanity, a state of being that is conceived as fundamentally sepa-
rate from ‘animality’. The circumvention of hard ontological ques-
tions of being and worldview limits the capacity of One Health to
effectively address the world’s complex and urgent health problems,
including ‘environmental hazards, stagnation of drug development,
climate change, human population growth, emerging infectious
diseases, world hunger, and violence’ (Akhtar, 2013, p. 1). This is the
case whether efforts are focused on the individual, population, or
ecosystem level.
In a unique viewpoint, Akhtar (2013, p. 1) writes, ‘many critical public
health issues require non-traditional approaches ... One strategy that has
been largely neglected and that can help address several of these issues
involves improving the treatment of non-human animals.’ While not
directly addressing ontological questions of animal being in terms of
rights, justice and morality, Akhtar (2013) does introduce the theme
of animal welfare. According to Akhtar, human health is connected to
the poor treatment of animals in key public health domains, including
intensified animal agriculture, the wildlife trade for which few animal
protection laws exist or are enforced, and domestic violence, to name
but a few. Akhtar (2013, p. 8), who notably works for the Office of
Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats with the US Food and Drug
Integrative Health Thinking and the One Health Concept 41

Administration, and who is a Fellow with the distinguished Oxford

Centre for Animal Ethics, argues convincingly that

The emergence of many recent pathogens can be attributed, directly

or indirectly, to the intensive confinement of animals raised for
food and the poor treatment of animals appropriated for the wild-
life trade. The strategies currently used to address [emerging infec-
tious diseases] EIDs would be much improved if efforts to improve
the treatment of animals were integrated into public health policies.
Studying the connection between domestic violence and animal
mistreatment can surely help control both problems. Strategies
combating animal cruelty may increase detection and prevention
of violence against humans. Similarly, critically assessing the value
of the use of animals in research is likely to benefit animals and
improve research.

In order to become truly effective, Akhtar (2013) contends that One

Health (or any global public health strategy, for that matter) must begin
to seriously consider the welfare of other animals. This assertion repre-
sents, I suggest, an exceptional move to challenge the totalising ontology
of international integrative health thinking. Moreover, her argument
also extends even further the epistemological developments already
deployed by One Health partners by envisioning possibilities for animal
protection organisations to collaborate with public health colleagues,
policy makers, university and government institutions. Reiterating
Zilney and Zilney (2005), who have argued for the pressing need for
cross-training and cross-reporting between child protection workers and
animal cruelty investigators, Akhtar (2013, p. 7) contends that ‘if there
were greater coordination on animal protection between public health,
veterinary and social services, together we might increase detection of
all forms of violence and thwart future acts of violence’.

Critical social work and One Health

In so far as One Health promotes ‘diverse collaborations of veterinarian

and human health professionals working at multiple levels ... [to] improve
human, environmental, and animal health’ (Hodgson & Darling, 2011,
p. 189, emphasis added), the social work profession is conspicuously
absent. To the best of my knowledge, there are no contributions to One
Health’s body of global research, training, infrastructure and education,
and while this absence is somewhat surprising, on reflection it is not
42 Cassandra Hanrahan

particularly so, given that the One Health approach is equally absent
from social work literature. According to Zapf (2010, p. 30),

as a profession with a long-standing declared focus on person-in-

environment, social work might be expected to play a leadership role
in interdisciplinary efforts to tackle environmental threats to human
well-being and continued existence, yet the profession has generally
been silent or less than relevant.

While integrative thinking has been a core component of both conven-

tional and critical social work practice and theory for many decades, the
consistent omission of other animals and the natural environment has
limited not only earlier systems and later ecological thinking within the
profession of social work, but critical anti-oppressive practice as well, to
a person-centred philosophy. As noted by Coates (2003, p. 42):

Beginning in the 1960s general systems theory was gradually incor-

porated into social work and used as a metaphor or ‘meta-theory’ to
understand human behaviour in more complex and multi-dimensions
relationships, instead of focusing exclusively on individual situa-
tions ... However, early systems approaches could not break away from
being perceived as ‘sanctioning an individual treatment approach’.
An ameliorative and anthropocentric focus continued to dominate,
and individual growth continued to be the primary focus.

Over several decades, a number of vocal social work theorists, albeit a

minority, in chorus with some contemporary social work theorists, have
pointed out significant limitations to conventional systems/ecological
models,3 a discussion which space does not permit me to do due justice
to here. Suffice to say, the characteristic ‘individual determinism’ (Gould,
1987, p. 248) of systems thinking has conflated environment with social
environment, thereby rendering nature invisible, or, at best, reduced
to a negative force or threat in competition with humanity who must
manage and control it (Besthorn & McMillen, 2002; Zapf, 2010). In this
way, ‘person and nature are ontologically separate and physically other.
There is little or no recognition of a connection or a situated rootedness’
(Besthorn & McMillen, 2002, p. 223, emphasis added).
More recently, four social work theorists have developed innovative
theoretical models for social work practice that challenge the dominant
paradigm of person-in-environment (PIE) and related system theory:
sustainable social work (Mary, 2008), deep ecological social work (Besthorn,
Integrative Health Thinking and the One Health Concept 43

2000), new ecological social work (Coates, 2003), and person as place (Zapf,
2002, 2009, 2010). Drawing upon environmental studies, spirituality,
ethics, moral philosophy, political economy, and First Nations ontolo-
gies, these contributions have attempted to expand social work’s onto-
logical and epistemological frameworks, wherein humans and other
animals are understood to equally inhabit and be dependent on shared
ecosystems. For instance, Mary (2003, p. 157, emphasis added), argues
that ‘a sustainable view of society challenges the dichotomy that society
is either order based or conflict based’, and suggests ‘new systems
thinking purports that institutions at all levels are in a constant state
of flux, no order, and renew themselves through interactions that are
consensual and conflicting’. The sustainable notion of development and
change as dynamic renewal that results from negotiated rather than
neutral or benign systems’ interactions, underscores the vital political
nature of human decisions and actions.
The more recently developed anti-oppressive social work (AOSW)
and anti-oppressive practice (AOP) (Clifford, 1994; Clifford & Burke,
2005; Campbell, 2002; Campbell & Ungar, 2003; Dalrymple & Burke,
2006; Dominelli, 2002; IASSW–IFSW, 2001) extend integrated systems
thinking by recognising the fundamental interconnections between
the personal and the political. However, although AOP aims to
account for the unequal power relations that inform social divisions
and structural inequalities and is concerned with reducing their nega-
tive effects (Dalrymple & Burke, 2006; Dominelli, 1996, 2002; Mullaly,
2007, 2010), it does so solely within the realm of humanity. In this
way, AOSW is in fact oppressive because its critical knowledge and
value base, embodying the fundamentally political concepts of social
justice, power, intersectionality, transformation, and advocacy, do not
account for the privileging of humans among species, or of the social
environment over nature (Hanrahan, 2011; Wolf, 2000). Ironically,
despite the general lack of politicised ontological analysis of whose
health, and why, within One Health, Zinsstag et al. (2011, p. 150)
have argued convincingly that ‘sustainable development depends
on the mutualism of health and well-being of humans, animals, and
the ecosystems in which they coexist’. Moreover, they maintain that
‘animals and wildlife are part of the environments of humans, but
are also part of the social systems of humans ... hence the distinction
between social and ecological is flawed ... ’ (Ibid., p. 153). Their posi-
tion reflects the central premise of deep ecology philosophy that is the
rejection of the division between the human and nonhuman worlds
(Zapf, 2010). While Zinsstag et al. (2011) use the words ‘social’ and
44 Cassandra Hanrahan

‘ecological’ rather than ‘human’ and nonhuman’, the ontological

divide is in actuality one and the same, and is the central tenet of
The human-other animal dichotomy within AOP fundamentally
constrains its ontological scope by limiting moral consideration of the
needs and interests to one species among all sentient beings. Despite
One Health’s integrative epistemology manifested in the development
of multi-sectoral collaborative efforts, the absence of core critical
concepts within its discourse that elucidate human political power,
whether that relates to society’s structural features or relationships,
restricts its transformative potential. It’s anthropocentrism aside, the
critical and egalitarian value system AOP and AOSW constitute a laud-
able approach to living with and within difference, at least as concerns
While the critical principles of AOP and AOSW such as the
inter-sectionality of oppressions, and the interconnections between the
personal and the political, the interdependence of the individual and
the social (or structural), are increasingly gaining ground in theoretical
social work discussions, there is a significant gap regarding their impact
in practice, especially in the realm of public social services (Strier &
Binyamin, 2013). Within the health professions more generally, integra-
tive health thinking is emerging as interprofessional health education
(IPHE) (Pekonis, Doyle, & Bliss, 2008; Romanow, 2002), and interprofes-
sional (IP) collaborations and practice (Charles, Bainbridge, Copeman-
Stewart, Tiffin, & Kassam, 2006; Pollard & Miers, 2008). However, as
with general systems theory, there is nothing inherent in IP and IPHE
that compels partner disciplines to challenge and expand their respec-
tive ontological and epistemological boundaries. This neglect, I suggest –
one shared in common with global One Health initiatives – constitutes
the main problem with such integrative efforts, as it is the aforemen-
tioned expansion that renders knowledge production politically trans-
parent, and ideally, makes producers and receivers more accountable to
that practice knowledge.
In seeking a new paradigm for contemporary postmodern social
work theory and practice, capable of contending with the magnitude
of today’s complex issues and problems, and thereby of challenging
the status quo, I suggest combining critical AOP social work with its
emphasis on individual empowerment and social justice, with One
Heath’s emphasis on ecosystem health, so as to promote the develop-
ment of an anti-oppressive biocentric approach.
Integrative Health Thinking and the One Health Concept 45

1. The term ‘wicked problem’ was coined by Rittel and Webber (1973), to
describe complex social policy problems that are difficult to define because of
the ambiguity of the concept of the social, and the vastly differing constituent
worldviews that make up the social, and which therefore cannot be solved
using a conventional scientific, rational approach. In terms of health and
environmental issues, wicked problems are those that cannot be solved solely
within the scope and practice of any single profession or discipline, thereby
requiring collaborative and creative approaches to problem solving and/or
2. Zoonoses is the plural form of zoonosis. According to the World Health
Organisation (2013a),
A zoonosis is any disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from
vertebrate animals to humans. Animals thus play an essential role in main-
taining zoonotic infections in nature. Zoonoses may be bacterial, viral, or
parasitic, or may involve unconventional agents. As well as being a public
health problem, many of the major zoonotic diseases prevent the efficient
production of food of animal origin and create obstacles to international
trade in animal products.
This definition maintains an anthropocentric bias because in diseases shared
between species, by humans and other animals, the infectious transmission
is dual directional. Notably zoo-nosis, literally animal diseases, is sometimes
referred to as reverse zoonosis or anthroponosis, when the transmission is
from humans to other animals.
3. For a thorough analysis of those discussions, see Besthorn & McMillen

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itual and political dimensions. Spirituality and Social Work Forum, 7(2), 1, 6–7.
Besthorn, F., & McMillen, D. (2002). The oppression of women and nature:
Ecofeminism as a framework for an expanded ecological social work. Families
in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 83(3), 221–32.
Campbell, C. (2002). The search for congruency: Developing strategies for
anti-oppressive social work pedagogy. Canadian Social Work Review, 19(1),
Campbell, C., & Ungar, M. (2003). Deconstructing knowledge claims: Epistemo-
logical challenges in social work education. Journal of Progressive Human Services,
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Charles, G., Bainbridge, L., Copeman-Stewart, K., Tiffin, S., & Kassam, R. (2006).
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Interprofessional Care, 20(1), 40–50.
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Clifford, D. (1994). Critical life stories: Key anti-oppressive research methods

and processes. In C. Truman & B. Humphries (Eds.), Re-Thinking Social Research
(pp. 102–22). Aldershot: Avebury.
Clifford, D., & Burke, B. (2005). Developing anti-oppressive ethics in the new
curriculum. Social Work Education, 24(6), 677–92.
Coates, J. (2003). Ecology and Social Work: Toward a New Paradigm. Halifax:
Fernwood Publishing.
Conrad, P., Mazet, J., Clifford, D., Scott, C., & Wilkes, M. (2009). Evolution of
a transdisciplinary “One Medicine – One Health” approach to global health
education at the University of California, Davis. Preventive Veterinary Medicine,
92(4), 268–74.
Dalrymple, J., & Burke, B. (2006). Some essential elements of anti-oppressive
theory. In J. Dalrymple & B. Burke (Eds.) (2nd ed.), Anti-Oppressive Practice:
Social Care and the Law (pp. 27–52). Buckingham: Open University Press.
Day, M. (2011). One health: The importance of companion animal vector-borne
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Dominelli, L. (1996). Deprofessionalizing social work: Anti-oppressive practice,
competencies, postmodernism. British Journal of Social Work, 26(2), 153–75.
—— (2002). Anti-Oppressive Social Work: Theory and Practice. London: Palgrave
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Pollard, K., & Miers, M. (2008). From students to professionals: Results of a longi-
tudinal study of attitudes to prequalifying collaborative learning and working
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Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 101(3–4), 148–56.
My Dog Is My Home:
Increasing Awareness of
Inter-Species Homelessness
in Theory and Practice
Christine H. Kim and Emma K. Newton

While a small body of literature emerged in the early 1990s acknowl-

edging the human-animal bond in circumstances of homelessness, the
scholarly understanding of this social phenomenon has grown at a slow
pace.1 Seemingly disparate groupings of literature that can be subsumed
under an overarching theme of inter-species homelessness make up this
body, including sub-themes of homelessness due to domestic violence,
chronic/street homelessness, homeless youth, and homelessness as
a result of natural disasters. The authors have prepared an up-to-date
literature review in order to bring together diverse but related infor-
mation research and findings for the National Museum of Animals &
Society’s (NMAS) fall 2013 exhibition My Dog is My Home: The Experience
of Human-Animal Homelessness.


Prior to beginning the review, the semantics of the text warrant consid-
eration. First, language as a vehicle for oppression and liberation is
recognised, particularly regarding nonhuman animals (Dunayer, 2001).
Words and phrases were chosen consciously, although the most princi-
pled language is not always used for brevity’s sake or for the lack of better
terminology. Although humans are animals, the word ‘animal’ in this
text is meant to refer to nonhuman animals from this point forward. The
authors recognise the potential perpetuation of the widely held beliefs of
human uniqueness and superiority by separating humans from the word
‘animal’ in this way. By discussing the repercussion of using ‘animal’ in

My Dog Is My Home 49

the popular sense, we hope to avoid the cumbersome practice of using

‘nonhuman animal’ throughout the paper while still establishing that
the authors and NMAS work to debunk the notion that nonhuman
animals have a lower status and are owed lesser consideration.
Also, homeless people and animals who are considered a single unit
are referred to as ‘inter-species families’. ‘Family’ was chosen to repre-
sent this relationship and to reflect the growing sentiment of animals
as members of the family (Albert & Bulcroft, 1988; Cohen, 2002; Pew
Research Center, 2006). The use of the term ‘family’ also comes with
its political baggage. ‘Family’ has been a word of controversy among
the polarised left and right factions of American politics. The word can
often symbolise a conservative notion of father, mother, and children
accompanied by ideals of American individualism and protection of
the nuclear family. ‘Family’ in the context of human-animal relation-
ships certainly does not fit the conservative construct, but a sense of
the word is used to capture what many homeless people in the studies
describe as the closest, most intimate source of love and support they
experience. The kinship often described between people and their
animals extends beyond what is connoted by the word ‘pet’, which
evokes a sense of property and ownership. For this reason, ‘pet’ and
‘owner’ are not used in this paper unless by a direct quotation or refer-
ence from the literature. When referring to a single party rather than
the two way relationship we describe with ‘family’, the words ‘pet’ and
‘owner’ have been replaced within this paper by the terms ‘animal’ or
‘animal companion’ and ‘human’ or ‘guardian’, or some other varia-
tion of these phrases.

Recent trends in human homelessness and interventions

The Great Recession, identified by the National Bureau of Economic

Research (2010) as officially beginning December 2007 and ending
in June 2009, and its lingering effects pushed substantial numbers of
Americans into difficult financial circumstances – by 2010, the United
States had a record 20.5 million people in deep poverty (National
Alliance to End Homelessness [NAEH], 2011). The staggering predicted
growth of the homeless population pushed policy makers to enact
several initiatives to reduce and prevent homelessness. Federal and
municipal parties formulated multi-pronged approaches to account for
specific populations like veterans and the chronically homeless, but
major stakeholders continually fail to recognise inter-species families
and the particular challenges of addressing the human-animal bond in
50 Christine H. Kim and Emma K. Newton

homelessness. Accounting for animals in such situations may be ignored

by major programme and policy makers because it is an added difficulty
to homeless service programmes and is not a systematic way of ending
homelessness; however, research and observation will demonstrate that
homelessness is sometimes experienced by both humans and animals
who live together as a family unit, often with needs that get pushed to
the wayside because of the absence of programmes equipped to address
inter-species homelessness.
Definitions of homelessness used by policy makers and programme
developers have yet to include animals in their language, excluding
them from providers’ understanding of families and serviceable groups.
Because homeless inter-species families are not yet formally recognised
among large government agencies responsible for statistics, the national
number of homeless inter-species families can only be approximated.
According to an estimate by the Executive Director of the National
Coalition for the Homeless, 5–10 per cent of homeless people have dogs
and/or cats. Another organisation, FISH of Carson City, Nevada, esti-
mates the number to be around 25 per cent in rural areas (as cited in
‘Feeding Pets of the Homeless’, n.d.).

Domestic violence

While the total number of homeless people with animals remains a ball-
park figure, a study by Cronley, Strand, Patterson and Gwaltney (2009)
identified two types of people among the homeless who are more likely
to report animal caretaking: (1) Euro-American married women experi-
encing homelessness for the first time, many of whom also experienced
homelessness due to domestic violence, and (2) the chronically home-
less living on the street. Homelessness and domestic violence are often
considered two separate fields in social work practice; however ‘people
who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, have no other
residence, and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other
permanent housing’ (NAEH, 2012) are included in the federal defini-
tion of homelessness and are met with similar sheltering challenges.
Research regarding the sheltering response to survivors of family and
intimate partner violence shows that homeless services in the field
of domestic violence provides the most well-developed solutions and
concrete recommendations for co-sheltering humans and animals
Although some of the literature concerning the link between domestic
violence and violence towards animals criticises social work’s lack of
My Dog Is My Home 51

attention to animals as a part of the social environment (Faver & Strand,

2003a), it is the most robust in the varied literature on homeless inter-
species families. However, despite the increased number of academic
experts producing information on this particular topic and the main-
streaming of the link in social work consciousness, the criticisms are likely
accurate given the small number of domestic violence shelters that actu-
ally do provide integrated services or even inquire about companion
animals upon intake.
A number of studies that focused on domestic violence shelters
showed high numbers of women, children, and staff who reported the
co-existence of domestic human and animal abuse. Across multiple
studies, between 46.5–86 per cent of survivors of domestic violence
reported that their animals had been abused in some way (threatened,
harmed or killed). It is also well established that animals can be used
by the batterers as a tool to control, hurt, and manipulate women. This
behaviour may continue if the animal is still residing with the batterer
after the woman physically leaves the environment (Ascione, Weber,
& Wood, 1997; Faver & Strand, 2003b; Flynn, 2000a, 2000b; Strand &
Faver, 2005), which could lead to ongoing mental trauma for individ-
uals who are abused and can contribute to difficulties and roadblocks in
the healing process. Yet only 27 per cent of surveyed shelters stated that
they asked questions concerning companion animals in their intake
interviews (Ascione et al., 1997).
Another study randomly sampled over 5,000 clinical practitioners
(from various fields) from the National Association of Social Workers’
membership mailing list to obtain information regarding exposure,
knowledge, and integration of information on the human-animal
bond in their social work practice. The results showed that partici-
pants had some knowledge of both the negative and positive aspects
of the human-animal bond, but the vast majority did not include
companion animals in their practice. Only one third of social workers
who participated asked about animals at all in their assessment, and
only 12 per cent asked clients about animal cruelty. Many social
workers identified that they were not including animals in their prac-
tice because they had not been educated or trained to do so (Risley-
Curtiss, 2010). Animals are not traditionally within the realm of social
work, and both studies demonstrate the need for breaking from that
tradition and integrating the human-animal bond into social work
education. Moreover, the numbers appear to show a discrepancy
between awareness and actual provision of services that recognise
integrated human-animal needs.
52 Christine H. Kim and Emma K. Newton

The majority of domestic violence agencies exist for the protection

and wellbeing solely of human victims – a mission which social workers
should revisit and potentially rework so as to recognise the importance
placed upon the welfare of their animals by the survivors themselves,
especially in light of compelling evidence that women may be prevented
from leaving their abuser or that they may even return to an abusive
situation, in some instances with their grieving children, to check on
the safety of their animals (Strand & Faver, 2005). For women who seek
shelter at a crisis centre, studies document a range of 18–88 per cent of
women who stated that concern for their companion animal’s welfare
delayed them from seeking shelter sooner (Ascione, 1998; Ascione et al.,
1997; Faver & Strand, 2003b; Flynn, 2000b; Strand & Faver, 2005). Once
in a shelter, women surveyed in the Flynn (2000b) study spoke about
how they missed the emotional support of their companion animals
and wished the shelter could accommodate them.
It has been clearly established that concern for the animals’ safety
affects women’s decision-making processes. Therefore, most domestic
violence research regarding inter-species families implicates a need to
include animal-related questions in assessment interviews with women
and their children. Questions should incorporate assessment of the
presence of strong attachment to animals, so that social workers can
be alerted to the need for inclusion of animal welfare in shelter’s safety
planning. Social workers should also give information and resources
about protecting animals in violent homes that are appropriate to where
they are in the Stages of Change model (Strand & Faver, 2005).
During the preparation and action stage, when a woman begins to
formulate a plan for fleeing, establishing ‘ownership’ of the animal
becomes important to inter-species safety planning. To help demon-
strate ‘ownership’, the victim should have and keep veterinary records
or a license in the victim’s name. However, even in domestic violence
sheltering programmes conscious of the human-animal bond, there
is no consensus on how to handle the issue of ‘pet ownership’ if the
batterers are the sole or joint ‘owners’ of the animal (Ascione, 2000).
The conflicts caused by the duality of animals as family and property
are well-documented in domestic violence literature. An example of
the impact this conflict has on a victim is seen in a case study where a
woman had enrolled herself and her animal into a Safe Haven for Pets
(SHP), a programme that assists in sheltering animals for women who
are battered, only to have the staff relinquish the animal back to the
abuser, due to property and ownership issues (Ascione, 2000).
My Dog Is My Home 53

Knowledge of SHP programmes is also critical during the pre-

contemplation and action stages of change. Withdrawing the animal
from the batterer’s physical environment removes emotional burden
and decreases high-risk behaviour on part of the victims. Availability of
SHP programmes may reduce the chances of women delaying seeking
shelter, and may also allay women’s and children’s concerns for the
animals’ safety and the need to go back to their homes, although
there is evidence that even with the availability of SHP programmes,
women may return home with their sheltered animals. In a survey of
SHP programmes across the country, 66.7 per cent of domestic violence
agencies and 50 per cent of animal welfare agencies encountered cases
where women returned to the batterer with their SHP sheltered animals,
despite the steps taken above to accommodate companion animals
(Ascione, 2000).
In the maintenance stage of change, survivors of domestic violence
need to find a way to first transition their way from shelter to post-
shelter housing situations, as well as end their stay in the homeless and
domestic violence shelter services. This is accomplished through afford-
able, animal-friendly housing (Strand & Faver, 2005). Finding perma-
nent and affordable housing that accommodates animals is a worrisome
challenge identified by women in domestic violence shelters and may
be a critical factor in women’s abilities to retrieve their animals from
their abusers (Ascione, 2000). Even among SHP programmes, 70 per cent
of domestic violence agencies that did have transitional housing did not
allow animals (Ascione, 2000). A recommendation within the literature,
to meet the challenge of assisting victims with maintaining their change
through housing, is to consider designing future transitional housing
that accommodates animals. In addition, domestic violence and animal
welfare agencies should assist women with finding animal-friendly
housing by seeking out local realtors and housing authorities who can
develop listings of affordable rentals that permit animals (Ascione, 2000;
Flynn, 2000a).

Chronic and unspecified homeless populations

The second population identified by Cronley et al. (2009) as being more

likely to be caring for animals while homeless are the chronically home-
less. Chronic homelessness is defined as continuous homelessness for a
year or longer, or at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three
years. Chronically homeless people are also among the most vulnerable
54 Christine H. Kim and Emma K. Newton

in the homeless population, as they tend to have severe mental illness,

substance abuse disorders, and physical illness, injury, or trauma. As a
result of their multiple medical and behavioural conditions, the chroni-
cally homeless are the most costly individuals to the local governments
and taxpayers – they are frequent users of emergency rooms, criminal
justice and public safety systems, and inpatient psychiatric hospitals.
Consequently, many communities have made an effort to end chronic
homelessness. Placing such individuals in permanent supportive housing
is an essential component of their recovery and is a cost-effective solu-
tion to the problem (NAEH, n.d.).
When these facts and financial motivations are juxtaposed with the
high housing refusal rates reported by chronically homeless animal
guardians, it becomes clear that the ‘no animals allowed’ culture of
homeless services needs to be re-examined if stakeholders truly want to
keep these high-risk individuals off the streets. In a 1995 study of home-
less animal guardians (Singer, Hart, & Zasloff, 1995) gathered that among
the chronically homeless sample, 71 per cent of men and 67 per cent of
women had been refused housing because of an accompanying animal.
Not only were the chronically homeless refused housing, they were also
more likely to decline housing offered to them. Ninety-three per cent
of the chronically homeless sample refused housing on the principle
that they would never choose to live in a place without their animal,
although 56 per cent reported that they would have lived anywhere
their animals were allowed except in a shelter, assuming shelters would
allow animals. The same study found that chronically homeless men
were resistant to shelter in general and had a lower desire to be rehoused
than chronically homeless women and the acutely homeless. Adding
barriers, like a no animals rule, would only drive away those chronically
homeless individuals with animals who are already reluctant to access
shelter and housing services. As articulated by Donley & Wright (2012,
p. 304), ‘A man whose only companion for the last decade has been his
dog is not going to abandon the dog so he can “receive treatment”.’
But it is not only the chronically homeless who are resistant to shelter.
The landmark Kidd & Kidd (1994) study found that 74 per cent of all
their homeless subjects had never gone to a shelter and never would,
10 per cent had gone once or twice and planned to avoid shelters in
the future, and 15 per cent went to a shelter only when unavoidable.
This adds up to a 99 per cent sample that expressed negative sentiments
towards shelters and a desire to stay away from such facilities.
Moreover, most acutely homeless inter-species families had been
refused housing. Much like the chronically homeless, 97 per cent stated
My Dog Is My Home 55

that they would also turn away housing if they could not take their
animals with them – a huge commitment when the majority of the
acutely homeless animal guardians surveyed stated a preference for
being rehoused (Singer et al., 1995).
Other services inter-species families commonly cited as being difficult
to access are public transportation, meal services, day centres, human
medical care, and hospitals (Blue Cross, 2001; Slatter, Lloyd, & King,
2012). Taylor, Williams, & Grey (2004) found a significant difference
in use of medical care facilities between homeless animal guardians
and those without animals, although it is also reported that there are
few health differences between them (Blue Cross, 2001). Animals are
generally not allowed into clinics and hospitals, which may explain the
drop off in medical appointments when comparing their numbers. Blue
Cross (2001) found that when faced with leaving their dog outside, most
homeless animal guardians would not go in themselves. Such a result
points to a need for a new system where animal guardians can gain
access to health care without leaving their animal behind.
Despite all these other issues mentioned above, the difficulty home-
less animal guardians face with housing is recognised as being the worst
thing about being an inter-species family (Blue Cross, 2001). It was
found that only one-third of homeless animal guardians surveyed had
ever found housing with their animal since they first became homeless.
Yet, animals seem to lend people a degree of stability if they do find a
place to call home. The vast majority of people who had found a place
to live with their animal reported feeling that their animal had helped
them settle in. Furthermore, studies have shown that skills involved in
animal guardianship can translate into those required for getting off the
street (Irvine, 2013a). This research indicates that the homeless, with
companion animals or not, are disinclined to go into shelter. If the goal
of a city’s homeless services is to get people off the street and engaged
at the very least in low barrier services, putting extra restrictions on an
already reluctant population by barring animals or by under-advertising
animal services, will marginalise homeless animal guardians even further.
It also indicates that animal accommodation needs to be provided in
other homeless and housing services besides shelters.
One particularly inclusive example is Project 40 (Brennan, 2011) in
western Sydney, Australia, a multi-disciplinary consortium that is
configured to serve the most vulnerable chronically homeless individ-
uals by addressing their needs comprehensively – physical, emotional,
vocational, financial, cultural, housing, and others. Project 40 outreach
workers who identified animal guardians as potential participants found
56 Christine H. Kim and Emma K. Newton

that people would not be separated from their animals. So in response,

Project 40 embraced the inter-species nature of their families. Animals
in the care of Project 40 clients also have support plans developed in
conjunction with their guardians’ plans. Some things that have been
included in animal plans are exercise goals, behaviour training, and
education about healthy and positive discipline techniques.
Including animal care assistance in service plans is likely a welcomed
relief given that homelessness is characterised by poverty and a diffi-
culty to make ends meet. Fifty-five per cent of homeless animal guard-
ians in one study conducted at various soup kitchens, parks, and streets
throughout the San Francisco area reported access to veterinary care as
a serious problem (Kidd & Kidd, 1994). Guardians specifically identify
two barriers to getting medical attention for their animals – cost of care
and fear that an unlicensed animal will be confiscated (Hoff, Brawley,
and Johnson, as cited in Labrecque & Walsh, 2012; Kidd & Kidd, 1994).
However, the homeless have also proven to be very resourceful in having
their animals’ health needs met. In the same Kidd & Kidd (1994) study,
44 per cent of homeless animal guardians found a free clinic or made
arrangements with a cooperative veterinarian to treat their animals,
which more commonly have low-level but sustained health care require-
ments, often in the form of some kind of infestation like worms, ear
mites, or fleas (Blue Cross, 2001).
Another basic need that is identified as a real problem is the feeding
of animals. Kidd & Kidd (1994) engaged much of their homeless animal
care-taking sample in soup lines. Guardians were eager to participate
in the study with the hope that the soup kitchens would carry animal
food as well, if it could be proven that homeless inter-species families
are prevalent. Despite the struggle people face in feeding their animals,
a recurrent theme through the literature is that people’s animals eat first,
they eat well, and the guardian will sacrifice his or her own food in order
to provide meals for the animal (Irvine, 2013a; 2013b; Irvine et al., 2012;
Kidd & Kidd, 1994). There is even proof of brand loyalty and preferences
for what their animals are fed (Blue Cross, 2001).
Sacrifice and ability to meet the animal’s needs contributes to the
construction of a mutually beneficial relationship between the human
and animal – saving an unwanted animal can save the person, too. In
exchange for care, animals provide many stabilising factors to guardians’
lives, like becoming a suicide barrier, mitigating loneliness, encouraging
sobriety, providing motivation to stay out of jail, and mediating other
risky behaviours (Blue Cross, 2001; Irvine, 2013a; Taylor, Williams, &
Gray, 2004). Providing for the animal offers a purpose or direction in
My Dog Is My Home 57

the guardian’s life; the unconditional love from animals and a sense of
mattering provides the grand reward for caregiving (Irvine, 2013a). An
Australian study supports the notion of the beneficial effects of animal
caretaking within the population, with one-third of its participants
stating that the extra responsibility of caring for another being was posi-
tive; it increased their motivation, organisation, and routine. A quarter
of the sample also reported improved mental health as a result of animal
companionship (Slatter, Lloyd, & King, 2012).
Ideas of mutualism and positive identity are also constructed when the
homeless guardians encounter confrontations by the public. Homeless
animal guardians are often subject to affronts by the domiciled who ques-
tion their right and ability to have an animal, sometimes including offers
to buy the animals from the homeless. While animal guardianship is
considered a birthright in Western cultures, the homeless are one of the
only groups to be stigmatised for having an animal. Research by Irvine
et al. (2012) shows that the homeless animal guardian population faces
the combined stigma of homelessness and homeless animal guardian-
ship. To counter such strong stigma, the guardian will often reverse public
condemnation and redefine responsible animal caretaking. The rede-
fining is characterised by four features. First, the animal is never left alone.
The homeless animal guardian sees the domiciled, working individual as
irresponsible for leaving the animal for eight or more hours a day while
they are away. Secondly, the animal is offered constant companionship
and attention by the homeless guardian, which enhances the animal’s
quality of life. Thirdly, the animal is always well-fed and always eats first.
Fourthly, there is increased freedom – animals who accompany homeless
guardians are able to be outside, in parks, and in nature almost constantly,
whereas domiciled people’s animals are confined to a home or backyard.
As the qualitative research of Irvine et al. (2012, p. 37) found,

homeless pet owners reversed the typical sequence, in which the

‘right’ way to have a pet is to have a house first, often with a yard,
and only then can a dog enter the picture. For the homeless, having a
house is a goal they aspire to but may find difficult to reach. Having
a pet is within their reach, and doing so provides a sense of meaning
in the present.

Homeless youth

Many of the sentiments expressed by homeless adults about animals

discouraging risky behaviour, staying healthy, and mitigating loneliness
58 Christine H. Kim and Emma K. Newton

are reiterated by homeless youth (Rew, 2000). There are different typolo-
gies of homeless youth, but the most recurrent type that appears in the
inter-species homeless family literature are street youth. Homeless street
youth’s main communities are made up of other street-savvy young people
who meet their needs through engaging in the street economy, like eating
at soup kitchens, sleeping outside, and begging for change (Thompson,
McManus, Lantry, Windsor, & Flynn, 2006). Youth become increasingly
acculturated to the streets and street economy as the length of exposure
to homelessness and other homeless peers increases (Thompson et al.,
2006). In order to prevent long-term homelessness, agencies must adopt
a proactive outreach strategy by engaging homeless youth early in their
street experience (Reid & Klee, as cited in Thompson et al., 2006).
A focus group was conducted with 60 participants from a youth drop
in centre who were well-travelled and extremely resourceful in finding
services to meet their basic needs. They reported fundamental services
like shelter, clothing, and financial assistance as the most important for
street survival, but being animal friendly was one of the characteristics
identified as important for providers to have to in order to earn trust.
The criteria for what youth see as helpful corresponds with the tremen-
dous importance that is placed on animals, predominantly dogs, in the
lives of street youth. Not only do homeless youth with animals respond
well to animal friendly providers, they also actively seek out services
that allow or provide for animals (Thompson et al., 2006).
Loneliness is a pervasive theme throughout literature on homeless
youth, but research that explores the bond among homeless youth
and their animals has found that companion animals are described as
providing safety, unconditional love, and motivation to survive the
innate loneliness of being a young person on the street (Rew, 2000; Rew
& Horner, 2003; Thompson et al., 2006). When asked to describe their
feelings of loneliness and strategies for dealing with it, youth stated that
the death of a dog companion, being alone in their lifestyle, nighttime,
and winter were circumstances that gave rise to loneliness (Rew, 2000).
Two major coping strategies this sample identified were being with
friends and having a dog for a companion. Warmth was also an impor-
tant theme related to the human-animal bond in youth homelessness,
with many street youth stating that their dogs kept them warm (Rew,
2000; Rew & Horner, 2003) – an important consideration when night
and winter are listed as circumstances that evoke feelings of loneliness.
Homeless youth were also asked to identify survival skills for the
streets. Among the many qualities they named, the interviewees spoke
most passionately about their animals as a source of motivation that
encouraged them to improve their lives. The animals, again usually
My Dog Is My Home 59

dogs, were identified as their first priority, companion, protectors, source

of comfort, and closest thing to kin. Dogs are also described as a source
of stability amidst the wildly unstable environment of the streets. The
youth attribute so great a value to their animals that they are motivated
to avoid situations that may lead to separation or harm to their animals,
such as getting incarcerated or entering into a housing programme. The
youth take pride in how well they take care of their animals, and there-
fore reduce risky behaviour that will compromise their ability to provide
for them (Bender et al., 2007; Rew & Horner, 2003).
Homeless youth do appear to imagine a different future for
themselves – one with education and employment. However, the
animals that help them maintain safety and comfort on the streets are
also ironically identified as a barrier to maintaining employment. The
animal guardian must find someone they trust to guard their animal
and belongings from theft. Hopefully, the young animal guardian will
have a peer network, another attribute the focus group identified as
important for street survival. Small groups of similar youth form ‘street
families’ for a sense of belonging and support. They also share subsist-
ence strategies and travel together over long distances and stretches of
time (Bender et al., 2007). Because homeless youths’ street networks
act as a peer-to-peer referral/advertising/case management service,
animal-friendly services could potentially be a drawcard for national
homeless youth who are likely to travel. Bender et al. (2007) recom-
mend offering homeless youth basic items such as food, clothing, and
hygiene supplies in order to initially attend to the immediate needs of
the youth, but in light of the fact that youth care deeply about their
animals, providing for the integrated needs of a human-animal family
should also be considered.

Homelessness caused by natural disasters

Natural disasters can also be a precursor to homelessness. Although emer-

gency responses to natural disasters are seldom covered within social
work literature, data from traditional homeless shelters and from disaster
response shelters should be utilised to inform each other, including
knowledge already acquired about co-sheltering humans and animals
together. One of the most potent examples of the need for co-sheltering
after a natural disaster is Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed 275,000
homes, causing displacement and homelessness for thousands of Gulf
Coast residents. Not only did people find themselves stranded by the
failure of timely government response, companion animals were also
left to suffer the terrible events of the storm and its aftermath. A reported
60 Christine H. Kim and Emma K. Newton

727,500 companion animals were affected within the city of New Orleans
alone. Fifteen thousand abandoned animals were rescued from their
homes and streets, but the number of lives lost is unknown. The media
reported stories of people wading for miles through high water to get to
evacuation sites with their animals, only to have them ripped from their
arms before getting on the bus. Animals were prohibited from boarding
public transportation from the Superdome and convention centre, and
many of those humans rescued from other sites of wreckage were forced
to leave their animals or face threat of arrest (Irvine, 2009).
The silver lining to Hurricane Katrina is that there were many lessons
learned about how to treat the human-animal family in natural disas-
ters. There are still challenges to implementing new procedures in the
real world, but Hurricane Katrina has forever changed official poli-
cies guiding federal and state response to emergency preparedness,
planning and evacuations. In response to Hurricane Katrina’s animal
tragedy, the PETS Act was introduced to the House of Representatives
on 22 September 2005 with the intention of making FEMA funding
and assistance contingent upon states’ adherence to required inclusion
of animals in their emergency plans. President George W. Bush signed
this momentous bill in animal protection history into law on 6 October
2006 (Irvine, 2009).


Several important themes emerge within the literature, some unique to

a certain subpopulation, and some that appear to be more universal.
One of the most potent widespread themes is the need for services to
be more animal-friendly. While the literature on homeless youth does
not speak to co-sheltering, the literature concerning domestic violence,
chronic homelessness, unspecified homelessness, and homelessness due
to natural disasters is replete with the connection made between home-
less inter-species families and homeless shelter and housing programmes.
What is also quite clear are the benefits people experience from having
their animal with them while homeless. Despite the struggle to provide
for their animals, the challenge appears to be determinedly and innova-
tively met to create a mutually beneficial relationship.
The topics of co-sheltering and inter-species homelessness are some-
what new and under-researched, and much of the existing literature is
qualitative and characterised by personal narratives. The narratives are
powerful and remind us of the individuals that make up these statis-
tics; however, more quantitative and mixed method research pieces are
My Dog Is My Home 61

needed to expand the exploratory nature of the existing body of work.

Quantitative findings would also improve understanding of the situation
on a larger scale and provide opportunities for researchers, policy makers,
and programme developers to make recommendations and implement
initiatives. Also, a majority of the statistics available on shelter and
housing refusal were collected by two studies from the mid-1990s, both
of which took place in Northern California. Numbers drawn from these
two studies may not be entirely relevant or generalisable today.
Cronley et al. (2009) conducted a more recent study in Knoxville,
Tennessee using the Homeless Management Information Systems
(HMIS) – an electronic database used nationwide to collect, store, and
sort characteristics of people who enter homeless services. It was found
that 2 per cent of the Knoxville homeless in the HMIS system were
refused housing due to animal caretaking. The methods used by Cronley
et al. (2009) offer promise in conducting national studies that have the
potential to count the number of inter-species families, understand
their demographics, and better appreciate their service needs. However,
Cronley et al. were only able to achieve this because Knoxville had the
insight to add questions to their HMIS data collection about animal care,
and at the time of the study, was the only city to do so. Another option
to consider for quantifiable research is using the biannual Homeless
Count required by HUD in every major city so as to get a better sense
of how many homeless people are also animal guardians. This could
be as simple as adding a single question to the city’s Homeless Count
The research clearly shows the importance of keeping the human-
animal bond intact in circumstances of homelessness and the need
for providing more accommodating services for these non-traditional
families. With this understanding, perhaps the best direction to go
from here is to focus upon the policies, programmes and the percep-
tions of the providers, given the crucial role they play in changing the
culture of homeless services. Thus, advocates should be interested in
understanding how providers approach the issue, if at all, so as to foster
greater insight into how to help those who find a home in the heart of
an animal despite having little else.

1. This chapter provides a scholarly foundation for the National Museum of
Animals and Society’s Fall 2013 exhibition on homeless inter-species families,
My Dog is My Home: The Experience of Human-Animal Homelessness.
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Social Justice beyond Human
Beings: Trans-species Social Justice
Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson


Social justice is a core value of the social work profession and its prac-
tice basis, yet the discipline’s scholarly contribution to social justice is
limited because its understanding of social justice is solely focused on
human animals. In this chapter, we hope to enhance understanding of
trans-species social justice and to be a catalyst for further discussions on
why other animals should be seen as legitimate subjects of concern for
social work.
Our relationships with nonhuman animals are changing. More than
ever, we depend on them for food, clothes, drugs, and other uses in
our everyday lives, and exploit massive numbers of them as commodi-
ties. For example, in the United States alone, over nine billion animals
(not including fish, rabbits and others) are slaughtered for food annually
(Humane Society of the United States [HSUS], 2013a); accounting for
other species raises the total to 59 billion (Free From Harm, 2011). Huge
numbers of these animals are raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding
Operations (CAFOs, that is, factory farms), where animals are closely
confined in appalling conditions for greater profit. For example, 95 per
cent of the 665 million animals annually slaughtered for food in Canada
are raised in CAFOs (Toronto Vegetarian Association, n.d.). Not only is
such exploitation unjustifiable in terms of these animals themselves,
but commodification of animals is a key component of capital accumu-
lation, the historical development of capitalism and human exploita-
tion (Nibert, 2013).
A United Nations report recognises links between animal agriculture
and key human problems such as environmental destruction, pollu-
tion and impoverishment (United Nations, 2006), and others describe

Social Justice beyond Human Beings 65

the livestock industry’s effect on climate change (Goodland & Anhang,

2009; Pelletier & Tyedmers, 2010). Exploitation of other species is, in
fact, a serious issue for humans as it is intertwined with many forms of
human oppression (Matsuoka & Sorenson, 2013).
Considering just this fact alone, we can say that the time is right for
social work to re-evaluate its ethical stance towards nonhuman animals
and to extend its precepts of advocacy and social justice beyond the
human species. Additionally, however, in the twentieth century, several
parallel developments have set the stage for this necessary re-evaluation
and recognition of animals’ importance in social work. We will
discuss four of these developments, and note how unjust treatment of
nonhuman animals parallels oppression of human animals and often is
interrelated with unjust situations for humans.

Four significant developments in human-animal relations

One important development in our relations with other animals is the

growing recognition that they are more than resources such as food and
labour, and that we have strong emotional attachments to them. Such
attachments extend far back into history but often are dismissed as insig-
nificant and sentimental, part of a general disparagement of emotions
in Western thought (Lauritzen, 1991). However, there is growing aware-
ness that these emotional links are powerful and that our affective asso-
ciations with other animals are important for health and wellbeing (for
example, Anderson, 2008; Arluke & Sanders, 1996; Baun & Johnson,
2010; Walsh, 2009). Recognition of healing aspects of association with
nonhuman animals began to develop in the late eighteenth century.
One of the first recorded uses of therapy animals was in 1796, when
William Tuke’s York Retreat opened as an institution where Quakers who
were experiencing mental health problems could recover in a supportive
atmosphere; animals were an important part of the therapy process, as
patients recovered by caring for other beings. In 1867, dogs were used in
Germany to help epileptic patients (Connor & Miller, 2000).
After World War II, military officials recognised that association with
animals could help soldiers afflicted with post-traumatic stress. Smoky,
a Yorkshire terrier, was used as a war dog by the US Air Force but also
comforted wounded soldiers and entertained hospitalised veterans in the
1940s and 1950s, leading the television channel Animal Planet (2013)
to call her the ‘first therapy dog’. However, this title may go to Sigmund
Freud’s beloved Chow, Jofi; she was not only his constant companion
during the last part of the psychoanalyst’s life, providing him comfort
66 Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson

during his painful cancer treatment but also attending his professional
therapy sessions with patients (Green, 2002). Freud believed she had a
calming effect on his patients, especially children, and helped him in
assessing them (Beck, 2010).
In 1976, Therapy Dogs International was founded, followed in
1977 by the Delta Foundation (now Pet Partners) and the American
Veterinary Medical Association’s Human-Animal Bond Task Force in
1981 to promote research on animals in therapy and the significance
of human relationships with other animals. Researchers reported that
animal-assisted therapy led to a wide range of remarkable benefits and
improvements in clients’ physical and psychological wellbeing. As well,
studies show that activities such as visitations by animals (mostly dogs)
to children, older individuals and others, bring positive life changes (for
example, Banks & Banks, 2002; Baun & Johnson, 2010; Turner, 2005).
These findings motivated social workers to reconsider the role of animals,
creating a surge of interest in animal-assisted therapy, animal assisted
interventions and the powerful effects of the human-animal bond.
Another development was the recognition that violence towards
other animals is linked to violence towards humans. Numerous studies
examine animal abuse in relation to family violence (for example,
Ascione, 2008; Becker & French, 2004; DeGue & DiLillo, 2009; Faver
& Strand, 2003; Fitzgerald, 2007; Flynn, 2008) and abuse and neglect
among older individuals (Nathanson, 2009; Peak, Ascione, & Doney,
2012); several studies address inclusion of animal abuse in assessments
of child welfare practice and collaboration with child and animal welfare
agencies (for example, Girardi & Pozzulo, 2012; Risley-Curtiss, Zilney, &
Hornung, 2010; Zilney & Zilney, 2005).
A third development was the greater scientific understanding of other
animals’ cognitive, emotional and social complexity. This stemmed
from work by ethologists such as Goodall (1971) with chimpanzees, and
of zoologists such as Griffin (1981, 2001) whose research with bats, birds
and dolphins led him to assert that other animals have conscious minds.
Griffin founded the field of cognitive ethology, which has been devel-
oped by Allen (Allen & Bekoff, 1999), Bekoff (2008), and Berns (2013).
This work undermines stereotypes of other animals as unthinking
The fourth development is the growth of animal rights, both as a
social movement and as a body of philosophy and theory. This has
not received much consideration by social workers, but it is significant
and deserves discussion in more detail. Although animal rights is often
considered a recent phenomenon, there is a long tradition of concern
Social Justice beyond Human Beings 67

for other animals extending back to Classical Greek philosophers and

constituting an undercurrent throughout the history of Western philos-
ophy (Preece, 2005). Explicit calls for animal rights were made in late
nineteenth century England by socialist reformer Henry Stephens Salt
(1894) and others such as George Bernard Shaw (Preece, 2012) associ-
ated with the Humanitarian League. Many who campaigned for animals’
protection and rights were active in anti-slavery campaigns, women’s
rights, educational and prison reform and economic justice (Sorenson,
2010). Although animal advocates consistently campaigned for human
rights as well, connections between these issues have not been widely
recognised. As a result, generally, considerations about social justice
focus on oppression and exploitation among subordinated humans.
Many who consider themselves social justice advocates are unwilling
to extend concern to other animals and even defend animal exploita-
tion (Sorenson, 2011). Those who defend these practices justify them
on the grounds that humans possess some morally significant quali-
ties that other animals do not. Various distinguishing qualities have
been suggested, such as language, emotions, tool use, rationality, and
self-awareness. However, these characteristics also exist among other
animals, meaning that the idea of an unbridgeable chasm between
humans and other animals cannot be maintained. Indeed, as Charles
Darwin (Wilson, 2006) remarked, differences between humans and
other animals are ones of degree rather than of kind.
One important challenge to animal exploitation came from nine-
teenth century philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1879, pp. 235–6), who

The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire
those rights which could never have been withholden from them but
by the hand of tyranny ... The question is not, Can they reason? Nor
Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?

Bentham’s approach inspired the work of philosopher Peter Singer,

whose book Animal Liberation is typically linked with the rise of the
modern animal rights movement, despite the fact that Singer does not
actually endorse the concept of rights but rather discusses animals’
interests. Singer, a Utilitarian, emphasises the significance of pain and
suffering in relation to ethical duties toward other animals. Following
Bentham, Singer rejects the idea that moral status is based on particular
qualities such as rationality. Instead, Singer argues that moral status is
based upon the ability to experience pain and espouses the principle
68 Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson

of equal consideration of interests. Singer (1990) identifies capacity

to suffer as the basic condition for having interests at all. The prin-
ciple of equal consideration does not mean all individuals should be
treated identically (Singer recognises that individual capabilities require
different treatment) but rather that equality should be given to all inter-
ests, regardless of characteristics such as gender, race or species.
Proponents of social justice accept this principle in relation to gender,
race, age, sexual orientation, etcetera, but are slow to acknowledge that
species is equally irrelevant in terms of moral consideration. In this
sense they are ‘speciesist’, to use the term coined in 1970 by clinical
psychologist Richard Ryder (1983) and popularised by Singer to describe
those who treat sentient and morally equivalent beings differently on
the basis of species alone, rather than giving them equal consideration.
Despite Singer’s acknowledgement of the principle of equal considera-
tion, he does not believe that all lives (whether human or nonhuman)
are of equal value. His focus on minimising suffering led Singer to focus
on treatment of animals, rather than on the fact of using them in the
first place. Thus, while Singer campaigns for improved animal welfare,
he fails to see that welfare entails protecting animals’ lives and does not
reject killing them for food or medical research.
Others take a specifically rights-based approach. Tom Regan’s (2004,
p. xvi) The Case for Animal Rights presents a well-developed argument for
granting rights to animals who are ‘subjects-of-a-life’, that is, those who
have a ‘unified psychological presence’. Such animals resemble humans
in ‘possess[ing] a variety of sensory, cognitive, conative, and voli-
tional capacities. They see and hear, believe and desire, remember and
anticipate, plan and intend. Moreover, what happens to them matters
to them’ (Regan, 2004, p. xvii). Regan argues that these qualities, as
well as the capacity to suffer, mean other animals cannot be treated as
resources, and that they have inherent value and should be protected by
rights. Regan identifies not just treatment of other animals as a moral
problem but our instrumental use of them. Unlike Singer, who seeks
only improvements in treatment to minimise suffering, Regan calls for
abolition of use of animals in agriculture, research, hunting, clothing,
entertainment and other practices where they are considered instru-
mental to human purposes.
Ecofeminists such as Adams (2010), Davis (2005), Donovan (Donovan
& Adams, 2007) and Kheel (2008) propose other avenues for protection
of nonhuman animals. They point out speciesism’s patriarchal char-
acter. Drawing parallels between treatment of women and nonhuman
animals, they see these forms of oppression and exploitation as
Social Justice beyond Human Beings 69

intertwined, exemplified by commodification and objectification of

bodies of women and nonhuman animals, as well as by links between
domestic violence towards women and abuse of other animals. Sharing
with Singer and Regan the conviction that other animals’ suffering is
a serious ethical concern, they promote an ethics of care approach as
the most appropriate means of addressing the issues. This approach
emphasises contexts and relationships as well as emotions. Ecofeminists
criticise Singer and Regan for their emphasis on rationality, which they
say fails to recognise the significance of emotions. They suggest that
caring is contextual and situational rather than being based on abstract
While these philosophical and ethical approaches make important
contributions to understanding our relationships with other animals,
they tend to focus on individual morality rather than understanding
speciesism as a structural system, with the exception of ecofeminists who
identify patriarchal aspects of that system. Nibert’s (2002, 2013) polit-
ical economy approach marks a significant intervention by examining
intertwined forms of oppression and exploitation under capitalism.
Nibert’s analysis draws on insights by Noske (1997) who proposed the
concept of an animal industrial complex to examine the institutional-
ised character of animal exploitation. Nibert also draws on Francione
(1995), who notes that nonhuman animals are considered property, and
that by being relegated to such a status, their inherent value is always
disregarded and subordinated to that of their human owners. Francione
maintains that other animals do not need to exhibit human-like cogni-
tive abilities in order to have their personhood recognised; rather, all
that is required is sentience. Based on this principle, Francione argues
for an abolitionist approach that does not just critique mistreatment but
demands an end to the use of animals.
These four developments have contributed to an opportunity for
social work to reconsider its stance toward other animals. Animal rights
theorists and advocates have provided important arguments that make
it necessary for social work to re-evaluate its anthropocentric focus. So
far, social workers have been open only to such a re-evaluation in terms
of the first two of these four developments. While they acknowledge
the importance of emotional ties with animals and have been willing
to incorporate them into therapeutic strategies and to promote integra-
tion of abuse of companion animals into risk assessments, there is still
a tendency to view animals as resources and tools. Although there are
some exceptions (for example, Ryan, 2011), there is little acceptance of
the idea that other animals, as sentient beings with their own inherent
70 Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson

value, have a claim to be included in our thinking about moral consid-

eration and social justice.

Defining trans-species social justice

We hope to further this discussion by looking at how Iris Marion Young’s

ideas about social justice might be applied to other animals. Young (2011)
examined views of social justice in social movements such as Black
liberation, feminism, American Indian and LGBTQ liberation move-
ments, and argues that understanding justice involves consideration
of two primary institutional conditions: oppression and domination.
Young considers oppression a key factor in creating social injustice. Her
analytical tools include conceptualising oppression as having five faces:
exploitation, marginalisation, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and
violence. Seeing violence and cultural imperialism as aspects of oppres-
sion, Young (2011, p. 58) contends that exploitation, marginalisation
and powerlessness stem from social divisions of labour, ‘structural and
institutional relations that delimit people’s material lives including ... the
concrete opportunities ... to develop and exercise their capacities’. While
Young limits her discussion to human oppression, much of it is directly
applicable to other animals. Oppression, in particular violence against
marginalised Others, is widespread, but violence against animal Others
goes unrecognised by social justice theorists who see this either as
acceptable or as actions of aberrant individuals rather than as institu-
tional issues and social injustice. We adopt Young’s understanding of
social justice to examine human-animal interactions as social practices
and as institutional conditions. Young (2011, pp. 61–2) argues:

What makes violence a face of oppression is less the particular acts

themselves ... than the social context surrounding them, which makes
them possible and even acceptable. What makes violence a phenom-
enon of social injustice, and not merely an individual wrong, is its
systemic character, its existence as a social practice.

Based on this understanding of violence and oppression, we define trans-

species social justice as consideration of interests of all animals (including
humans) in order to achieve institutional conditions free from oppression and
In social work, critical understanding of racism, sexism, classism and
other structural oppressions is essential. In particular, in the Canadian
context, anti-oppressive practice (AOP) is fundamental in social work
Social Justice beyond Human Beings 71

education, and structural analysis is essential for AOP. Consideration of

how micro-level relationships are socially constructed and institutional-
ised, thus legitimised by macro-level factors such as politics and global
relations, forms the basis of its understanding. However, current AOP
theories do not consider speciesism and animal-human relationships
(Hanrahan, 2011; Matsuoka & Sorenson, 2013). As a result, examina-
tions of gender, race, class, age, sexual identity and the interaction of
these structural oppressions are rarely found in discussions of our rela-
tions with animals.

Five forms of oppression and animals

Young does not present social justice simply as equitable distribution

of resources but examines institutionalised social practices that create
domination, oppression and inequalities. Oppression is considered a
primary institutional condition for injustice. This conceptualisation
helps us reveal the oppression of other animals and to recognise this as
injustice. Within the ideological framework of speciesism, and organ-
ised according to the needs of capitalism, other animals are considered
commodities and resources for our use and their lives are considered
expendable as we slaughter them by the billions. Speciesism presents
this systemic oppression as natural and acceptable, legitimising and
reproducing it in ‘major economic, political, and cultural institutions’
(Young, 2011, p. 41). We consider Young’s five forms of oppression in
relation to other animals.

Exploitation refers to the ‘steady process of the transfer of the results of
the labour of one social group to benefit another’ (Young, 2011, p. 49).
Among humans, this form of oppression is experienced by the working
class, women and racialised groups. The condition of animals today fits
well with what Young identified as exploitation and one of five forms
of oppression. Hribal (2003, p. 435) argues that ‘animals are part of the
working class’. This suggestion may be stated too broadly in the sense
that animals do not form political parties to promote their interests, but
it is clearly true in the sense that other animals labour for the benefit of
humans, and that animals do have agency and resist oppression (Hribal,
Animals not only provide raw material for meat, dairy, leather, and
wool industries but are used extensively in transportation and as beasts
of burden, weapons of war, tools for research and profit-generating
72 Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson

devices in aquarium, circus, racing and zoo industries. They not only
perform menial labour but are forced into dangerous work for the police
and military, and are pitted against one another in gambling enterprises
such as cock-, dog- and horse-fighting. Their bodies and their labour are
exploited for human gain. Animals suffer deprivation under exploita-
tion as human workers do, but also they are literally worked to death
and consumed. The appalling and exploitive working conditions of
factory farms (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1990) and
slaughter houses (Human Rights Watch, 2005; Pachirat, 2011) are well-
documented. Institutionalised exploitation of other animals for food is
intertwined with exploitation of humans and threats to human welfare
(Matsuoka & Sorenson, 2013). As noted, feminists have demonstrated
parallels between exploitation of women’s bodies and nonhuman
animals’ bodies, in particular female ones (Adams, 2010; Cudworth,
2008; Donovan & Adams, 2007; Kheel, 2008). Gruen (2007) argues that
ignoring such parallel exploitation simply perpetuates patriarchy. Thus,
if we, as social workers, fail to understand trans-species social justice, we
will unwittingly allow patriarchy to continue and miss important oppor-
tunities to fundamentally transform oppressive systemic contexts.

Young’s second component of oppression is marginalisation:
‘Marginalization is perhaps the most dangerous form of oppression. A
whole category of people are expelled from useful participation in social
life and thus potentially subjected to severe material deprivation and
even extermination’ (Young, 2011, p. 53). While Young limits her discus-
sion to humans, it is apparent that whole categories of other animals
are marginalised in this way. A clear example is the case of unwanted
and disposable cats and dogs in North America. These animals are
produced by a huge pet industry that includes breeders of specialised
show animals, to puppy mills that churn out animals in factory farm
conditions. Not only do these animals suffer various painful and debili-
tating physical and psychological conditions from intensive inbreeding
(Calboli, Sampson, Fretwell, & Balding, 2008), but the industry generates
a surplus of unwanted and abandoned pets. They are denied participa-
tion not only in social life but life itself, and millions are exterminated
in ‘shelters’ each year (HSUS, 2013b; Winograd, 2009). Other margin-
alised animals include racing animals who are too slow or too old to
generate profits, and are abandoned or sold to slaughterhouses (Doward,
2011; Milmo, 2013). Also marginalised are ‘nuisance’ animals such as
geese and raccoons, and urban wildlife such as bears and coyotes who
Social Justice beyond Human Beings 73

are considered to have trespassed upon human property. These margin-

alised animals are often relocated to unfamiliar habitats, or, even worse,
killed and systematically culled because they are considered inconven-
ient for humans. We have witnessed similar marginalisation and exter-
mination of indigenous people in the colonisation of the Americas,
Australia and New Zealand (Nibert, 2013). Continuing to see through a
speciesist lens prevents us from recognising such similarities in forms of
systemic oppression and injustice.

Powerlessness is Young’s third face of oppression. This refers to lack
of ‘authority, status and sense of self’ (Young, 1990, p. 57). Legally,
animals are regarded merely as property in most societies (Francione,
1995), thus this form of oppression clearly describes their situations.
Speciesist ideology negates other animals’ moral value and regards them
as commodities. They do not control their own lives, and any protection
extended to them relegates their own interests as secondary to those
of their human owners. CAFOs (that is, factory farms) provide a clear
example: in such conditions, nonhuman animals are controlled in every
aspect of their being. Not only are they genetically bred and modified
so their bodies develop as humans wish them to, but their movements
are constrained by cages and stalls until they are deemed ‘ready’ for
slaughter. Spiegel (1996) compares the treatment of these disempowered
animals with the enslavement of Africans, using imagery that uncan-
nily presents conceptual and structural linkages between speciesism and
racism. The ideology of enslaved humans as property allowed injustice to
continue, and similarly the ideological construction of animals as prop-
erty keeps them powerless, without status. Such ideological construc-
tions permit institutional conditions for oppression.

Cultural imperialism
Young’s fourth face of oppression is cultural imperialism. This refers to
situations in which the dominant group’s perspective becomes the invis-
ible norm, while those of subordinated groups are stereotyped as Other.
At first, this aspect of oppression may seem inapplicable to other animals,
but largely that is due to our lack of knowledge and understanding of
other species’ abilities and capacities. As noted above, in recent years,
ethologists have expanded our awareness of other animals’ cultures (for
example, Bekoff & Pierce, 2010; Goodall, 1971). Factory farming and
captivity industries such as aquariums, circuses and zoos distort cultural
experiences of other animals through isolation and confinement. Young
74 Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson

(2011) also describes how dominant groups consolidate control by casting

other groups as deviant and inferior. Rather than being inapplicable to
other animals, this facet of oppression is in fact central to the operations
of speciesism. Humans have defined themselves in opposition to other
animals, constructing themselves as superior and possessed of qualities
that distinguish them from other beings in fundamental ways. Yet, one
by one, these distinguishing qualities, such as the Cartesian exclusion of
animals from moral regard due to a lack of linguistic capability, and the
Kantian assumption that animals lack rationality, have been seen to be
matters of degree rather than of kind. As well as providing the Other by
which humans measure their own superiority, nonhuman animals are
deployed as symbols in intersecting discourses of racism and speciesism.
For example, there have been frequent comparisons of people of colour
to nonhuman apes (Corbey, 2005; Sorenson, 2009). Moreover, animal
imagery is used to denigrate subordinated human populations and to
categorise them as less deserving of equal rights (Patterson, 2002). Thus,
while cultural imperialism operates to create institutional dominance
over other animals and to maintain unjust human-animal relations,
such unjust relationships were also used to perpetuate oppressive insti-
tutional conditions within the human species.

The final component of oppression is systemic violence. Young (2011,
p. 62) states that ‘violence is systemic because it is directed at members
of subordinated groups simply because they are members of those
groups’. Violence is directed at nonhuman animals on a massive scale,
with billions killed annually in slaughterhouses, fishing industries, fur
farms and vivisection laboratories (HSUS, 2013a). This violence is widely
accepted on the grounds that they are not human and thus undeserving
of the same moral consideration. Young (2011, p. 61) notes that the
motive of violence is to ‘damage, humiliate, or destroy’ the individual
emotionally and physically. Literature on family violence and animal
abuse and neglect finds a strong association of violence operating across
the boundaries of species, and indicates the need for professionals to
consider such trans-species oppression. Quite often when mass media
report animal abuse by individuals, we observe strong public condemna-
tions of such actions. However, mass media seldom report on appalling
conditions and treatment of animals in CAFOs, auction houses, and
slaughterhouses where abuse is routine. Accepted practices involve
confinement, mutilation, repeated forced reproduction, abduction of
infants and killing, treatment that would be acknowledged as abuse,
Social Justice beyond Human Beings 75

if inflicted upon humans. However, since it happens to other animals,

such treatment is considered acceptable on the grounds of efficiency,
profitability and affordability of the resulting products. Our insensitivity
to systemic violence toward animals for food is partially due to the fact
that we accept the culturally-constructed divisions between companion
animals and farmed animals. We are blind to systemic and culturally-
accepted forms of violence and fail to question institutional conditions
for trans-species social injustice.
Institutionalised violence towards animals continues as a taken-for-
granted social practice. The systemic nature of this type of oppression
is a form of social injustice as Young noted. If such systemic violence
is considered as injustice when it is directed towards humans, why do
we not recognise it as such when it is directed towards other animals?
It is only by engaging in speciesist prejudice that we deny social justice
beyond human beings.


In this chapter, we identified four developments that have contributed

to an opportunity for social work to reconsider its stance toward other
animals. These include:

● Realisation of powerful links that contribute to our health and well-

being through use of therapy animals.
● Recognition of links between abuse of animals and abuse of
● Recognition of other animals’ cognitive, emotional and social
● Growth of animal rights as a social movement and as a body of
philosophy and theory.

Although overlooked by social work literature, the fourth development

provides an important challenge to re-evaluate social work’s anthropo-
centric focus. By using Young’s conceptualisation of social justice, we
examined institutional conditions of animals. We observed each face
of oppression: exploitation, marginalisation, powerlessness, cultural
imperialism and violence, in relation to animals in everyday practice.
We found that such oppression constructed institutional conditions
that allow perpetuation of oppression and domination not only of
other animals, but of humans as well. Other animals are sentient beings
with similar capacities to experience pain and pleasure, and they have
76 Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson

similar interests in remaining alive. Thus, we argue that social work’s

commitment to promote social justice should be extended beyond
the boundaries of the human species. PETA (n.d.) asserts, these other
‘animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment upon, use for entertain-
ment, or abuse in any way’. Will social workers who believe in social
justice continue to think that clothing ourselves with animals’ skins,
fur, and hair or feeding ourselves by exploiting and harming other
animals have nothing to do with social work and issues of social
welfare? Do we still insist that such matters are simply ones of personal
choice? We hope that this chapter has sparked some interest in these
questions, and that it will encourage further discussions on trans-spe-
cies social justice. We hope it will convince readers that animal issues
are not simply sentimental concerns, nor personal ethical choices
alone, but that they are political-economic matters fundamental to
the most pressing social issues. The intertwined nature of these issues
and injustices indicate that social justice cannot be achieved without
addressing institutional contexts that perpetuate systemic oppression:
that is, addressing trans-species social justice. Simple, everyday choices
we make are in fact opportunities to practice powerful expressions of
activism with the potential to transform our society to a more just one.
Social workers who are seriously working toward eradicating injustices
such as violence and poverty cannot achieve these goals without partic-
ipating in such activism.

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The Moral Priority of Vulnerability
and Dependency: Why Social
Work Should Respect Both
Humans and Animals
Thomas Ryan

In a journal article ‘People with cognitive disabilities: The argument

from marginal cases and social work ethics’, Gerald O’Brien (2003,
p. 335, emphasis added) writes:

Seeking to engage the public in questioning our consideration and

treatment of animals is fine, as long as vulnerable humans are not
harmed in the process. Unfortunately, the animal rights movement,
invested as it is in the AMC [Argument from Marginal Cases], cannot
guarantee this. As it is described in the writings of animal rights
scholars, the AMC is in opposition to core social work values and
must be vigorously challenged by members of the profession. The
dignity and worth of people living on the margins of society is dimin-
ished when we bestow quasi-human status on them or suggest that
their moral standing is comparable to animals.

In this, and other writings, O’Brien (2009, 2013) has extensively and
movingly chronicled the historical marginalisation, dehumanisa-
tion and appalling treatment of some of our most vulnerable fellow
human beings. His recounting of indefensible abuses represents, as he
irrefutably argues, the antithesis of core social work moral principles,
compelling us to rethink our conceptualisations of, and to confront
our prejudices about, the nature of disability. His writings are impor-
tant catalysts not only for engaged and insightful moral thinking about
cognitive disability, but for sustained reflection upon our concep-
tualisations of human nature, of vulnerability and dependency, and

The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency 81

critically, the criteria deemed necessary for membership in the moral

To the best of my knowledge, O’Brien’s article represents the only
published social work reaction specifically concerning itself with the
argument from marginal cases (hereafter, AMC), and is also that relative
rarity in social work literature more broadly, where the issue of animals1
is given some attention. Despite his assurance that it is a perfectly legiti-
mate undertaking to engage the general public in the consideration
and treatment of animals, he is conspicuously silent as to whether or
not social work has any direct ethical or moral obligations to animals.
Whatever consideration is held to entail, it categorically precludes any
comparative moral deliberations.
Although not explicitly articulated, I make the assumption that O’Brien
holds to the traditional social work conceptualisation of moral value,
wherein the moral worth of human beings is not only unconditional, but
unique, and that all human beings, by virtue of their species membership,
are full members of the moral community. Biological status is assumed to
be a sufficient and necessary condition. With one exception (Ryan, 2011),
no social work code of ethics makes any mention of animals or our duties
to them, and Banks (1995, p. 10) effectively speaks for the discipline when
declaring that ‘moral judgements are about human welfare.’ It is as though
the households within which social workers live and practice were devoid
of animals. However, animals are, and have always been, constitutive of
human societies (Benton, 1993; Serpell, 1986), having profound relational
significance (Beck & Katcher, 1996; Podberscek, Paul, & Serpell, 2005).
We inhabit mixed communities and households (Midgley, 1983), which
constitute both ‘a true social community and suggest a sense of social
responsibility’ (Sharpe, 2005, p. 208).
O’Brien (2003, p. 331) is concerned that the AMC is prospectively
corrosive of the moral standing of human individuals with cognitive
disabilities specifically and, by extension, of other vulnerable human

[It] has the potential to denigrate the status of many of the groups
to which the social work profession should be most committed. By
comparing “marginal” humans to animals, the AMC may unwittingly
dehumanize people with cognitive disabilities and be yet another way
our society justifies maltreatment of its most vulnerable members.

This represents, I will contend, a profound misunderstanding and

misreading of the intent and spirit of the argument. He shares the
82 Thomas Ryan

conviction of a fellow social work professor that animal analogies and

metaphors invariably reduce vulnerable humans ‘to the insignificant
level of lower, primitive animals, whose fate is of no consequence’ (Brennan,
1995, p. 89, emphasis added). Indeed O’Brien (2003, p. 332) avers that
‘those with severe cognitive impairments are among the most vulner-
able to being “animalized”’ (emphasis added). It seems to escape both
O’Brien and Brennan that these analogies and metaphors only derive
their force in the first instance from the manner in which we currently
see fit to view, and treat, animals. It is assumed ethically imperative
to reject any suggestion that comparative moral evaluation does not
of necessity entail the diminishment of human beings, especially the
human vulnerable. Any erosion of an explicit demarcation is seen to
expedite the descent of some of our kind into a beast-like condition, as
though ‘the less animal we are, the more human we become’ (Malik,
2000, p. 389).
Historically, O’Brien is on particularly shaky ground when insistent
that human worth and dignity precludes any comparison of vulner-
able human beings with animals. He appears oblivious of the linkage
made by prominent nineteenth century social reformers between the
two issues, and some intrepid pioneering social workers (Gardiner, 2014;
Ryan, 2011). Key founding members of the Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals (later to become the RSPCA) were simultaneously
involved in campaigns for the abolition of slavery, education, housing
and workplace reforms, and the protection of children. Not only did
they see no incompatibility, their extraordinary moral sensibilities
were informed by a conviction as to the interrelatedness of suffering
and cruelty across species boundaries. John Stuart Mill (in Preece, 2002,
p. 250) asserted that ‘The reasons for legal intervention in favour of
children, apply not less strongly to the case of those unfortunate slaves
and victims of the most brutal part of mankind, the lower animals.’
Significantly, societies for the protection of animals predated those
concerned with children, and those involved in the former were instru-
mental in the establishment of the latter in Australia, America and Great
Britain. Legislation designed to counter cruelty to animals became the
template for combating abuses of children.
Responding to the well known case of the severe abuse and neglect of
the child Mary Ellen Wilson by her foster mother, Henry Bergh, founder
of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (estab-
lished in 1866), asserted that ‘The child is an animal ... If there is no
justice for it as a human being it shall have the rights of a stray cur in
the streets. It shall not be abused’ (quoted in Riis, 1970, p. 143). This
The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency 83

case served as the catalyst for the establishment of the New York Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1874, and the subsequent
spawning of other societies throughout America.
In Great Britain, the RSPCA assisted in the establishment of the National
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1884 (Turner, 1964),
and the American Humane Society, founded in 1877 for the protection
of animals, became a society dedicated to the protection of animals
and children in 1885. To this day, it continues to promote the welfare
of children, and undertakes research on myriad child-related concerns
(Clifton, 1991). Of the 354 anti-cruelty organisations operational in the
United States by 1908, it is notable that 185 were dual societies (Pearson,
2011). Noting that the defencelessness of children and animals was a crit-
ical stumbling block to liberalism’s considering them to be right holders,
Pearson (2011) relates that reformers countered by arguing that the
rights could be extended to the vulnerable and dependent, the innocent
and the helpless, as a direct consequence of their capacities for feeling
and sentience (see also Turner, 1980). Notwithstanding Watkins’ (1990)
determination to debunk the interrelationship, it was the recognition of
a shared vulnerability and dependency of animals and children (Costin,
1991; Pearson, 2011). Subsequent denial is patently ahistorical, and
there have been contemporary calls for a holistic reunification (Hackett
& Uprichard, 2007; Zilney & Zilney, 2005).
Given that O’Brien is primarily concerned with the animalisation
of vulnerable human beings, his disquiet cannot be fully appreciated
without an understanding of what animals are deemed to represent.
The aversion to any comparison is in large part the consequence of
our impoverished conception of animal lives, allied with an invariably
invidious hierarchical classification of the natural world (Ritvo, 1995),
and ‘once these categories have been learned, it is very difficult for us
to see the world in any other way’ (Thomas, 1983, p. 52). I suggest that
the concerns expressed by O’Brien have more to do with a fundamen-
tally simplistic and erroneous depiction of animality, in tandem with
an assumption that they inhabit a parallel moral universe. Such dichot-
omous thinking being ‘so old and automatic that we scarcely notice
it ... animals are radically other, on the far side of an unbridgeable chasm’
(Ritvo, 1991, p. 68).
O’Brien implores us to desist from treating vulnerable humans like
animals, an insistence often seen as justifying our assumption that it is
fitting to treat animals like animals – ‘that is, they may be starved, evicted,
imprisoned, tortured, killed whenever it is convenient to “us”.’ (Clark,
2000b, pp. 55–6) Perhaps, to reverse O’Brien’s concerns, as we treat our
84 Thomas Ryan

fellow animals, so we assuredly come to treat our fellow humans (Salt,

1894, 1935).
Whenever humans are accused of acting or behaving like animals,
they are invariably seen as being excluded, at least temporarily, from
the moral community, highlighting that the species barrier ‘is inevi-
tably linked with that of the border of value’ (Midgley, 1988, p. 37). Our
historical predilection for distinguishing ourselves from animals has
profound consequences for both:

[I]f the essence of humanity was defined as consisting in some

specific quality, then it followed that any man who did not display
that quality was subhuman, semi-animal ... Once perceived as beasts,
people were liable to be treated accordingly. The ethic of human
domination removed animals from the sphere of human concern.
But it also legitimized the ill-treatment of those humans who were in
a supposedly animal condition. (Thomas, 1983, pp. 41, 44)

Animals, and our relationships with them, have always served to inform
our understanding of ourselves. It is though they were a mirror in which
we see both their radical otherness, and intimations of ourselves. We
seem content to straddle two contradictory positions, simultaneously
acknowledging our evolutionary continuity while conceiving ourselves
to be morally unique creatures. It is this presumed radical disconti-
nuity that conditions our moral indifference, for ‘The ways in which we
imagine the world determines what we think important in it’ (Midgley,
2003, p. 2).
Our animal symbolism and mythology has been characterised by great
ambiguity (Rowland, 1974). We often identify qualities in them, either
observed or imagined, that elicit our admiration, but more often find
much in them to dread, fear, or revile. In truth, it is invariably our all-
too-human vices that are routinely projected onto animals, leaving us
all at sea in seeing ourselves and other animals with clarity and realism,
something that ‘made man anxious to exaggerate his difference from
all other species and to ground all activities he valued in capacities
unshared by the animals’ (Midgley, 1996, p. 40). If this is what largely
informs our assumptions about animals, it is unsurprising that we recoil
from any comparison.
An ethics sequestered from biology has major implications for our
understanding of both vulnerability and dependency, and it is only the
fact that we consider our biological nature to be extraneous and contin-
gent ‘that permits a single sharp line to be drawn between human beings
The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency 85

and members of all nonhuman species’ (MacIntyre, 1999, p. 50). A

significant contributing factor in our muddleheaded thinking is a predi-
lection for discerning what distinguishes us from, rather than among,
other animals (Midgley, 1996), for assuredly, ‘We remain animal selves
with animal identities’ (MacIntrye, 1999, p. 49).
It is both instructive and sobering to contrast the aforementioned
reductive views with Darwin’s (1936, pp. 456, 494, 453, 476) reflections
about ourselves and other social animals:

All have the same senses, intuitions, and sensations, – similar

passions, affections, and emotions, even the more complex ones,
such as jealousy, suspicion, emulation, gratitude, and magnanimity;
they practice deceit and are revengeful; they are sometimes suscep-
tible to ridicule, and even have a sense of humour; they feel wonder
and curiosity; they possess the same faculties of imitation, atten-
tion, deliberation, choice, memory, imagination, the association of
ideas, and reason, though in very different degrees ... Nevertheless the
difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it
is, certainly is one of degree and not kind ... Only a few persons now
dispute that animals possess some power of reasoning. Animals may
constantly be seen to pause, deliberate, and resolve ... Besides love
and sympathy, animals exhibit other qualities connected with the
social instincts, which in us would be called moral.

Far better that we acknowledge ‘all animals as subjects of some kind,

though with a life that varies greatly in its kind and degree of complexity’
(Midgley, 1996, p. 225), and that our biological continuity surely gives
rise to moral continuity (Moore, 1906; Rachels, 1999), shifting ‘the centre
of altruism to the whole conscious word collectively’ (Hardy, 1930,
p. 138). The discipline of ethology has further immeasurably deepened
our understandings (Allen & Bekoff, 1997; Griffin, 1981).
I hasten to add that I, too, share O’Brien’s disquiet about the utilisa-
tion of the term ‘marginal’ to describe vulnerable human beings, for the
term is commonly understood as designating something, or someone,
of trivial importance. The implication being that some human beings
are defective and somehow less human than their normal fellows, in
effect second rate and second class, perhaps at best little more than failed
attempts at humanity. I will contend that it is not the AMC that views
humans in this way, but the paradigmatic model of personhood. That
said, I find it equally abhorrent to assign the term to animals, as though
they are nothing more than deficient, primitive and inferior creatures,
86 Thomas Ryan

when nothing could be further from the truth. They, like us, have their
own lives to live.
Not only does the terminology marginal offend social work moral
sensibilities, but it is patently not the way most people view infants,
children, the profoundly disabled, or, indeed, many animals:

Suppose he [that is, a particular “backward” child] did remain more

like a child than the rest of us. Is there anything particularly horrible
about a child? Do you shudder when you think of your dog, merely
because he’s happy and fond of you and yet can’t do the forty-eighth
proposition of Euclid? Being a dog is not a disease. Being a child is
not a disease. Even remaining a child is not a disease. (Chesterton, in
Clark, 2012, p. 141)

It is the marginalisation and dismissal of vulnerable and dependent

beings of whatever species, and our indifference to them, that represents
our most profound moral error. It’s far more helpful, and respectful,
to make a distinction between moral agents and moral patients. The
former refers to beings who are morally responsible and accountable
for their actions, and who have duties and obligations to both agents
and patients, the latter to beings who are not morally responsible or
accountable – that said, in the European Middle Ages animals were often
excommunicated, or brought to trial and executed for perceived wrong-
doing (Evans, 1906) – but who are nevertheless owed duties and obliga-
tions by all moral agents. Moral agency confers special responsibilities,
not privileges. Moral patients include all those humans and nonhuman
animals referred to as marginal cases, and it is their moral claims against
agents, independent of reciprocity (Sapontzis, 1987), that are germane to
considerations of fairness and justice:

Children, imbeciles, lunatics and the senile are not marginal to

society, any more than the domestic animals. Society does not exist
to serve the purposes of self-seeking rational adult individuals but to
maintain the households within which we all grow up. (Clark, 1997,
p. 108)

It will be instructive to contrast O’Brien’s characterisation of the AMC

with those of Singer and Regan, its key philosophical proponents.
Erroneously identified by O’Brien as an animal rights advocate (Frey,
1980), Frey (1987) furthermore argues that we are fundamentally
mistaken to utilise a supposed equality between and ‘defective’ and
The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency 87

‘normal’ humans, when none exists, to underwrite equality between

‘defective’ humans and animals.
Though the specific terminology of AMC was first advanced by
Narveson (1977), the concept has classical precedent. Porphyry (1965,
pp. 128–9) succinctly captures its essence:

[S]ince we see that many of our own species live from sense alone,
but do not possess intellect and reason ... [is it not, I say absurd,] to
fancy that we ought to act justly towards these, but no justice is due
from us to the ox that ploughs, the dog that is fed with us, and the
animals that nourish us with their milk, and adorn our bodies with
their wool?

There are two variants of the AMC – the so-called weaker version, where
animals have rights only on the condition that supposedly marginal
humans possess them, and the stronger rendering, where rights are
accorded to animals because purportedly marginal humans have them
(Regan, 1982). Designed to challenge the assumption that membership
in the human species is not only morally significant, but decisive, it
contends that, whilst sufficient, this membership is not necessary for
inclusion in the moral community. The AMC, Dombrowski, (1997)
contends, is best thought of as the argument from moral consistency,
for we need to identify morally relevant differences that would justify
treating animals in ways which we would not countenance treating any
human beings. There is no capacity deemed to be morally weighty, be
that language, moral agency, rationality, self-consciousness or sentience,
that is to be found in all and only human beings, and which would
sanction differential moral treatment. Indeed all these capacities are
dependent upon our own animal inheritance and nature, and this fact
entails the existence of a spectrum, rather than definitive dividing line
(Darwin, 1936, 1965; MacIntyre, 1999).
MacIntyre (1999) argues that the majority philosophical assumption
that rationality and the adult social world are the norm has profound
consequences for the human young – whose capacities we spectacularly
underestimate (Gopnik, 2009; Matthews, 1994) – aged, injured and disa-
bled, and this sad fact has played its part in the undervaluing of these
very people by social work (Wilkes, 1981). MacIntyre (1999) suggests
that it is our forgetfulness of our embodiedness that not only blinds us
to the reality that our thinking is that of a specific animal species, but
also impacts on our understanding and responsiveness to physical and
mental disabilities that are part and parcel of our animal condition. We
88 Thomas Ryan

all fluctuate along a continuum of dependency and disability throughout

our lives, in times of infancy, old age, illness and injury. Dependency,
disability and vulnerability define us (Kittay, 1999, 2011), and expose the
myth of the paradigmatic autonomous individual – indeed vulnerability
‘is the medium of contact between us, what we most fundamentally
recognize in each other (Phillips & Taylor, 2009, p. 10). And to expect,
or require, reasons to care is a perversion of morality, the foundations of
which are responsibility for others and their vulnerabilities and depend-
encies, without calculation (Bauman, 2001). And others cannot refer only
to individuals of our supposed kind:

The ability to recognise vulnerability and respond appropriately ... [is

not] an exclusively human ability or an exclusively intra-specific
one ... Caring for one another, and responding to one another’s
vulnerability is not so much what we do as what we are – and by ‘we’ I
mean all those creatures that share this characteristic. (Sharpe, 2005,
p. 220)

The genesis of our moral being lies not in rational humanity, but in our
caring for, and loyalty to, ‘those with whom we have bonds of affec-
tion and familiarity’, and ‘Only a doctrinaire humanism can ignore the
obvious fact that among those domestic ties are ties of friendship and
family loyalty to animals not of our species’ (Clark, 1997, p. 106). It is
close relationships of both the human and nonhuman kind that entail
special and enhanced moral relationships.
Singer is perhaps the contemporary philosopher most associated with
moral arguments advocating a profound reassessment of our treatment
of other animals and with AMC specifically, and O’Brien’s superficial
and unsympathetic treatment of it is compounded by his selection
of Singer as being representative. Singer considers sentience to be a
defining attribute that warrants moral consideration, and calls for an
equal consideration of similar interests independent of species member-
ship. His position is essentially encapsulated in Bentham’s (quoted in
Singer, 1976, p. 8) much-quoted pronouncement: ‘The question is not,
Can they reason? Nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?’
For Singer, any creature with the capacities for self-consciousness,
rationality, and an awareness of themselves as beings with a past and a
future (the traditional hallmarks of personhood) possesses a right to life
and is accorded moral priority, whereas those merely sentient, whilst
deserving of moral consideration and an equal consideration of inter-
ests, do not possess such a right. What matters morally is a creature’s
The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency 89

intrinsic rather than inherent value. For Singer, the greater the number
of personhood capacities a creature possesses, the greater their moral
standing, and this is particularly evidenced in his desire to have the
great apes accorded membership in the moral community on the ground
of their intelligence and language capacities (Singer & Cavalieri, 1993).
Singer (1997, p. 78) insists that his intent ‘is to elevate the status of
animals rather than lower the status of any humans ... [and] give animals
the greater concern we now have for intellectually disabled humans.’
However, he is unsurprisingly singled out by O’Brien for some of his
contentious and controversial positions which are not inherent in the
AMC, but rather with his linking of it with his replaceability argument
(Dombrowski, 1997), his utilitarian aggregation of interests, and his
designation of personhood as bestowing maximum moral standing.
All beings devoid of self-consciousness are subject to the replaceability
argument, whereby we do no wrong in killing them, so long as they have
lived pleasant lives and are despatched painlessly, and that in their stead
we replace like with like – ‘a wrong done to an existing being can be
made up for by a benefit conferred on an yet non-existent being’ (Singer,
1997, p. 133). Singer’s utilitarian aggregations of interests also licences
human and nonhuman individuals being treated as receptacles of value,
rather than valued as unique, precious and irreplaceable individuals:

I do not believe that it could never be justifiable to experiment on a

retarded human. If it really were possible to save many lives by an
experiment that would take just one life, and there were no other way
those lives could be saved, it might be right to do the experiment.
(Singer, 1976, pp. 82–3)

If one, or even a dozen animals had to suffer experiments in order to

save thousands, I would think it right and in accordance with equal
consideration of interests that they should do so. (Singer, 1997, p. 67)

Singer, arguing that secular society already holds an attenuated sanctity

of life ethic, contends that the unborn child, and infants to approxi-
mately one month of age, beings marked by a radical dependency, have
far lesser moral significance than other humans. Others argue that abor-
tion and infanticide of even healthy infants can both be morally justified
as we are in neither instance dealing with persons (Giubilini & Minerva,
2012). In which case, it is unclear why we ought to trouble ourselves
about the effects on the unborn child when his/her mother imbibes
alcohol or misuses illicit drugs. Those of our kind who exhibit no, or
90 Thomas Ryan

minimal, conformity to the physiological norm, including foetuses

(until they begin to look human) and people with profound physical
deformities, are often not considered to be fully human (Sapontzis,
1987). And if it is preferable to abort disabled foetuses, or put to death
disabled infants,

why is it reasonable to sustain such lives, at public expense once they

are being lived? ... can their own later judgement that they choose
to live, be granted any reasonable weight? ... Only those who know
what they would be missing have a right, or a capacity, to claim their
lives – but no one believes them when they say that lives like theirs
are worth living. (Clark, 2000a, p. 270)

We find a significant contrast in the writings of Regan (1983), where

moral primacy is accorded to sentience, subjectivity, and inherent as
opposed to intrinsic value. Regan provides the conceptual framework
that secures the moral standing of all sentient beings, thereby conclu-
sively rebutting O’Brien’s critique of the AMC. Regan (1983, p. 243)
argues that a being can be considered a subject-of-a-life

[I]f they have beliefs and desires; perception, memory and a sense
of the future, including their own future; an emotional life together
with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference- and welfare-interests;
the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a
psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in
the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logi-
cally independent of their being the object of anyone else’s inter-
ests ... [subjects-of-a-life] have a distinctive kind of value – inherent
value – and are not to be viewed or treated as mere receptacles.

Contending that individuals who are considered to be subjects-of-a-life

possess inherent value, Regan insists that it is the shared sentience of
vulnerable humans and animals that grounds their moral standing –
sentience, not rationality or moral agency, ‘provides a logically neces-
sary and sufficient condition for a being’s possessing the right not to be
made to suffer non-trivial pain’ (Regan, 1979, p. 80). Indeed sentience
is common to all human and nonhuman personal experience (Sztybel,
2008), and the criterion that secures a right to life (Sumner, 1984).
Jackson (2003) is particularly instructive here – whilst in agreement as
to sentience’s moral importance, conceding the possibility of person-
hood for linguistically adept and self-aware animals, he precludes the
The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency 91

greater number from serious moral consideration on the grounds that

they never were or will be persons. It is, I suggest, a non sequitur to claim
that ‘any sentient creature ... capable of a noncognitive well-being that
benefits from personal care [i.e., from a person] is to possess a range of
need-based rights’ (Jackson, 2003, p. 199), and then affirm that it is the
sole preserve of humankind. It is in no way obvious that this is the case
with either animals (as anyone with any degree of meaningful famili-
arity with them would vouch) or the permanently, profoundly disabled.
If sentiency and non-cognitive wellbeing do not in and of themselves
confer a right to moral considerability independent of species member-
ship, it is difficult to see what does.
A subject’s inherent value, independent of others’ interests, utility,
character or behaviour, and experiences or mental states, bestows moral
rights, because ‘each individual is the subject of life that is better or
worse for that individual’ (Regan, 1982, p. 94, emphasis added). Most
significantly, in the context of this chapter, being a subject-of-a-life is
a sufficient but not necessary condition for the possession of inherent
value, which all moral agents and patients possess in and of themselves.
Contrary to personhood arguments, and the condescending ascription
of a partial humanity that simultaneously excludes the nonhuman from
any meaningful participation in the moral community (beyond the
vague injunction not to be the cause of unnecessary suffering, when
almost any human necessity overrules even this stipulation),

we know that we ought to care for the subnormal precisely because

they are subnormal: they are weak, defenceless, at our mercy. They
can be hurt, injured, frustrated. We ought to consider their wishes and
feelings, not because we will be hurt if we don’t, but because they will
be hurt. And the same goes for those creatures like them who are of
our kind though not of our species. (Clark, 1978, p. 148)

We can opt to exclude many humans – the unborn, infants, the insane,
and those with profound cognitive impairment – along with animals
from the moral community, because they lack the requisite character-
istics or capacities, or we can acknowledge that we have direct moral
obligations to all vulnerable creatures.
Species membership is not an irrelevant consideration, in that in
order to identify conditions that allow for the flourishing of members
of any species, we must take account of their underlying needs, disposi-
tions and motivations. One can acknowledge that there is a particular
richness and depth in human experience, without uniformity, whilst
92 Thomas Ryan

remaining open minded as to the possibility that the experiences of

other animals may be characterised by a richness and depth beyond
our knowing or imagining (Nagel, 1974). That said, species member-
ship is not uniquely morally significant, for our differences are of degree
not kind, licencing neither indifference, nor worse, tyranny. Whilst
allowing for our having acquired and special duties, it cannot reveal
which beings are worthy of moral consideration, for ‘one can only have
duties, acquired or unacquired, to beings who are already morally consid-
erable’ (Pluhar, 1995, p. 166), as respect for the lives of others holds
independent of our relationship. Critically, a ‘basic moral right is itself
the ground of a moral obligation; it is not the consequence of having a
moral obligation’ (Regan, 1982, p. 117).
Furthermore, the moral importance of human species membership
is undermined by the traditional definition of personhood which does
not require that persons be human beings, and by the realisation that
if it be that species are not natural kinds, then neither is humankind,
in which case, it would be better to be respectful of all our kin (Clark,
1997). This answers in the affirmative O’Brien’s (2003) concerns that it
is just as arbitrary to constrict moral considerability to taxonomic as to
species levels.
The problem, I suggest, lies not with the AMC but with the tradi-
tional conceptualisation of the paradigm of moral value, held to be
the rational, rule following, self-aware person. It provides a profoundly
distorted view of both humans and animals, and assigns vulnerable
humans their quasi-human status. Considerations of personhood are
of particular relevance to social work, given that there is widespread
consensus that the key moral principle underpinning the discipline is
respect for persons (Ryan, 2011). Here the writings of Downie and Telfer
(1970, 1980) are particularly instructive.
Contending that respect is fittingly directed towards persons
‘conceived as rational wills’, Downie & Telfer (1970, p. 37) propose a
three-tiered model of moral concern, comprising animals, sub-normal
and normal human beings in ascending order, so as ‘to mark off those
human beings who are worthy of full respect’ (Downie & Telfer, 1980,
p. 40, emphasis added) – perhaps so that ‘the respectably human crea-
tures can be distinguished from mere human creatures’ (Clark, 2000a,
p. 198). Although acknowledging sentience is shared with other animals,
and that it constitutes the basis of our duty not to cause them unneces-
sary suffering, they also identify it as the basis, albeit subsidiary, of the
capacities deemed essential for personhood, ‘for in so far as emotions
are characteristically human they necessarily involve the rational will’
The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency 93

(Downie & Telfer, 1970, p. 22, emphasis added). All human non-persons
are deemed to possess an attenuated personality, and are accordingly
owed a diminished respect, but to so limit respect is to be ‘in the thrall
of reason, that fool’s gold for the bright’ (Martel, 2002, p. 5).
Others maintain that personhood is a socially determined, evolving
thing, necessarily independent of biological characteristics and sentiency,
thereby excising animals from any substantial or meaningful moral
standing (Clark & Asquith, 1985). Leaving aside their contentious
assumption that animals are unconscious beings, and having argued for
key attributes and subsequently dismissing animals on the grounds of
not possessing them, Clark and Asquith (1985, p. 20, emphasis added)
make the perplexing declaration that ‘once an entity is established as
the possessor of the moral status of personhood it is entitled to treat-
ment on certain principles, even if its possession of the usual attributes of
personhood is questionable or incomplete.’ For ‘entity’, read human.
Fifteen years on, Clark (2000, p. 146) insists that we are wrong to
ground a principle of respect on either rationality or sentience, for both
are ‘indispensable considerations.’ Whilst acknowledging the inade-
quacy of the traditional conceptualisation of respect for all humans, he
claims that the jury is still out on whether animals are owed direct duties.
Accordingly, we ought to give the claims of animals a genuine hearing,
‘even if in the end we decide [they] are cancelled by more persuasive
arguments’ (Clark, 2000, p. 67, emphasis added). For ‘persuasive’, read
human necessity.
Sensitive to the counterintuitive implications, Downie & Telfer
(1980, pp. 35, 48) endeavour to rescue children and the senile as poten-
tial and lapsed persons respectively, whilst ‘congenital idiots’ share
sufficient resemblances with normal humans, ‘the result of a biologi-
cally determined sense of kinship ... [and] are given the courtesy title
of “human”.’ Such a ploy strikes me less a courtesy than an attitude
profoundly condescending and demeaning. Thankfully, no one caring
for a child, or a severely cognitively disabled family member, sees the
world in this way. If those human individuals are extended the title of
humanity as a courtesy, how can it be that they are thought valuable in
themselves? Furthermore, resemblances, taken to mean approximation
to a species norm, do not justify the extension or withholding of moral
Downie & Telfer (1980) argue that it is ethically defensible, on species
grounds, to utilise animals in ways that we would not countenance in
the case of vulnerable human beings. Animals, whatever their capacities,
and in spite of their sentience are, at best, treated as quasi-moral beings,
94 Thomas Ryan

as essentially means to human ends. Nelson (1988, p. 123) insists that

human disability confers a moral priority, because unlike animals, these
individuals have suffered a tragedy, and while we might utilise animals
for medical research or organ transplantation, it is our recognition of
human tragedy that ‘speak[s] strongly against further injury to someone
already so afflicted’. It is not clear why, even if we are broadly sympa-
thetic to his characterisation of human disability, that the supposed
normalcy of animals licences their routine subordination to human
interests, especially where this entails tragic outcomes for animals them-
selves. Besides, ‘A mongol child is not an imperfectly embodied Human,
but a genotypic variation ... [They] are not defective embodiments of an
Ideal Essence: they are simply what they are’ (Clark, 1985, p. 165).
Contrary to Downie’s & Telfer’s (1980) and Nelson’s preparedness
to sacrifice animals whenever it might benefit human wellbeing, and
Singer’s and Frey’s willingness to countenance the expendability of
vulnerable humans and animals, Regan (1989) specifically precludes the
infliction of suffering on any being unless it is in that being’s interests.
Where we have to choose between prima facie comparable harms faced
by the innocent few or the innocent many, we ought to choose for the
benefit of latter; wherever the harms faced by the innocent few would
make them worse-off in comparison with the innocent many, then we
must choose to favour them (Regan, 1983). It is unethical to assume
that our supposed necessity automatically licences the disproportionate
suffering of other animals.
There exists a serious disconnect between the principle of respect for
persons and the manner in which social workers actually practice, and
more importantly, conceive those whom they assist. People surely are
respected in and of themselves, and not solely for the capacities they
possess. Accordingly, Watson (1978) argues that it is a patently inad-
equate principle to ground our care of the severely disabled, and those
other humans who patently lack the requisite characteristics and
attributes of personhood. I don’t find myself loving, cherishing and
delighting in our 18-month-old grandson Nate any the less because he
is not a fully fledged person. On the contrary, I do all these things for all
that he is and represents now, and whilst it is natural for us to hope that
he develops in due course to his full potential, our respect and love for
him would change not one jot if it were to transpire that he would, to
all intents and purposes, remain forever a child.
And I think of and respond to Lucy, our blind and effervescent elderly
Staffordshire terrier likewise, grateful not only for the indubitable joy
that she continues to bring to our family, but especially for all that she
The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency 95

is. Her disability, and increased dependency and vulnerability, far from
entailing an attenuated respect, grounds our greater responsibility for
her. Nate and Lucy are individuals whose preciousness and irreplace-
ability is ultimately independent of their attributes. Blindness to their
particularity would surely represent a deep moral defect, for ‘Those who
are wise ... will welcome what there is, and not demand that everything
be like themselves before they love it’ (Clark, 1999, p. 165).
Watson (1980) proposes that respect for human beings is a far more
apposite moral principle. It parallels the love of humanity that moti-
vated nineteenth century social reformers, and provided both the moral
motivation and bedrock in social work’s genesis (Woodroofe, 1971),
reflected in Phillips’ & Taylor’s (2009, p. 4) observation that this was
part and parcel of what ‘the Victorians called “open-heartedness”, the
sympathetic expansiveness linking self to other’. Interestingly, Clark
(2000) acknowledges the patent inadequacy of the principle of respect
for persons for the human vulnerable, whereas previously he argued
against Watson’s principle on the grounds that ‘to broaden the scope of
the principle of respect to include all human beings merely takes us back
to problematic cases’ (Clark & Asquith, 1985, p. 19).
Watson allows for the consideration of a far wider range of character-
istics that bestow value, and provide social workers with moral resources
of far greater depth on which to draw in caring for those deemed non-
persons, sentiments echoed by Gray & Stofberg (2000). Watson (1978,
pp. 45, 46) proffers ‘the capacities to be emotionally secure, to give and
receive love and affection, to be content and free from worry, to be
healthy’, and whilst acknowledging that his list is not definitive, insists
that ‘Nor do I want to suggest that any particular capacity is a necessary
condition of being a respect-worthy human being.’ In so doing, it is not
at all obvious that we ought to extend moral standing to all humans
who possess these capacities, and simultaneously deny it to all other
animals. It is unconditional responsiveness to the needs of others that
constitutes the flourishing of a community and its members (MacIntyre,
O’Brien (2003) argues that the only way in which to make the case
against speciesism is to locate morally relevant characteristics, and then
construct a comparative ranking, something he conspicuously rules out
in the case of vulnerable humans. The notion that we would see virtue
in grading and attaching a sliding scale of moral worth is, I’d suggest,
the self-same problematic moral position he rightly cautions against vis-
a-vis human beings. Refreshingly, Watson (1978, p. 47) reflects that ‘It is
arguable that animals other than human beings possess these capacities.
96 Thomas Ryan

They are not distinctive of human beings.’ A capacity or ability to form

close relationships, allied with emotional fellowship seem to me to
be most the compelling candidates for moral considerability; Midgley
(1985, p. 60) contends that what matters is not intellectual prowess, but
‘sensibility, social and emotional complexity of the kind expressed by
the formation of deep, subtle and lasting relationships.’
And rather than talk of duties and obligations, relational needs are best
met and nurtured by an ethic of loving care (Jackson, 2003; Kittay, 1999;
Stocker, 1976). Indeed an over-emphasis upon the former obscures the
significance of ‘personal relationships and bonds of affection, kinship
and love, [which] far from being a hindrance to morality, are central to
it’ (Sharpe, 2005, p. 67). Our sociability and need for loving and affec-
tive relationships ought to define us as much as our rational, linguistic
and reflective consciousness capacities. It is unclear why the latter is
deemed constitutive of moral value, when consciousness of self can
more aptly be characterised as ‘awareness of oneself as one among other
selves’ (Sharpe, 2005, p. 101), given that intersubjectivity is inherent in
all social beings (Irvine, 2004; Smuts, 1999). The efficacy of animals in
aged or nursing homes, for instance, rests on mutual recognition of, and
responsiveness to, particularity, something often conspicuously absent
in the lives of the elderly.
O’Brien’s (2003) alleges that animal advocates constrict individuality
to intellectually complex animals (again his focus on Singer misleads
him), and therein are guilty of speciesism against marginal apes. The
extended characteristics listed above serve to gainsay O’Brien’s straw
man fallacy. The warped notion that a rational elite is somehow the
touchstone by which the moral considerability of all other beings is
evaluated represents the antithesis of all that is best in the social work
tradition. It is the commitment of social workers to the vulnerable and
dependent, and the moral priority accorded them, that not only distin-
guishes our discipline, but is its rationale for being. Both historical and
moral arguments exist to extend this same moral priority to all sentient
beings, as the documented linkage between the welfare and wellbeing
of children and animals makes clear. What secures the moral priority
of both is their shared vulnerability and total dependency, their dimin-
ished comprehension and inarticulateness, their inability to give or
withhold informed consent, and their moral innocence (Linzey, 2009).
And so it is with the profoundly disabled, for the self-same reasons.
The perversity of the traditional criteria for personhood and derivative
moral standing – ‘our readiness to think that those unlike ourselves, the
poor, the weak, the stupid, have no title to their lives’ (Clark, 2000a,
The Moral Priority of Vulnerability and Dependency 97

p. 192) – is completely at odds with commonplace sentiment where

almost invariably we prioritise the interests of the very young, the very
old, the profoundly disabled, and our animal companions over the real
humanity. To assume that we ought to always be on the lookout for
the less worthy, is surely symptomatic of a manner of moral thinking
that is not so much speciesist, as amoral. It is the weakness and vulner-
ability of others that demands a greater moral generosity (Linzey, 1994),
and if moral rights mean anything, they surely ought to be primarily
concerned, not with securing the demands of rational humanity, but
with the protection of the defenceless (Clark, 1977).
For all of the above reasons, the principle of respect for humans beings,
as commendable as it is for its inclusion of all humans, is nevertheless
an inadequate principle to inform and guide responses to all sentient
beings. It is why I argued elsewhere for the adoption of the principle of
respect for individuals (Ryan, 2011). Social work, historically and contem-
porarily, has been set apart by a radical commitment to the vulnerable
and dependent. What social workers, and those advocating for a morally
just and generous consideration of animals, share in common is a rejec-
tion of personism, and the marginalisation of sentient, affective beings.
Were we to respect fellow sentient animals, we would surely leave off
slaughtering and consuming them, as ‘Those who still eat flesh when
they could do otherwise have no claim to be serious moralists’ (Clark,
1977, p. 183); we would cease viewing them as experimental tools or
organ providers, and eschew all animal tested products, for ‘what justi-
fies the totally disproportionate cost of our presence? Ask it for once
without presupposing the answer of the egotism of our species’ (Kohak,
1982, p. 92); we would attend to their wellbeing as solicitously as we
do to that of children and other vulnerable, dependent humans; and
we would put our shoulders to the wheel to ensure the protection of
habitats and ecosystems upon which the lives of all animals, ourselves
included, are ultimately dependent. As to our duties to animals living
in their natural state, we do best when we leave them alone to live their
O’Brien’s concerns are not only ultimately misplaced, but deficient in
moral generosity – for ‘To act towards another as the virtue of just gener-
osity requires is therefore to act from attentive and affectionate regard
for that other’ (MacIntyre, 1999, p. 122). And for moral consistency’s
sake, ‘that other’ cannot refer only to those of our own supposed kind:

The problem, notoriously, is that the harder we make it to meet

the qualifications of ‘real humanity’ ... the more creatures of clearly
98 Thomas Ryan

human descent we also push beyond the pale. In the end either only
the wise are worth troubling about ... or any individual with feelings
and purposes of its own is a proper moral object. Either most human
beings may rightly be treated ‘like animals’, when we deal with them
at a practical level, and when we try to explain their behaviour; or
a good many animals should not be treated like that either. (Clark,
1999, p. 53)

1. Whilst employing the terminology of human beings and animals throughout
this chapter, I consider our species to be fellow animals.

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Part II
The How: Practical Applications
The Impact of Animals and
Nature for Children and Youth
with Trauma Histories: Towards
A Neurodevelopmental Theory
Eileen Bona and Gail Courtnage

Sasha,1 a 15-year-old female, diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum

disorder (FASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppo-
sitional defiant disorder (ODD) and reactive attachment disorder (RAD),
was referred to our service because she ‘wasn’t engaging in therapy’.
Her social worker said that she had been in and out of foster and group
care all her life, and she had just lost her foster care placement. The
social work agency had not been able to find a therapy to help her, and
she continuously lost her living arrangements due to her addictions,
stealing, AWOLing and aggressive behaviours. She loved animals, and
her social worker wanted to know if we could help.
This is a story that we have heard hundreds, if not thousands, of
times. There is a population of young people who have experienced
serious, life-altering circumstances and who are now in need of serious,
life-altering help. They have generally attended therapy with many
counsellors and are now resistant to try again. In many cases, they have
psychiatric teams and dedicated social workers who are doing every-
thing to the best of their ability to get them the help they need. Still,
they engage in risky behaviour, commit heinous crimes, run away from
placements, and hurt themselves and those who love them.
Many of the children and youth who are referred to us from the social
work sector have experienced living in several placements of foster or
group care from a very young age. Often, they have suffered trauma,
abuse or neglect, and are diagnosed with multiple mental health disor-
ders including ADHD, ODD, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), RAD,
FASD, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), generalised anxiety

106 Eileen Bona and Gail Courtnage

disorder (GAD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, to name but a few.

Along with this host of labels, they often present as low functioning.
These children are said to be ‘different’ neurologically. This chapter will
outline a current theory of the impact of trauma on the developing
brain, and attempt to provide rationale and justification for partnering
with animals and nature in order to assist our neurodevelopmentally
impacted children and youth.

The neurodevelopmental impact of

early childhood trauma

It is currently hypothesised that when children are exposed to threats

to their safety, their brains’ ‘threat response system’ is activated, and
if this remains the case, it results in alterations in the brain’s develop-
ment which then manifests itself in changes in the child’s cognitive,
emotional and behavioural functioning (Perry, 1994, 1997; Perry &
Pollard, 1998; Perry et al., 1995). Specifically, Perry (2001) states that
when children are exposed to fearful stimuli, they respond with either
a hyperarousal or a dissociative response. If the stimuli are persistent,
there is a neurobiological change to the child’s processing systems over
time. If the child’s pattern of response to the threat is a hyperarousal
response, and the threat is persistent or intense, then the child is at
risk of developing conduct disorder, PTSD and ADHD, and typically
presents as hyperaroused or hyperactive. These children typically have
affect regulation problems, sleep disturbances, and generalised anxiety
(Kaufman, 1991; Ornitz & Pynoos, 1989; Perry, 1994) and a higher than
average heart rate (Perry, 2001).
If the child’s pattern is to dissociate in response to threatening stimuli,
and if the stimuli are persistent or intense, then the child is at risk for
dissociative symptoms such as dependence, helplessness, somatic
complaints, dissociation and dissociative disorder, somatoform disorder,
anxiety disorders and major depression (Perry, 2001).
Accordingly, children who have experienced traumatic events, abuse
or neglect typically present with emotional, cognitive and social defi-
cits (Perry, 2001). Perry’s research indicates that while children and
youth from these backgrounds process information from the ‘feeling’
areas of the brain, children from safe environments process informa-
tion from the ‘thinking’ part of the brain when they are challenged
with abstract information, for example, listening to a lecture in school.
The ‘safe’ child can hear and think about the words of the teacher,
The Impact of Animals and Nature for Children and Youth 107

whereas the traumatised child pays attention to her facial expressions,

tone of voice and hand gestures to understand what is happening.
These children are neurologically different. The traumatised child’s
brain pays greater attention to the non-verbal cues of his/her environ-
ment in order for him/her to survive, whereas the ‘safe’ child’s brain
has strengthened in higher processing areas, such as understanding
abstract language.
With this information, we can understand more fully why traditional
therapeutic approaches such as talk therapy have been known to be
ineffective with traumatised children and youth. These children require
help to develop the functioning of their higher level cortical areas so
that they spend less time reacting to their environments with their
brainstem and midbrain functions, and more time processing informa-
tion to develop healthy social, emotional and cognitive skills. For this to
occur, it is imperative that their frontal and cortical brain structures are
developed in ways that they can understand and internalise new verbal
cognitive information (Perry, 2001). Perry claims that for these children
to achieve this, they must first achieve a state of calm, which is very
difficult for them. Next we articulate a model of animal- and nature-
assisted therapy that addresses the complexity of the issues faced by the
children and youth referred.

Theories and research

Prefrontal effects of interaction with animals

There is much scientific research to support the neurobiological benefits
of interacting with animals. A study in Japan (Aoki et al., 2012) deter-
mined that when patients with depressive disorder, who normally showed
low activity in their prefrontal cortex (PFC), interacted with a dog, they
had an increase in blood flow and activity in the dorsolateral region of
the left hemisphere of their PFC, which is where working memory is
most likely initiated. Working memory is responsible for retaining infor-
mation required for complex cognitive tasks such as language compre-
hension, learning and reasoning. This study had a very small sample
size but if in fact working with animals induces PFC activity, then it
is possible that incorporating animals into the therapeutic milieu will
help to activate and strengthen the PFC of our neurodevelopmentally
impacted youth. The PFC is the part of the brain responsible for many
of our higher cognitive processes and, as has been theorised, youth
with trauma backgrounds are in need of developing these areas. But as
108 Eileen Bona and Gail Courtnage

Perry (2001) stated, to achieve this, they must be able to attain a state
of ‘calm’.

The biological impact of interacting with animals

Many studies indicate that animals induce a state of relaxation.
Friedmann, Katcher, Lynch, and Thomas (1980) were the first to publish
scientific evidence for the value of animal guardianship, claiming that
having a companion animal was directly related to heart health and
longevity. From this groundbreaking study much research ensued, and
an important finding was that animals can induce a state of relaxation
for humans the moment they attract and hold our attention (Katcher,
Friedmann, Beck, & Lynch, 1983). DeMello (1999) concluded that
systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as heart rate, decreased
after a stressor if an animal was present, and it is agreed upon in the
research that companion animals provide people with stress reducing
social support (McNicholas and Collins, 1995; Serpell, 1996; Siegel,
1990). If being in the presence of animals provides a physiological
calming effect and interacting with animals creates increased activity
in the PFC, then there is good evidence to support including animals
in the therapeutic process of helping children and youth with trauma

Case study
Eleven-year-old Ryan has been in the foster care system the majority
of his life. He was referred to the animal- and nature-assisted therapy
programme because he was not engaging in traditional talk therapy,
and his placement was beginning to break down due to his negative
Ryan claimed that he liked coming to therapy because he enjoyed
the animals and the peaceful setting. Many sessions were spent with
animals, or walking in the pasture alongside them, with Ryan and
the animals learning about each other. During a session, Ryan and I
were in the chicken coop discussing how the baby chicks had been
removed from their mother, because she was pecking and hurting
them, and were now being raised by an ‘Aunt’. I took this oppor-
tunity to ask Ryan what it was like when he was very young. He
quietly told me about his only memory of living with his mother. He
shared how his stepfather was yelling at his mother, and that it was
scary for him. This was the first time Ryan had ever reportedly talked
about his past, and it marked the beginning of his ability to discuss
The Impact of Animals and Nature for Children and Youth 109

sad memories from his life. Ryan’s social worker expressed surprise at
Ryan’s ability to discuss his past, something she claimed he had never
been able to do in other therapeutic settings. (Gail Courtnage)

Nature deficit disorder

Louv (2005) coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ to highlight the
fact that children and youth are spending less time outdoors and more
time engaging in what he referred to as ‘screen magnetism’, which he
defined as watching television, playing video games, and spending time
on the computer. Louv states that as a result of screen magnetism and
media hype, children spend less time outside in natural environments.
According to his theory, parents are afraid to let their children go outside
unattended due to the volume of media reports of missing children and
the highlighting of heinous things that can happen to children. Louv
refers to this as ‘fear parenting’, and goes on to state that even if chil-
dren do go outside, those places are now limited due to environmental-
ists enforcing the protection of green spaces; for example, the strictly
enforced rules pertaining to pathways and trails in natural environments
so as to preserve the foliage.
Louv suggests that the rise of ADHD, depression, anxiety, type II
diabetes and obesity are all a result of children’s lack of natural play
and disconnection from the natural world. He cites evidence of the
mental, emotional, cognitive and physical benefits of being in nature,
and queries what is happening to our children and to our society in
our modern age. Louv’s work has inspired the ‘Leave no child inside’
movement in America, whereby many states now ensure that each child
receives an hour of ‘green space’ a day where they can play naturally
outdoors to enhance their health and wellness.
What about our children who already have mental health diagnoses
and neurodevelopmental issues? They, too, are playing outside less and
engaging in ‘screen magnetism’ more. Does this complicate their symp-
toms? Is there scientific evidence to support them spending more time
in nature to augment their brain’s development and decrease their clin-
ical symptoms?

Attention restoration theory

Research indicates that being in natural settings has a positive impact on

our physiology and cognitive functioning, especially for children and
110 Eileen Bona and Gail Courtnage

youth who are diagnosed with ADHD, a label applied to many hyperar-
oused children. Kuo & Taylor (2004) determined that spending time in
nature decreased symptoms of ADHD, noted that not all children are
responsive to medications, and recommended that time in the natural
world may help to reduce some symptoms that they may suffer from.
One of the factors influencing these findings is the attention
restoration theory. This theory was developed by Kaplan & Kaplan
(1989), and contends that spending time either viewing nature scenes
or being immersed in nature dramatically improves our cognitive func-
tioning. In particular, working memory and directed attention are the
two cognitive skills most impacted by natural scenes, and these are the
skills we need most in order to attend to classroom and work-related
tasks. They are also the skills most negatively impacted in our chil-
dren with ADHD. These researchers reported that just viewing nature or
animal behaviour can induce a relaxing and calming effect. According
to Perry (2001), this is what our children and youth with traumatic
experiences require before they can begin to develop their higher
processing functions.
Kuo & Taylor (2004) recommended that children with ADHD should
have access to scenic views or play breaks in a natural setting to improve
their mood and behaviour. As mentioned, children and youth with
ADHD are in need of developing their higher cognitive functioning
processes so that they can begin to process information in more abstract
ways, rather than solely through their emotional-brain functioning. If
spending time in nature or viewing natural phenomena has a positive
impact on the functioning of the working memory and directed atten-
tion, then it is recommendable to utilise this natural resource to help
our neurodevelopmentally impacted children and youth to develop and
strengthen these higher areas of functioning.

Case study
Danny is a 16 year old who has been diagnosed with FASD, ADHD,
and low cognitive functioning. Danny has been in foster care since he
was very young due to abuse and neglect, and has showed symptoms
of attachment disruption and ODD. Unable to maintain his foster
care placement due to his aggressive and unpredictable behaviours,
Danny then experienced several group care placements. He became
involved with gangs and drugs, and was continuously challenged to
maintain school attendance. His negative behaviour led people to
believe that he lacked empathy and was incapable of consideration
The Impact of Animals and Nature for Children and Youth 111

or compassion. He was referred to our animal and nature-assisted

therapy programme due to a lack of engagement in other therapeutic
settings, with the hope that he could be ‘reached’.
It was winter when I started working with him, and Danny suggested
going ‘sledding’ for one of our therapeutic sessions. I wanted to build
rapport with Danny as well as allow him to ‘just play’, hoping that
I could get a sense of who he was. He wanted to try the hills at the
back of the property, so we trudged through the snow that was knee-
deep in some areas. While walking through the snow and sledding
together, Danny appeared focused and capable of discussing his
life’s issues. He was engaging in the therapeutic milieu and appeared
comfortable doing so. We had an enjoyable time sledding, and when
it was time to return to the office I made a comment about being
tired. Danny immediately insisted that I get on his sled so that he
could pull me back. I was touched by his compassion, consideration
and empathetic response. Had Danny and I been in a regular office
setting talking about his life, I may never have had the pleasure of
experiencing his attentive ways. Danny continues to attend nature-
assisted therapy, and to share details about his life as we hike or just
sit and observe the herds of animals on the property. Danny appears
relaxed and capable of therapeutic engagement in this setting. (Gail

The dilemma of rapport building with children and

youth in the social services sector

Many children who were abused, neglected or moved through several

placements at a young age suffer from attachment disruptions which
are neurodevelopmentally based, and these children often have trouble
trusting, forming positive relationships and regulating their emotions
(Schuengel, Oosterman, & Sterkenburg, 2009). They often demonstrate
a lower cognitive ability and may not be effective communicators. Often
these children are socially and emotionally vulnerable, and experience
much pain and anxiety while engaging in the therapeutic process. This is
sometimes interpreted as resistance to getting help, and they are labelled
as ‘hard to reach’ rather than understood as emotionally and cogni-
tively underdeveloped and incapable of engaging. For this percentage of
our population, it is often therapeutically effective in building rapport
to have animals present in therapy. It will be informative to canvass
researchers’ explanations for such a trend.
112 Eileen Bona and Gail Courtnage

The neurochemical basis of attachment theory in

animal assisted therapy

An astounding amount of research indicates that there may be a biolog-

ical basis as to why interacting with animals can augment attachment,
trust and affiliation. Engaging with animals has been evidenced to have
an impact on several of our neurochemicals. For example, stroking and
petting a dog has been found to double oxytocin, decrease cortisol,
increase beta endorphins and dopamine production, and decrease
heart rate and blood pressure (Odendaal & Meintjes, 2003). What
does this mean with regards to attachment for people with trauma
First of all, cortisol is a stress hormone. When children and youth
who struggle with anxiety and trust issues due to negative life experi-
ences are expected to enter into a therapeutic alliance, it can be anxiety-
provoking to say the least. By engaging the person with an interactive,
non-threatening therapy animal, there is a neurological response
upon contact that has an impact on both the person and the animal.
Specifically found in the research with dogs (Odendaal & Meintjes, 2003),
the stress hormone cortisol decreases for both the human and the dog
upon talking to and stroking the animal. This response can be a natural
alleviation of anxiety for the client, and in the case of someone who
may be hyperaroused, it can be the first step in soothing and providing
some internal control over their emotional responses.
When there is an increase in beta-endorphins in our brains, we either
experience an absence of pain sensations or an increase in pleasurable
feelings such as excitement or exhilaration (Sprouse-Blum, Smith, Sugai,
& Parsa, 2010). If being in contact with an animal provides pleasur-
able feelings in a situation that may be perceived as stress-provoking
or uncomfortable, then it seems reasonable to believe that having an
animal in the therapeutic setting could be valuable in helping trauma
survivors cope with the difficulty of treatment.
Dopamine is a chemical that stimulates us, and provides a surge of
much-needed energy for us to achieve important goals (Missale, Nash,
Robinson, Jaber, & Caron, 1998). It is another feel-good neurochemical
that is increased when we come into contact with animals, and again
this fact provides support for animals in therapy with people who have
had tremendously negative life experiences and encounter difficulties
in relationships. It may also help people with dissociative or depressive
symptoms, as it may provide feelings of motivation.
The Impact of Animals and Nature for Children and Youth 113

The findings for an increase in oxytocin upon contact with animals

is perhaps the most important evidence to support animals in therapy
for people who may have attachment disruptions resulting from trauma
and abuse backgrounds. Oxytocin is said to play a role in commitment
and love (Mendelson & Baggot, 2007), and although the relationship
between emotion and oxytocin release is not completely understood, it
is believed that oxytocin plays a role in affiliation. According to Kosfeld,
Heinrichs, Zak, & Fischbacher (2005), oxytocin stimulates feelings of
trust. If this, in fact, is true, and contact with animals stimulates the
release of oxytocin in our brains, then perhaps animals in therapy can
biologically assist people with attachment disruptions to form connec-
tions and relationships through enabling feelings of trust and affiliation,
which can then become a platform for therapist rapport. On another
note, interacting with animals decreases heart rate and blood pressure.
Would interacting with animals assist people in a hyperaroused state to
become calm, and relax enough so as to drop their defensive or seem-
ingly defiant stance in therapy?

Case study
While working as the Children’s Mental Health Therapist in a
community agency, I met Sean, a 14-year-old male who, along with
his mother, had been victims of extreme domestic violence perpe-
trated by his father. His mother was able to finally leave her abusive
husband, taking her three children with her. To ensure their safety,
she moved to a far away location. Sean, typical of many teenaged
males, was not keen on accessing counselling and talking about his
feelings. My saving grace was my 8-year-old golden retriever Raz, and
Sean’s love of dogs. Sean and Raz developed a reciprocal friendship,
with Sean providing the ‘must-have’ affection and Raz seemingly
providing a state of calm for Sean. Often, I would leave Sean respon-
sible for Raz in the waiting area (our administrative support person
kept an eye out for them) for ten minutes while meeting with his
mother, before seeing him. Raz did not play any other role in sessions
with Sean other than being a companion animal and providing
emotional safety.
The importance of having Raz present was drilled home in one
session when Sean stated that he would not talk to me if Raz was not
present. While I was confident that he meant what he said, it was
confirmed when Raz was not able to attend one day, and Sean stuck
to his word and did not engage with me for the entire hour. It took
114 Eileen Bona and Gail Courtnage

many sessions with Raz present for Sean to finally feel comfortable
and safe enough to open up about the abuse in his home and his
varied feelings and thoughts. I believe he would not have been able
to do so without the help and support of Raz. (Gail Courtnage)

Learning theory

Learning theory states that the more we find something reinforcing,

the more we will do it, and the more we do it, the better we become
at it. Perry (2001), and Buonomano and Merzenich (1998), state that
while the brain has a plasticity and can develop over the course of our
lives, the areas which develop are dependent on our usage of them.
Perry (2001) characterises this as brain development being essentially
Brickel (1982) claims that having an animal present in therapy provides
the motivation for people to attend, even though the session is anxiety-
provoking, elicits a fear response, and perhaps triggers the hyperarousal
or dissociative responses recognised in trauma survivors. According to
Brickel, if the animal’s presence allows for a person to attend therapy
enough times, they will learn that they can be calm and in control of
their anxiety, and this will eventually result in its extinction.
It appears that animals do provide a motivation for some people to
attend a therapeutic setting, particularly children and youth, due to their
natural affinity with animals. It also appears that the animals provide
a sense of calming and comfort for people in the therapeutic setting,
perhaps due to the neurochemical changes that occur when we interact
with animals, as mentioned earlier. This exposure to the animals in what
is a usually anxiety-provoking situation is very possibly influencing the
emotional neurodevelopment of the therapy recipients, allowing them
to control their anxiety and strengthen parts of their higher brain func-
tions so that they may be able to learn to generalise this skill. Along
these same lines, if the animal-assisted therapist provides repeated oppor-
tunities to learn and practice empathy, nurturance, healthy social skills,
safe relationships, and various other skills while engaging the client in
something that is reinforcing for them, we theorise that the therapy
recipient can experience a change in the neural structures of the brain
impacting their social, emotional, cognitive, behavioural and physiolog-
ical functioning.
It will be helpful to explore what it is about our relationships with
animals that may be responsible for the physiological changes that
apparently occur when we are in their presence.
The Impact of Animals and Nature for Children and Youth 115

Biophilia hypothesis

The theory most often cited for this phenomena is the biophilia hypoth-
esis. Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1973) coined the term ‘biophilia’,
defined as the passion that we as a species have for life and living
things. The biologist Edward Wilson (1984) again used this term when
describing our human affinity for all living things, hypothesising that
due to human evolution occurring with animals in natural settings, we
are genetically predisposed and neurologically wired to pay attention to
animals and plants, due to our dependence on them for survival. Wilson
hypothesises that as a species we have a deeply rooted affinity for all
living things, and that we are influenced cognitively and behaviourally
by them. For two decades, Wilson has been articulating that animals
and nature have a beneficial impact on our health and wellbeing, and
his compelling arguments have elicited much of the research on the
impact of animals and nature on our health. The biophilia hypothesis
is often cited as being a foundational theory for the implementation
of animals and plants into the therapeutic regime. If nature and all
its inhabitants have a positive influence on our emotions, cognitions
and behaviours, then it makes sense to include them in assisting those
with severe mental health issues, developmental disabilities and trauma

Animals as ‘transitional objects?’

It has been stated in the literature that animals in therapy become

‘transitional objects’ (Katcher, 2000; Levinson, 1984; Triebenbacher,
1998), meaning that they serve as a bridge to forming relationships with
people. If the therapist is keenly aware of the sensitivity of the client’s
needs and allows them to engage with the therapy animals on their
own terms safely, it is possible that the client may form an alliance with
the therapist through their interactions with the therapist’s animal.
Does this make the animal a ‘transitional object’ for forming a relation-
ship to a therapist? I believe that animals are integral to the therapeutic
process rather than stepping stones to therapeutic progress. They are
our co-counsellors in that they are playing a vital role in the success of
therapy, not just by augmenting a therapeutic relationship, but also by
every other attribute they bring to therapy. As a result, they must be
viewed and treated as valuable players in the therapeutic alliance, and
should never be referred to as ‘objects’, ‘tools’ or other terms indicative
of something we ‘use’ to do our work.
116 Eileen Bona and Gail Courtnage


As indicated, many of our children and youth in the social services

sector are neurologically different as a result of their life experiences.
These children and youth are operating in hyperaroused or dissociative
states, and are in need of assistance to develop skills to regulate their
emotions and develop their higher brain functions. They often cannot
comprehend, or be present enough, to process information in ways that
other children can. This fact often creates a barrier to helping them, and
at times, as support workers, case managers and clinicians, we are at a
loss as to how to reach them. Emotionally, they may appear distant or
hard to reach, and behaviourally they may be harmful to themselves
and others. Research indicates that the reasons for this are organic in
nature, and that these children require a different approach. As profes-
sionals trying to help them, what can we do at a practical level?
We can find out what they are passionate about, what they are inter-
ested in, what they love, and we can thereby engage them in a process
that can be healing for them. Most children and youth have an innate
love for animals, and many who have experienced negative life circum-
stances appear to trust and engage with animals far more readily than
with their fellow humans.
Neurodevelopmental theories state that we need to allow for these
children to ‘calm’ in order for them to develop their higher cognitive
processes, and to be able to return to functional living. Scientific research
provides evidence that viewing or being immersed in nature and inter-
acting with animals influences positive biological and neurochemical
changes. These changes are said to decrease stress hormones and ADHD
symptoms, increase feelings of trust, happiness and motivation, and
allow opportunities for therapeutic rapport and learning.
The biophilia hypothesis, attachment, learning, attention restoration
and many other foundational theories support animal and nature-assisted
therapies. There are more and more studies being conducted on the
biological impact of animals and nature due to the obviously profound
impact they appear to have on our overall health and wellbeing.
Due to the significant body of evidence and knowledge substantiating
the positive influence of animals and nature on our emotional, cognitive
and social development, it makes sense to engage our trauma-impacted
children and youth with animals and nature. Of course, this is only
recommended if they have an affinity for animals and are not allergic
to or frightened by them. There are many ethical concerns inherent in
The Impact of Animals and Nature for Children and Youth 117

animal and nature-assisted therapies, and these should be researched

before any application is recommended.
Whether the children and youth who attend our programme do so
due to the neurobiological effects of animals and nature, or simply
because their love for animals provides their motivation to return, we
don’t exactly know. However 80 per cent of our programme participants
who did not successfully engage in other therapeutic mediums before
coming to us stayed with us long enough to eventually attain stability in
their placements, maintain their school attendance and participation,
and begin to process and resolve their negative life experiences.
Whatever happened to Sasha? She’s 20 years old now, and has lived
independently in her apartment for a year. She has held a CAN$32 per
hour job as a cleaner for nine months, and has raised a puppy to healthy
adulthood. She attributes much of her success to a mini-horse named
TeddyBear and her time spent with him. She claims that being able to
‘just be’ with him provided her with a sense of peace that she hadn’t
found elsewhere, and it helped her choose between her street life and
healthy living. Sasha is one of many examples of youth who are strug-
gling to get help but who just cannot engage in traditional methods of
therapy. Animal and nature-assisted therapy is life-changing and valu-
able for many.

1. All children’s names have been changed for the purposes of this chapter.

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Animal-Assisted Therapy for
Children and Adolescents with
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Shanna L. Burke and Dorothea Iannuzzi

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been utilised as a therapeutic treat-

ment modality with a variety of different populations. These populations
have been served in contexts such as schools, hospitals, long-term care
facilities and in private homes. The literature in this area has increased
as scholars and researchers begin to assess benefits once described only
anecdotally, using quantitative and qualitative research methods. AAT
in the context of work with those with autism spectrum disorders, an
issue with specific relevance to social work, will be explored in this
chapter, including the limitations of the current research, as well as
ethical considerations.

Background and significance

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a cluster of biological neurodevel-

opmental conditions (Couteur, 2011; Kasari & Lawton, 2010). Individuals
diagnosed with ASDs experience difficulty in interpersonal relations,
communication deficits – both verbal and non-verbal – and repeated
or stereotypic behaviour patterns or interests (Carminati, Gerber, Baud,
& Baud, 2007; Hadjikhani, Joseph, Snyder, & Tager-Flusberg, 2006).
Within this group of diagnoses, a diagnosis by either a neurodevelop-
mental paediatrician, paediatric neurologist, or licensed psychologist
is generally conducted, followed by a determination of severity, with
levels ranging from mild to severe. The diagnosis is broadly heteroge-
neous with an enormous range of phenotypic presentations.
Given that many people on the autism spectrum do not fit into the
classic autism model (also known as Kanner’s autism), the concept of a
spectrum was developed in the late 1970s (Rutter, 2011). This concept

Animal-Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents 121

was recently modified, as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of

Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) collapsed
these diagnoses under one heading of ASD while eliminating others. The
DSM-IV-TR included three diagnostic groups, including autism disorder,
Asperger’s disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not other-
wise specified. In the former conceptualisation, classic autism gener-
ally presented on the more severe end of the spectrum and Asperger’s
disorder, which was considered a distinct diagnostic category, was
known to be less severe with language development occurring before
the age of three. Symptoms that did not fit precisely into the DSM-IV-TR
diagnostic models, but still appeared as symptoms in other diagnoses
on the spectrum, were labelled as pervasive developmental disorder
not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) (Centers for Disease Control [CDC],
2010; Roth & Rezaie, 2011). Given that there are no biological markers
to determine severity or even which specific diagnosis one is assigned
at this time, an evaluation by a trained clinician is essential for accurate
diagnosis. There are a number of diagnostic tools used to provide diag-
nostic clarity, one of which is the commonly used Autism Diagnostic
Observation Schedule (Lord et al., 1989).
Reports estimate one in every 88 eight-year-old children in the United
States are diagnosed with a form of autism each year. This represents a
ten-fold increase in prevalence over the past forty years (CDC, 2013).
While the prevalence of ASD does not differ across racial and ethnic
groups (Fombonne, 2003), a limited number of studies have shown that
children of African American, Hispanic and Asian descent are much
less likely to receive an early autism diagnosis than Caucasian chil-
dren (Mandell et al., 2009). Non-Caucasian children are more likely to
receive a diagnosis of ADHD or a conduct disorder (Tek & Landa, 2012).
The incidence of ASD is highest for Caucasian children, and lowest
among Hispanic children (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009).
A diagnosis can be made by the age of two or three years old, with boys
diagnosed more often than girls at a ratio of approximately 5:1 (CDC,
Though communication deficits are central in the diagnostic criteria
for ASDs, children have begun to be diagnosed as early as 12 months.
Prospective studies have shown that these infants typically exhibited
deficits in the areas of eye contact imitation, social interest, smiling,
and use of gestures, and appeared not to understand common or
colloquial phrases relative to developmental norms in the population
(Saulnier, Quirmbach, & Klin, 2011). A diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder
(no longer a diagnostic category in the DSM- 5), is typically made later
122 Shanna L. Burke and Dorothea Iannuzzi

in development, as the symptoms of the syndrome do not usually inten-

sify until an individual is older, with the average age of first diagnosis as
7.2 years of age ( Miller & Ozonoff, 2011).
Children with ASD are typically faced with communication deficits,
such as deficits in joint attention, defined as ‘eye-to-eye gaze, proto-
declarative gestures, alternating gaze, pointing, showing, gaze following,
and ‘triadic switching of attention’ such as gazing from person to object
and back to person’ (Welsh, 2009, p. 26). Approximately 40 per cent of
children with ASDs do not speak at all, while 25–30 per cent possess some
language capacity at 12–18 months until they subsequently lose speech
capacity. The loss of speech capacity occurs over a variety of different
ages. Some children affected by the disorder may have delayed speech
until later in childhood. People who do not have the ability to express
themselves successfully through verbal or nonverbal means may resort
to maladaptive behaviours in order to communicate (Paul & Gilbert,
2011; Saulnier et al., 2011).
Difficulties with communication and the presence of maladaptive
behaviours can remain as a person with an ASD ages. 25 to 70 per cent
of people with an ASD are dually diagnosed with an intellectual (ID)
or developmental disability (DD) (Tager-Flusberg & Dominick, 2011). A
study of 4,200 individuals in England with a disability and maladaptive
behaviour demonstrated a positive correlation between the severity of
a person’s intellectual impairment, and the prevalence of challenging
behaviours exhibited. Challenging behaviours were determined to be
more likely to occur when individuals diagnosed with ASD present
co-occurring conditions such as impairments in hearing or vision,
communication deficits, sleep disturbance, or mental health conditions
(Emerson et al., 2002).
Incidence rates for adults with ASDs are lacking. General agreement in
the scientific community about the need for more accurate calculations
of incidence and prevalence rates of ASD led researchers in England
to conduct a sampling of the general population of adults in private
households (n=13,171) to determine what percentage has ASDs. Using
a stratified multi-stage random probability sample, Brugha et al. (2011)
found that the prevalence rate among English adults was 9.8 per 1,000,
which was virtually equal to the rate among English children (10 per
1,000). The prevalence of ASDs in adults and children is estimated to
be approximately one per cent of the general population in the United
Kingdom (National Health Service, 2009).
There is an ongoing debate among medical and mental health profes-
sionals regarding the cause of challenging behaviours in people with
Animal-Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents 123

ASDs. As with any new symptom, a medical evaluation is necessary to

account for underlying physiological issues and should be performed
before proceeding with a psychotropic or behaviour modification inter-
vention (Prater & Zylstra, 2006). For example, in a small year-long study
of 10 institutionalised elderly patients with developmental disabilities,
71.3 per cent of challenging behaviours decreased after acute medical
conditions were treated (Peine et al., 1995). If a medical issue is not the
cause of the challenging behaviour, then further investigation into the
cause or intent of the behaviour needs to be undertaken. Positive behav-
iour support plans are generally implemented to reinforce more desir-
able behaviours, thereby seeking to extinguish challenging, dangerous
and/or self-injurious behaviours.
Matson and Rivet’s (2008) study in two developmental centres
(n=320) found that those with autistic disorder displayed higher level
challenging behaviours than those diagnosed with PDD-NOS. The more
severe the symptoms of the person with ASD, the more exaggerated the
behaviours. The most marked symptoms were ‘repeated and unusual
vocalisations and body movements, unusual object play, mouthing/
swallowing objects, banging on objects, and elopement’ (Matson &
Rivet, 2008, p. 328). The study was limited by the residential (institu-
tionalised) status of the participants as well as more profound ID, but
called for further generalisable research with this population.
Barrera, Violo, & Graver (2007) sought to examine causes for chronic
self-injury. Their study replicated others that have demonstrated a
consistent increase in physiological arousal immediately preceding an
episode of self-injurious behaviour (SIB). The researchers concluded that
SIBs in individuals with developmental disabilities may be one aspect
of the escape avoidance pattern, especially when verbal functioning is
There are many approaches to behaviour modification, including the
use of applied behavioural analysis and functional behavioural assess-
ments (FBAs), which can determine the function of a maladaptive
behaviour. Incorporation of an animal to the treatment of such mala-
daptive behaviours has been trialled. The use of an animal as a behav-
ioural reward is a form of positive reinforcement, which, by definition,
serves to increase desired behaviour. An example of this would be a
points system, where the goal would be to earn time with the therapy
dog, which would include the dog’s presence during a session. There
may be a component of petting, playing with, and asking the therapy
animal to do tricks or respond to commands that may be entertaining.
The introduction of this entertainment in the session may decrease
124 Shanna L. Burke and Dorothea Iannuzzi

distress (Chandler, Portrie-Bethke, Minton, Fernando, & O’Callaghan,

2010), or distract the person from the magnitude of his or her own stress
responses in terms of painful material or the session itself (Shiloh, Sorek,
& Terkel, 2003).

Definition of AAT

Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society) is an international non-profit

organisation dedicated to promoting the positive effects animals have
on humans. It is dedicated to reducing obstacles that interfere with the
involvement of animals in people’s lives, the promotion of the ther-
apeutic and service roles of animals, and the training of handlers for
animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities. The definition of
AAT provided by Pet Partners (2013) is

a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific

criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is directed
and/or delivered by a health/human service professional with special-
ized expertise, and within the scope of practice of his/her profession.
AAT is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social,
emotional, and/or cognitive functioning [cognitive functioning
refers to thinking and intellectual skills]. AAT is provided in a variety
of settings and may be group or individual in nature. This process is
documented and evaluated.

Current evidence of efficacy in the literature

Research regarding AAT and companion animals has sought to

demonstrate physiological, psychological and behavioural benefits.
Physiological benefits while interacting with a companion animal
include decreased heart rate and blood pressure, along with a parallel
decrease in anxiety levels (Berget, Skarsaune, Ekeberg, & Braastad, 2007;
Havener et al., 2001; Shiloh et al., 2003). The period of decreased arousal
continues beyond the conclusion of the interaction (Tsai, Friedmann, &
Thomas, 2010). A number of epidemiological studies have described the
potential for companion animals to positively influence cardiovascular
health (Friedmann, Thomas, & Eddy, 2000). Additional benefits have
been described subsequent to interacting with an animal, including
feeling safer; an increase in social, interactive, and helpful behaviour; a
decrease in depression; and, an overall decrease in physiological arousal
(Berget, Skarsaune, Ekeberg, & Braasatad, 2007). In one study with a
Animal-Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents 125

sample size of three individuals, it was shown that young adults with
autism may behave in ways towards companion animals that they would
not with humans, and their social interactions with animals would actu-
ally be contrary to DSM-IV-TR (2000) diagnostic criteria related to social
communication (McNicholas & Collis, 1995).
AAT has been studied as it relates to various age groups and with an
assortment of animals. In children with severe disabilities (including
social and communication delays), dolphin-assisted therapy has been
demonstrated to result in an increase in communication capacity as well
as improvement in social/emotional behaviour. This positive increase
in communication capacity remained stable for 6 months (Breitenbach,
Stumpf, Fersen, & Ebert, 2009). In a descriptive study directly observing
nine autistic students, interaction with a guinea pig increased the number
of social interactions in general as well as the frequency of interactions
with an acquaintance. Interaction with a guinea pig was compared with
interaction with an unfamiliar person, and was measured by frequency
in touch, eye, or verbal contact by one direct observer in one minute
intervals (Kršková, Talarovičová, & Olexová, 2010). Among hospitalised
children (n=15), systolic blood pressure decreased after introduction of
the therapy animal and lasted beyond the conclusion of the interaction,
as compared with a puzzle, which served an alternative treatment. Girls
demonstrated lower medical fear (measured by the Child Medical Fear
Scale) compared to boys of the same age, and older children experi-
enced even lower medical fear ratings and also experienced less anxiety
following the introduction of the therapy dog (Tsai et al., 2010).
In studies with adults, AAT reduced habitual psychological and physi-
ological stress, and showed a decrease in a person’s stress response
following a prompt to complete a stressful task or respond to a simple
demand (DeMello, 1999; Friedmann, Thomas, Cook, Tsai, & Picot, 2007;
Tsai et al., 2010), as well as being in the presence of a known stressor
(Shiloh et al., 2003).
Though the literature in support of AAT continues to grow, methodo-
logical issues need to be rectified. For instance, many studies have not
used a consistent definition of AAT and have measured different activi-
ties or approaches under the same heading (Nimer & Lundahl, 2007).
As a result, the studies are unable to be compared to each other, and
in one instance, a meta-analysis could not be conducted as a result of
this differentiation. Sample sizes are all very small (Topel & Lachmann,
2011; Villalta-Gil et al., 2009), and the studies are generally descriptive
or exploratory in nature (Lange, Cox, Bernert, & Jenkins, 2007) or single-
case designs are utilised (LaFrance, Garcia, & Labreche, 2007). Given the
126 Shanna L. Burke and Dorothea Iannuzzi

recent changes in diagnostic criteria, data from DSM-IV-TR studies will

not be comparable to the newer DSM-V criteria for ASDs.

Theoretical context

Theorists have attempted to discern why AAT or animal-assisted inter-

ventions (AAI) are successful. One such theory is known as the ‘biophilia
hypothesis’ (Welsh, 2009; Wilson, 1984), which posits that humans
have an innate attraction to, and similarity with, other living organisms.
This theory is based on the idea that from an evolutionary standpoint,
humans have successfully survived through attention to environmental
events and cues (Kruger & Serpell, 2010). More research is needed in this
area linking biophilia and AAT, as the general definition of biophilia is
so broad that it loses its specific applicability to AAT and, as a result,
in some research reports only positive effects of AAIs are included,
discounting those studies that failed to show a successful or changed
outcome (Joye, 2011).
Another theory to account for the decrease in anxiety related to AAT
is learning theory. This theory suggests that activities that bring pleasure
are self-reinforcing, which then increases the likelihood they will occur,
or be sought out, in the future. Activities that create pain or an adver-
sarial reaction will be avoided or withdrawn from in the future. In terms
of AAT, researchers have suggested that animals may divert attention
away from anxiety-producing feelings in therapy and serve as a buffer
(Brickel, 1985; Chandler et al., 2010; Shiloh et al., 2003). Through
repeated exposure to either the therapy itself or the material discussed
in therapy (whichever is anxiety-producing), with the animal repeatedly
acting as a buffer, and given a lack of non-aversive effects, there should
be a significant reduction or complete extinction of the anxiety.
Building upon this theory, many researchers have looked at the
physiological effects of the presence of an animal. Information has
been collected on heart rate and blood pressure (Friedmann, Katcher,
Thomas, Lynch, & Messent, 1983; Friedmann et al., 2007; Tsai et al.,
2010) as well as skin temperature, behavioural observations of stress and
anxiety (Shiloh et al., 2003), and even examinations of phenylethyl-
amine in plasma, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Findings vary due to
differences in methodology, so these studies cannot be compared in a
way that would allow conclusions to be made (Kruger & Serpell, 2010).
Research into neurobiological states can potentially assist in explaining
the decrease in physiologic arousal in the presence of a calm therapy
animal. Conclusions cannot be drawn, however, as fMRI (functional
Animal-Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents 127

magnetic imaging) has not yet been utilised to understand the exact
mechanism in a person’s brain which might explain how the presence
of an animal may have a role in decreasing physiological arousal.
In terms of individuals with ASDs specifically, Prothmann, Ettrich,
& Prothmann (2009) suggested that people with ASDs may prefer an
animal to a picture of an animal or a toy ball, due to the fact that
animals communicate nonverbally. People with ASDs may view the
animal as communicating more effectively and predictably and thus feel
more comfortable in relating. There is also an element of ‘nonevaluative
support’ that animals may provide as they are unable to verbally provide
critical feedback and appear to be nonjudgmental (Shiloh et al., 2003).
Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith (1985), in espousing their theory of mind
hypothesis, posited that people with ASDs have difficulty understanding
the perspective of another and, given this difficulty in perception, may
relate to animals more easily.
Social skills deficits are a core feature of the autism spectrum disorder
diagnostic criteria (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Social skills
can be defined as the particular behaviours that one engages in, which
result in a positive or meaningful social exchange. These socialisations
may include verbal or nonverbal behaviours (Rao, Beidel, & Murray,
2008), and appear to rely on some communication skills. Even given
variability in cognitive levels or language ability, issues with socialisation
remain a hallmark challenge for this population. Not only can deficits
in social interaction skills lead to peer rejection and/or social isolation,
but these challenges may precipitate mood and anxiety problems later
(White, Keonig, & Scahill, 2007).
Some studies have theorised that children may learn positive social
behaviours through their interactions with their own companion
animals, and are triggered by the animal’s presence as well the forma-
tion of a bond of attachment. Although formation of a bond has been
cited as one possible explanation for an increase in prosocial behaviours
in the children with autism in relation to their companion animals, one
study showed that prosocial behaviours were especially significant upon
arrival of an animal, as opposed to those who had an animal companion
since birth (Grandgeorge et al., 2012). This conclusion opens up the
possibility that therapy animals may also assist in prosocial behaviours,
as a bond may develop over time, but would not be possible upon first
As stated previously, animals in a therapeutic context may be seen
as nonjudgmental and therefore less threatening then adults, authority
figures, and even peers (Friesen, 2010). Given that a teacher and student
128 Shanna L. Burke and Dorothea Iannuzzi

relationship inherently possesses an unequal power dynamic, a thera-

peutic animal in this context may be perceived as non-judgemental,
neutral, and/or highly likeable. In addition, the therapy animal and its
handler are outside the nuances of a child’s day-to-day life, classroom,
expectations and demands, and as such, may lower stress and be viewed
by the child as a compatriot.
The literature has suggested that a malfunctioning mirror neuron
system (MNS) could contribute to repetitive behaviours and stereotypy
in ASDs as well as deficits in emotional attunement and empathy
(Hadjikhani et al., 2006). In relation to AAT, the literature has not
discussed how this may affect attunement to nonhuman companions,
such as dogs. MNS are located in the interior frontal gyrus and the inte-
rior parietal cortex (Baird, Scheffer, & Wilson, 2011). This area is active
when we perform an action or when we observe another performing an
action (Canitano, 2011). In the context of social relations and empathy,
it has been suggested that a ‘mirror matching’ of what we see other
people do and what we believe them to be feeling happens spontane-
ously and outside of our awareness (Baird, Scheffer, & Wilson, 2011).
As those with ASDs generally have an inability to imitate others or take
another perspective, MNS was studied, and it was found that there is no
activation in that region when children with ASDs observed or imitated
another’s expressions (Canitano, 2011). Typically functioning mirror
neurons may be responsible for the physical attunement and decrease
in arousal when in the presence of a calm animal, and further research
should be conducted to understand the similarities and differences in
this process for people with ASDs.

Ethical considerations in the use of AAT

The use of animals as therapeutic tools to facilitate growth or healing

is filled with ethical questions and issues for discussion. There are no
Institutional Review Boards whose mission is to protect the nonhuman
rights in cases where nonhumans are utilised as tools in therapeutic
research of animal assisted therapy programs. Some animal rights
advocates see AAT as one more example of exploitation of animals
by humans who seek profit or professional gain at the expense of an
animal. Practitioners of AAT often avoid the word ‘use’, when refer-
ring to animals in their work, as the word ‘use’ implies a relationship of
dominance and potential exploitation.
Pet Partners has a set of general guidelines for when AAT is not the
appropriate intervention, which they make available on their website for
Animal-Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents 129

individuals engaged in any kind of AAT work. Contraindications of AAT

include the following: (1) When injuries from rough handling or from
other animals may occur; (2) Basic animal welfare cannot be assured
(this includes veterinary care and access to water and exercise areas); and
(3) When the animal does not ‘enjoy’ the activity. Pet Partners makes
a distinction between animal-assisted activities (AAA) and animal-
assisted therapy (AAT). The terms seem to be used interchangeably in
the literature.
A broad liberationist stance includes the belief of the value of the
life of an animal as well as the quality of the animal’s life, in terms
of freedom to make choices. For liberationists, using animals to treat
humans is potentially unethical in five distinct ways, including limita-
tions of freedom, life determination, training, social disconnection, and
the potential for injury (Zamir, 2006). Loss of freedom is difficult to
quantify, and the intensity varies based on whether the species involved
is a traditional companion animal (dog, cat), or is an exotic species
kept as a show piece. In some situations, when the animal is a modified
companion animal, such as a guide dog, the limitation of freedom is the
same as in any relationship with a companion animal. Pure liberation-
ists find the traditional ‘pet-owner’ dyad relationship unacceptable and
exploitive in its very nature (Zamir, 2006).
Some actions regarding animals can be life-determining, such as
training a horse to be a racehorse, and some could argue that the keeping
of a companion animal, and then engaging that animal as a therapeutic
agent, is life-determining and thus morally objectionable (Hatch, 2007).
Engaging an animal in a therapeutic activity or treatment requires that
the animal be trained, and in so doing, the balance of power is clearly
shifted away from the animal and the human becomes the master, if you
will. In the case of the use of capuchin monkeys as therapeutic aides,
a strong argument can be made that these creatures strive to live in a
pack, and having them work one-to-one with an individual with disa-
bilities disconnects them from their nature social grouping. Engaging
an animal as a therapeutic agent can sometimes leave an animal more
vulnerable to injury, though many AAT programs have strict guidelines
regarding the environmental risks, as well as the training of the handler,
to minimise any potential injury or stress on the animal.
There are many who find ethical dilemmas in the practice of keeping
animals as household companions and see AAT as the ultimate in
exploitive treatment of animals. Animals kept as companions are
regarded as family members, with rights, privileges, and respect regard-
less of their function or ability. Companion animals are viewed as
130 Shanna L. Burke and Dorothea Iannuzzi

partners in the purest sense without any expectations of performance

(Iannuzzi & Rowan, 1991). Given that animals are used as a source of
food in this country and in many other parts of the world, perspective is
required to understand how the interaction between animal and human
can potentially benefit both in a symbiotic mutually beneficial manner.
It is also important to look at the issue of the number of animals who
are unnecessarily euthanised each day as a result of owners abandoning
their animals, for any number of reasons. The keeping of a companion
animal requires a significant level of financial, emotional and time
commitment, and too often, once the novelty of the pet wears off, pets
are abandoned or surrendered to animal shelters (Iannuzzi & Rowan,
The ethical dilemmas in the field of AAT are focused mostly on the use
of animals that are not generally considered companion animals. These
AAT programs involving the use of Capuchin monkeys as personal
care attendants for quadriplegic individuals, or dolphin swim therapy
programmes, have received the most attention in regard to the issue of
animal exploitation. However, most AAT programs that are focused on
children and adolescents with developmental disability or autism with
or without intellectual disability establish guidelines to protect both
the animal and the individual engaged in the treatment. Most animal
assisted therapy programs appear to have a benign effect, especially given
the incidence of abuse and neglect among companion animals overall
(Iannuzzi & Rowan, 1991). The ethical dilemmas of utilising animals
that are not traditionally considered companion animals deserves
further exploration.

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‘How Is Fido?’: What the Family’s
Companion Animal Can Tell
You about Risk Assessment and
Effective Interventions – If Only
You Would Ask!
Lynn Loar

Early in my social work career, I was a child protective services worker in

the San Francisco Bay Area. Caseloads were high and cooperation low.
I worried about the decisions I had to make. If I underestimated risk, a
child could be harmed, even killed; if I overestimated risk, a child could
be needlessly traumatised by an unnecessary removal from the home.
Yet, realistically, how much could I, or anybody, see in the single home
visit on which such life-altering decisions are based? How could I build
a collaborative relationship while gathering potentially incriminating
How do you determine in a constrained – and strained – home visit of
30 minutes or so whether the children are safe in the home? Worse still,
how do you gauge safety if you do not make a home visit? How do you
pinpoint the area(s) of greatest risk, design an easy, effective and afford-
able intervention to lessen risk and improve family ties, and persuade
the family to give it a try?
This chapter will show how asking a few questions about the family’s
animal companions and other living beings in the home will:

● Build a collaborative relationship with clients.

● Elicit candid and accurate information about worrisome behaviours
and impulsivity on which risk assessments can be based.
● Point to targeted interventions that will immediately lessen risk and
have the potential to make lasting change.

136 Lynn Loar


Many social workers and other helping professionals know the

importance of animal companions in the lives of children at times
when children feel alone and misunderstood, and seek solace in
the affectionate and accepting company of their animal compan-
ions. Somewhere in their education, these professionals probably
came across the fact that serial killers often started their careers by
torturing or killing animals (Lockwood & Ascione, 1998; Lockwood
& Church, 1996), and perhaps that most of the American school-
yard shooters had similar – and similarly horrifying – histories. Some
people may also know about the link between animal abuse and
domestic violence; that batterers may use family pets as weapons to
control their partners (Ascione & Arkow, 1999; Ascione, Friedrich,
Heath, & Hayashi, 2003), and that abuse-reactive children may even
aggress against the animal companion they love (Loar & Colman,
2004). More recent literature has included the connection between
elder abuse and cruelty to and neglect of animals (Patronek, Loar, &
Nathanson, 2006).
Despite their familiarity with the human-animal bond and the abuse
of animals in violent homes – and all the animal cops shows on the
Animal Planet television channel – few professionals fully appreciate
the role that companion animals play in troubled families, much less
how to intervene responsibly with at-risk families and their animals
(Bell, 2001; Nelson, 2001). Fewer still know what to do – and what their
legal responsibilities are – when they suspect a child’s safety might be
at risk from the combination of an inattentive or underreacting parent
and a potentially aggressive dog. And, since few professionals other
than social workers make home visits, they do not see the conditions
in the home.
This very limited view means that helping professionals may not know
about unsanitary conditions related to urine and faeces in the home,
animals that pose a danger to children, or may be unintentionally abet-
ting a batterer who gives animals as gifts and then kills or gets rid of
them, time after time, as a power play. How many paediatricians, school
counsellors and other professionals routinely ask about the number of
animals a family has had and how those animals have fared over time?
Or, more to the point, how they came into and left the home? And who
would feel comfortable asking about faeces and urine inside the house?
(Boat, Loar, & Phillips, 2008).
‘How Is Fido?’ 137

In many Western countries, doctors, nurses, health and mental health

providers, teachers and child care providers are mandated to report
suspected abuse or neglect of minors (children under 18), dependent
adults (people with serious disabilities, typically between the ages of 18
and 60–64, depending on the jurisdiction), and elders (people 60–65
and older, depending on the jurisdiction) to the appropriate protective
agency. In some jurisdictions, they must also report suspected domestic
violence. Therapists in many jurisdictions have a duty to override confi-
dentiality to warn identifiable victims and law enforcement about serious
threats of harm. Increasingly, veterinarians and veterinary technicians
(Landau, 1999; Sinclair, Merck, & Lockwood, 2006) have been included
in the cadre of helping professionals who are mandated to report indica-
tions of serious risk – but to whom? Animal control? The police? Child
protective services? And will that agency take the report from a ‘dog
catcher’ seriously?
There is a need for cross-disciplinary and cross-species accountability,
risk assessment, and focused intervention. This article provides guide-
lines to assess risk in families, build rapport even with hostile clients,
and target interventions to protect those at greatest risk and reduce the
caregiver’s immediate stress. This collaborative approach also lays the
groundwork for the caregiver’s improved impulse control and the fami-
ly’s safety over time.

Why the abuse and neglect of animals should

be taken seriously, reported to the appropriate
animal protection agency, and cross-reported to
the appropriate human services agency

Animal cruelty encompasses a range of behaviours harmful to animals,

from unintentional neglect to malicious killing. Animals suffer and feel
pain, and deserve protection from abuse and neglect in their own right.
Additionally, animal abuse and neglect do not occur in a vacuum, but
are part of a pattern of dangerous and anti-social behaviour jeopardising
people, animals and inanimate property (Ascione & Arkow, 1999; Boat,
Loar, & Phillips, 2008).

The role companion animals play in families

Approximately three quarters of American families with children

have companion animals. Functional and dysfunctional families have
138 Lynn Loar

animals at the same rate but with one significant difference: the age
of the animals (Loar & Colman, 2004). If you walk into a home with
a 6-year-old dog lounging on the carpet (or the couch) or a 9-year-old
cat sunning itself in the window, your sense of risk should go down –
these people are stable enough to have maintained these animals
over time. On the other hand, if you walk into a home with young
animals, your sense of risk should go up – not just because of the
greater demands young creatures make, but also because they tend
to come and go quickly in troubled families. If you made a monthly
home visit, you might always see puppies and kittens, but not the
same ones, and rarely any animals older than two or three years. In
functional families, adopting an animal is a life-long commitment.
Unfortunately, in dysfunctional families, the parade of beloved yet
disposable animals teaches children the risk of attaching. Further,
their ready identification with the animal makes them aware of their
own precarious position in the family. Thus, an immediate indicator
of family functioning may be the age and number of animals in a
Additionally, the maltreated animal may be the first one to come
to the attention of authorities, and thus may be how people in
trouble also get help. First, animals are usually allowed outside to
relieve themselves or are neglected and left in the yard. They may be
observed and reported by concerned neighbours or passers-by. On the
other hand, young children, dependent adults and frail elders may
remain unnoticed inside the home. Moreover, people find it easier
to report animals at risk than children or vulnerable adults (Loar,
Paediatricians, school personnel, veterinarians and others who advise
and assist members of a family may not see the chaos in the client’s
residence, but could certainly ask about the animals in the home. All
you have to do is say, ‘Tell me about the animals you’ve had’. Here’s
how two fifth graders in a humane education class responded:

FooFoo got hit by a car.

I cried.
Cream, my dog,
Born with a bad hip,
Got put to sleep.
I cried.
The rat’s teeth overlapped.
‘How Is Fido?’ 139

She got put to sleep.

My ferret died.
All my animals die.
3 dogs, 7 cats, 10 fish, 1 bird. (Loar & Colman, 2004, p. 10)

I had too many pets that died.

I really don’t want to write about it.
I can’t tell you about them either.
I just don’t want to.
It makes me too sad.
The door closed.
Don’t ask me anymore.
I will cry into the ocean. (Loar & Colman, 2004, p. 7)

Parents and caregivers may abuse or threaten to abuse an animal in

order to control a child, partner, dependent adult, or elder. Common
examples include exacting compliance with a rule or goal by maltreating
or threatening the welfare of an animal. Rooms get cleaned and noise
is kept down because a child wants to spare a beloved animal. Children
also report that parents threaten to kill or dispose of their animal if
the child tells an outsider of the abuse in the home. Batterers threaten,
injure or kill companion animals to prevent the partner’s leaving
(Ascione, 2000; Ascione & Arkow, 1999; Thomas & McIntosh, 2001).
Ageing relatives decline to report abusive adult children and caregivers
for fear of institutionalisation and attendant loss of their companion
animals – the only true companions they may have at this stage of life.
Neglecting households may not only fail to provide adequate food and
medical care to its human and nonhuman members but also be filled
with animal waste – and even dying and dead animals (Patronek, 1999;
Patronek, Loar, & Nathanson, 2006).
Worse still, abusers may give an animal as a gift to buy their victim’s
silence. Ask your clients how the animals come into the home as well
as how they leave. You might learn that your minor client’s birthday
gift was a puppy to celebrate the special love between him/her and a
molesting parent: ‘I love you so much and in such a special way that
I’ve brought you this puppy. But, don’t tell anybody about our special
time together if you want to keep the puppy.’ The child will then expe-
rience concerned inquiries from a well-meaning teacher, social worker
or therapist as a threat, and have to choose between help for him/
herself and the beloved puppy’s life. Or a victim of domestic violence,
wearing long sleeves, a turtleneck, and a lot of make-up despite the
140 Lynn Loar

warm weather, may bring her anniversary gift kitten in for shots. What
preceded the veterinary appointment was something like this:

Honey, I’m so sorry I hit you. I don’t know what came over me. I’ll
never do it again if you promise not to leave me. To show you how
much I love you and want us to stay together, I’ve brought you this
kitten. We’ll love it and take care of it together.

So, all the hopes for the future of the relationship lie with the kitten’s
survival, making it hard for the human victim to leave, harder still if
leaving means leaving the animal behind.
A question about an animal’s safety and welfare is more likely to elicit
an unguarded and candid answer than a question about child abuse,
elder abuse or domestic violence. The professional who asks about the
safety and welfare of animals in the home is likely to be seen as caring –
and smart – for bringing up such a distressing yet ignored/avoided
topic. The Childhood Trust Survey on Animal-Related Experiences
provides questionnaires for children and adults. These instruments are
designed to be used orally so that follow-up questions can be added as
indicated (Boat, Loar, & Phillips, 2008). Information gathered should be
cross-reported to the appropriate protective agencies, along with infor-
mation about how the case is likely to proceed. Because cases brought
by animal control and welfare agencies involve property, they often
move through the court system faster than those going to Juvenile or
Family Court. The court’s finding in the animal cruelty case can bolster
the case in other courts. Collaborative interdisciplinary participation
at the investigative stage will facilitate a fuller understanding of the
problems and risks to all living creatures in the home and maximise the
possibility of continuity of care and supervision. Additionally, animal
control and humane society officers make home visits, a key element
to maintaining safety, so their involvement in the assessment of risk to
animals at the outset provides invaluable support.

Family-based risk assessment

How often do helping professionals (including veterinarians) ask how

clients discipline their animals? Handle housebreaking problems? Deal
with annoying behaviours? Ask whether children and animals are
together without adult supervision?
In most countries, the majority of parents spank their children as part
of routine discipline, especially when their children are toddlers and
‘How Is Fido?’ 141

pre-schoolers (Straus, 1994). What makes the ‘terrible twos’ so terrible

and so apt to elicit abusive behaviours is the confluence of a number of
trying and seemingly contradictory factors:

● The child may be highly mobile, relentlessly energetic, and need

constant supervision.
● The child may be noisy, crying or whining frequently, or banging
things while playing.
● The child may be demanding, resistant, defiant or disobedient.
● The child may damage or break things, or make a mess.
● Power struggles may develop over eating and other matters of self-
● The child may not yet be toilet trained.

This combination of energy (the child’s mobility, demands, and resist-

ance) and vulnerability (still in diapers and/or needing constant super-
vision) too often pushes parents beyond their limits. Throughout
childhood, this mixture of active, oppositional, and/or messy behav-
iours puts children at risk of maltreatment by their parents and other
providers of care.
Animal abuse tends to be triggered by many of the same behaviours
as child abuse (Boat, Loar, & Phillips, 2008; Loar, 1999; Loar & Colman,
2004). A cute puppy is also a busy and energetic puppy needing super-
vision and exercise. Animals bark, meow and howl, especially when
ignored or left alone too much. They may also be destructive, chewing,
digging, and jumping on furniture or people. They eat food left on tables
or counters and may turn away from their own rations. Housebreaking
problems are common triggers of abuse.
Elder abuse and abuse of people with disabilities stem from many of
the same factors. Limited mobility may lead to boredom, frustration,
complaining and other irritating behaviours, and these may create
emotional and physical stress for caregivers. People wanting to do
things their own way, no matter how long it takes, may be experienced
as demanding, disobedient and defiant to caregivers, and trigger frus-
trated and angry responses. Incontinence is often the last straw that
brings on abuse.
Comparable behaviours can place children, elders, dependent adults
and animals at risk: the need for care and supervision; the level of activity
involved in their care; noise (crying, whining, barking, complaining);
resistant, oppositional, defiant or irascible behaviour; eating forbidden
food, refusing to eat, or being a ‘picky’ eater; damaging, breaking or
142 Lynn Loar

chewing treasured objects; and toileting accidents. These are normal, if

trying, behaviours. Problems stem from the limitations of the parents or
caregivers in meeting these demands and/or the stressful circumstances
of their lives. Intervention needs to address the potential for neglect
and/or abuse resulting from the limitations of the people in charge and/
or environmental stressors.
Neglect – the failure to provide minimally adequate food, shelter,
clothing (for people), medical care, and supervision – poses a serious
risk for all dependent living creatures. Unable to ensure their own safety,
hygiene, or dietary needs, they suffer and are frightened when those
they depend on fail them. Attempts to meet their own needs can create
dangerous situations such as digging or climbing out of a fenced yard
and getting run over by a passing car; eating poisonous substances when
hungry and/or unsupervised; falling and injuring oneself in an attempt
to find food, activity, companionship or to get to a bathroom. In extreme
circumstances, this neglect can take the form of animal hoarding, with a
considerable number of animals suffering in deplorable conditions and
posing health and safety risks to all living beings in the home (Patronek,
1999; Patronek, Loar, & Nathanson, 2006).
All dependent living creatures have basic physical and social needs,
and the expression of these needs requires patience and protective
responses by those providing care and supervision. Risks to potential
victims increase when demands are high and/or resources and skills of
the caregiver are low. Assessments must concentrate on the capabili-
ties of and demands on the parent/caregiver, and consider attitudes that
can indicate risk such as: disposability (‘It’s only a dog.’), minimisation
(‘She’ll be all right; I had it much worse when I was a kid.’), rationalisa-
tion (‘He won’t learn any other way.’), and justification (‘She wets her
pants because she is lazy.’).
Ignoring the cruelty or neglect of an animal by its owner not only
allows the maltreatment of the animal, but allows it to continue with
however many additional animals that person may acquire. It also
puts at risk vulnerable people who exhibit comparable behaviours and
make similar demands on the caregiver. If the adult cannot safely and
adequately meet the lesser needs of an animal, how can he or she meet
the greater needs of a child or vulnerable adult? Documenting risk with
a comprehensive table of behavioural responses to triggering behaviours
will show who is at risk for which behaviour, creating a thorough risk
assessment for all living beings in the home. This risk assessment will
also make clear each professional’s areas of concern and the interdisci-
plinary overlap.
‘How Is Fido?’ 143

Build a collaborative relationship with clients

Asking clients to disclose their abusive or negligent behaviour creates

defensiveness and damages rapport. Yet the interviewer must assess risk,
their reporting responsibilities and come up with one or two behav-
ioural changes that overwhelmed clients could actually make that would
immediately reduce risk and increase safety in the home.
So, how does the interviewer get the client to disclose damaging infor-
mation, especially if that disclosure may lead to civil and criminal penal-
ties? Instead of asking the client to disclose prior bad acts, use scaling
questions to ask how annoying the client finds six key triggering behav-
iours, known as ‘hot buttons’ (Boat, Loar, & Phillips, 2008). These are
noise, messiness, disobedience, eating problems, toileting problems
and energy levels. For example, the interviewer can ask, ‘On a scale
of 1–5, with 1 being very little and 5 being a lot, how annoying do
you find noise? On a scale of 1–5, how noisy is your dog? Your older
child? Your younger child?’ and so on through every living being in the
Start with the family’s companion animals, where candour will likely
be more forthcoming. These questions will elicit information both on
daily frustrations and the adults’ likely tolerance of these frustrations.
Not only will the information be accurate – people do not increase their
legal risk by saying they find things irritating – but you will also be
given many opportunities to join with your client in shared apprecia-
tion of the challenges of enduring noisy, messy, disobedient and ener-
getic behaviours.
Use the following interview guide, ‘Know Your Warm Buttons’, to
structure the interview. Watch for the triggering behaviours that earn
scores of 4 and 5, the residents of the home who earn 4s and 5s –
and the client who writes 5 everywhere! Using this information to
complete the ‘Know Your Hot Buttons’ chart (below) will let both the
interviewer and the client pinpoint who is at risk for which behav-
iours. Thus, efforts to reduce risk can be targeted precisely, with little
energy wasted on objectively worrisome activities that actually add
little stress.
This chart will show other professionals which risks pose threats across
species and across the lifespan. It can also provide the foundation for
interdisciplinary risk assessment, monitoring and intervention.
The three questions below the chart – ‘How isolated are you?’ ‘What
resources do you have?’ and ‘What else matters most?’ – lay the ground-
work for creating and strengthening support systems based on values,
144 Lynn Loar

priorities and reducing immediate risk. It can be the focus of a single

session, or developed as treatment continues.

Know Your Buttons

Living with others can be wonderful – sharing special moments and
building memories together. At times, though, living with others can be
stressful. If you know which behaviours please you and which push your
buttons, you’ll be able to cherish the good times and handle day-to-day
annoyances better.
Let’s start with the minor irritations – they can turn into major ones if
you’re not careful. First, on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being very little and 5
being a lot, rate yourself. How annoying do you find:

● Noise, including barking, meowing, crying, whining, yelling, nagging,

complaining, criticising, blaring music, TV, phones, and so on.
● Messiness, including scratching and chewing on furniture, shedding,
leaving clothes, toys, school supplies around, leaving dishes and food
out, dropping and breaking things, and so on.
● Disobedience, including not coming when called, breaking the house
rules, refusing to do what’s asked, saying ‘no,’ ignoring, pretending
not to hear, defying authority, and so on.
● Eating problems, including refusing to eat what’s offered, eating some-
body else’s food, complaining, criticising the food, pickiness, aller-
gies, swallowing problems, needing a lot of assistance to eat, and
so on.
● Toileting problems, including not using a litter box and other house-
breaking difficulties, late toilet training, bed wetting, incontinence,
needing assistance with toileting, and so on.
● Level of activity and need for supervision, including very energetic
puppies, kittens and children, and children and adults with limited
mobility needing assistance.

Now, fill out the ‘Know Your Hot Buttons’ chart. Put your scores in the
first column, under ‘How annoying do you find’. Then, one by one, think
about everybody living in your home. With 1 being very little and 5
being a lot, how much does each do these things?
When you’ve filled in all the scores, you’ll have a better idea about
why the little irritants sometimes seem so large. You’ll also be able to see
patterns that will help you appreciate how frustration accumulates.
‘How Is Fido?’ 145

How On a scale of 1 Animal Animal Child Child Adult Other Other

annoying do (low) 5 (high) partner
you find:




Level of
activity and
need for

How isolated are you?––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

What resources do you have?–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
What else matters most? ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Figure 9.1 Know Your Hot Buttons

Source: Lynn Loar (2013).

Use a calendar to add a little order to chaotic lives: A

3-session intervention to reduce risk.

Supplies: A cell phone, tablet or computer, if the client already has one;
paper and green, yellow and red coloured markers, otherwise. Draw or
print out a detailed chart of the hours of the day for a full week.
Session 1: Ask the adult to use green, yellow and red (for the purposes
of this chapter in which the table is not produced in colour, dark
grey=red, medium grey=yellow and light grey=green), the colours of
traffic lights, to show the good, neutral and bad times of each day on
a weekly calendar. A ‘morning person’, for example, might colour early
mornings green, fade to yellow around 12–1 pm, and red late afternoon.
Weekends may have more green time than hectic weekdays.
Here is an example of the calendar of a morning person:
Behaviours that can be taken in stride or readily redirected in the green
hours will seem much more annoying in the red hours, perhaps beyond
146 Lynn Loar

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

6 AM 6 AM 6 AM 6 AM 6 AM 6 AM 6 AM
7 AM 7 AM 7 AM 7 AM 7 AM 7 AM 7 AM
8 AM 8 AM 8 AM 8 AM 8 AM 8 AM 8 AM
9 AM 9 AM 9 AM 9 AM 9 AM 9 AM 9 AM
10 AM 10 AM 10 AM 10 AM 10 AM 10 AM 10 AM
11 AM 11 AM 11 AM 11 AM 11 AM 11 AM 11 AM
Noon Noon Noon Noon Noon Noon Noon
1 PM 1 PM 1 PM 1 PM 1 PM 1 PM 1 PM
2 PM 2 PM 2 PM 2 PM 2 PM 2 PM 2 PM
3 PM 3 PM 3 PM 3 PM 3 PM 3 PM 3 PM
4 PM 4 PM 4 PM 4 PM 4 PM 4 PM 4 PM
5 PM 5 PM 5 PM 5 PM 5 PM 5 PM 5 PM
6 PM 6 PM 6 PM 6 PM 6 PM 6 PM 6 PM
7 PM 7 PM 7 PM 7 PM 7 PM 7 PM 7 PM
8 PM 8 PM 8 PM 8 PM 8 PM 8 PM 8 PM
9 PM 9 PM 9 PM 9 PM 9 PM 9 PM 9 PM
10 PM 10 PM 10 PM 10 PM 10 PM 10 PM 10 PM
11 PM 11 PM 11 PM 11 PM 11 PM 11 PM 11 PM
Midnight Midnight Midnight Midnight Midnight Midnight Midnight

Figure 9.2 Calendar

Source: Lynn Loar (2013).

the adult’s abilities to cope. Colour coding the hours in the day gives
context to the triggers, depersonalises the irritating behaviours, shows
why the client feels out of control – seemingly without warning or predict-
ability – and lays the foundation for strength-based skill building. What
skills does the client use in the green hours? How could these skills be
strengthened so they would be available in the yellow and red hours?
Next, create a weekly calendar page for each living being in the home.
Have the client plot when each annoying behaviour occurs. Use high-
lighters or the colour options in the calendar functions of the cell phone
or tablet to show good, neutral and bad times for each. Colour code each
person/animal’s weekly schedule and see how everybody’s good, neutral
and bad times align.
Homework for Session 1: Observe triggering behaviours and moods
to see if the scoring, the times recorded, and the green, yellow and red
colours are precise.
Session 2: Discuss homework, accuracy, and novel observations.
Encourage objectivity and depersonalising, saying, for example, ‘That is
‘How Is Fido?’ 147

something annoying all children of that age do; my son just happens to
do it in my red zone. He’s not out to get me; it’s just that we are both in
our red zones and a bit frazzled.’
Discuss which triggers earn 4s and 5s. Look at who in the home
contributes many of these highly annoying behaviours and when.
Compare who and how many triggering behaviours are in red zones at
the same time.
This chart will allow the interviewer to discuss risk as a scheduling
conflict – who is at risk, and when, for which behaviours – a practical and
non-judgemental approach that lets clients generate ways to reschedule
things to lower risk times, build in breaks, and use other time manage-
ment tools. No loss of face is involved, nor admission of emotionally
draining content, which may actually increase risk as it depletes and
exhausts the client.
Look at the answers to the three questions and encourage the client
to see which resources and people might assist in difficult times. End
with the last question: ‘What matters most?’ to ensure that the client
stays focused on the essentials, and your relationship with the client is
strengthened through respect for the client’s values and priorities.
Homework for Session 2: Observe coping strategies that work well
in green zones; try using them in yellow and red zones. Observe what
transfers and what does not.
Session 3: Cope, plan ahead, and use the three questions. With the calen-
dars and scored triggers at hand, clients can have practical and accurate
discussions about how to handle frustrations. Planning good behaviour is
far more constructive than examining past failures. The focus should be on
coping strategies, relapse prevention and having help at the ready.

Know your warm buttons: a brief intervention to solidify gains

Reducing risk of harm is a necessary first step. However, it creates a
vacuum if new, safe, positive behaviours are not introduced to take the
place of the dangerous or negligent behaviours. Typically, clients are
able to describe in vivid and abundant detail the irritating behaviours of
those they live with but unable to describe the good behaviours, things
that please them, in anywhere near comparable detail. Yet, for good
deeds to take the place of bad ones, they must be known and recognised
with the same – if not greater – specificity and scheduled frequently
until they become part of the fabric of daily living.
Use the guide below to help clients identify their warm buttons. Focus
on sensory buttons. Just as you did with the hot buttons, help the client
identify his/her warm buttons and who in the home offers these things
in small and large amounts.
148 Lynn Loar

Warm Buttons

Next, list a few things that please you – things like purring, tail wagging,
cuddling, smiles, holding hands. Write these on the “Know Your Warm
Buttons” chart. After each, write who does this, when, and what you
might do to trigger it more.


Another part of enjoying good times and handling annoyances is

knowing when they’re most and least likely to push your hot and warm
buttons. Take a page from a weekly planner that is broken into half
hours, and 3 markers or highlighters, red, yellow and green. Colour
code your week: use green when you’re at your best, yellow when
you’re managing, and red for times of the day and week that are hardest
for you.

What On a Animal Animal Child Child Adult Other Other

pleases scale of partner
you about 1 (low)
your: 5 (high)





What resources do you have?

What else matters most?

Figure 9.3 Know Your Warm Buttons

Source: Lynn Loar (2013).
‘How Is Fido?’ 149

Put the pieces together. When the things you most enjoy happen in
the green times, savour the moments. What can you do to create more
of these? Don’t be caught off guard when the irritants occur in the red
times. Plan ahead for both so you make the most of the joys of family
living and take the bumps in stride.
Next, plot the warm buttons on the colour coded calendars. Look at
times that are plush with warmth and times that are barren. Plan and
schedule small positive things throughout the day, nice little things that
happen to every living being in the home at least a few times a day. This
may feel artificial at first, and those who have been treated abusively in
the past may need time to trust the change, so the weekly schedule of
warm buttons keeps progress on track. Again, conclude with resources
and priorities to emphasise the safer and happier future.


Animal abuse and neglect can be indicators of abuse and neglect affecting
people of all ages in the same household. The animal’s distress is often
more visible and allows intervention to begin earlier, making it safer for
all living beings involved.
There is a need for cross-disciplinary and cross-species accountability,
risk assessment and focused intervention. Asking first about the animals’
welfare lets the interviewer learn about risky behaviour that jeopardises
the safety of all living beings in the home, builds rapport even with
hostile clients, and targets interventions to protect those at greatest

Ascione, F. (2000). Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering Pets for
Women Who are Battered. New Jersey: Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
Ascione, F., & Arkow, P. (Eds.) (1999). Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal
Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention. West
Lafayette: Purdue University Press.
Ascione, F., Friedrich, W., Heath, J., & Hayashi, K. (2003). Cruelty to animals in
normative, sexually abused, and outpatient psychiatric samples of 6- to 12-year
old children: Relations to maltreatment and exposure to domestic violence.
Anthrozoos, 16(3), 194–212.
Bell, L. (2001). Abusing children-abusing animals. Journal of Social Work, 1(2),
Boat, B., Loar, L., & Phillips, A. (2008). Collaborating to assess, intervene and
prosecute animal abuse: A continuum of protection for children. In F. Ascione
150 Lynn Loar

(Ed.), International Handbook of Theory and Research on Animal Abuse and Cruelty
(pp. 393–422). West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.
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Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention (pp. 241–9). West
Lafayette: Purdue University Press.
Loar, L. (1999). ‘I’ll only help you if you have two legs,’ or, Why human service
professionals should pay attention to cases involving cruelty to animals. In F.
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Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention (pp. 120–35).
West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.
Loar, L., & Colman, L. (2004). Teaching Empathy: Animal-Assisted Therapy Programs
for Children and Families Exposed to Violence. Alameda: Latham Foundation.
Lockwood, R., & Ascione, F. (Eds.) (1998). Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal
Violence: Readings in Research and Application. West Lafayette: Purdue University
Lockwood, R., & Church, A. (1996). Deadly serious: An FBI perspective on animal
cruelty. HSUS News, Fall.
Nelson, P. (2001). A Survey of Psychologists’ Attitudes, Opinions, and Clinical
Experiences with Animal Abuse. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Wright
Institute Graduate School of Psychology, America.
Patronek, G. (1999). Hoarding of animals: An under-recognized public health
problem in a difficult-to-study population. Public Health Reports, 114(1), 81–7.
Patronek, G., Loar, L., & Nathanson, J. (2006). Animal Hoarding: Structuring
Interdisciplinary Responses to Help People, Animals and Communities at Risk. Boston:
Hoarder of Animals Research Consortium.
Sinclair, L., Merck, M., & Lockwood, R. (2006). Forensic Investigation of Animal
Cruelty: A Guide for Veterinary and Law Enforcement Professionals. Washington:
Humane Society Press.
Straus, M. (1994). Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American
Families. New York: Lexington Books.
Thomas, C., & McIntosh, S. (2001, 7 June). Exploring the links between animal
abuse and family violence as reported by women entering shelters in Calgary
communities. Paper presented at Our Children, Our Future: A Call to Action,
International Conference on Children Exposed to Domestic Violence. London,
Ontario, Canada.
The Place and Consequence of
Animals in Contemporary Social
Work Practice
Maureen MacNamara and Jeannine Moga

Over the last 20 years, studies exploring the links between human
health, companion animals, and nature suggest that we must expand
our definition of the human psychosocial environment to include the
impact of animals and nature on human adaptation and wellbeing. One
would think that the social work profession’s person-in-environment
perspective – a primary practice construct – would uniquely position
social workers to understand and leverage the reciprocal relationship
between humans and their environments (Besthorn, 2000; Besthorn &
Saleeby, 2003). Yet, the field’s emphasis on a human-centric social envi-
ronment has neglected the influence of animals and natural ecosystems
on individual, family, and community health (Coates, 2003). Besthorn
and Saleebey (2003, p. 10) assert that this narrow focus leads practi-
tioners to ignore the resources found in relationship to the nonhuman
animals with whom we have a shared ecology: ‘When we do not respect
the worth of the natural environment, we do not respect the worth
and dignity of the people who reside in and depend upon it.’ Risley-
Curtiss (2010) reveals what this myopia looks like in practice: while
many social workers report having a basic knowledge of human-animal
relationships, only one-third routinely ask about animals during client
assessment, and only 23 per cent integrate animals in any form of client
The field of social work has failed to recognise and account for the
many places where human and animal needs, experiences, and rights
intersect. The presence and function of animals in human cultural,
social, and emotional landscapes requires that all social workers develop
a foundational understanding of the relevance of human-animal

152 Maureen MacNamara and Jeannine Moga

relationships to individual, family, and community wellbeing, as well

as the shifting values regarding the place and consequence of animals
in rapidly changing client populations. While animals might not play a
central role in all clients’ lives, their very presence in many households
indicates that those who keep animals may represent a unique cultural
group in and of themselves. Given ongoing calls for culturally compe-
tent practice, fully integrating human relationships with animals into
micro-, mezzo-, and macro-level social work practice is not only timely,
but critical.
This chapter explores human-animal relationships across human
social and emotional landscapes, and proposes concrete methods social
workers can employ to utilise these relationships as diagnostic and treat-
ment tools. Guidelines for the integration of animals into all levels of
social work practice are also presented, along with recommendations for
incorporating human-animal relationships into both foundational and
advanced training for social work practitioners.

The landscape of human-animal relationships

There have been numerous reviews of the changing nature of the human
animal relationships (Walsh, 2009a), as well as many authors who have
explored the relevance of these relationships to the social services.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that people vary greatly in their atti-
tudes towards animals (Herzog, Betchart, & Pittman, 1991; Kellert, 1980;
Poresky, 1996). While some individuals consider animals as tools for
human benefit, others may value animals for their inherent qualities or
privilege their impact as companions. However, it is generally accepted
that humans have an emotional connection with animals (Urbanik,
2012; Wilson, 2010). Research reveals that a majority of individuals with
companion animals consider them to be important, supportive partici-
pants of their lives, if not members of their family (Reaser, Clark, &
Meyers, 2008; Voith, 1985). In fact, these findings can be demonstrated
across social categories and life conditions, suggesting that animals are
of great importance to many people, even if the role, emotional signifi-
cance, and care choices for those animals differ based on ethnicity,
national origin, gender, and social class (Cain, 1985; Risley-Curtiss et al.,
2006; Risley-Curtiss, Holley, & Kodiene, 2011; Risley-Curtiss, Holley, &
Wolf, 2006). Further, human-animal relationships often represent vital
and reciprocal attachments that provide a unique window into human
development, emotional attunement, and the ability to manage disequi-
librium (Rynearson, 1978). As such, social workers who do not attend to
The Place and Consequence of Animals 153

them miss important opportunities to engage the individuals, families,

and communities they serve.

What’s missing: an integrative model

The exploration of animals in human systems and social work practice

is largely descriptive, with models of how to integrate what we know
about human animal relationships into daily practice conspicuously
absent. If social workers wish to optimise the appropriateness and effi-
cacy of interventions, we must first begin by identifying, analysing,
and utilising human-animal relationships on all levels of practice. The
following three-part model, based on a functional analysis of animals in
human systems, allows for this integration. The central element of this
model is the question, ‘What is the place and consequence of animals
in the client system?’ To answer this question, social workers must first
locate the animal(s) in the system. Second, social workers must deter-
mine how animals function, and to what end, in the system. Third, social
workers must thoroughly analyse how the animals’ location and functions
might be leveraged to provide or enhance client interventions.

Assessing animal location

Animals’ location in the client system can be determined through an

analysis of several factors, the first of which is the client’s relationship to
animals. Barker and Barker (1988) used ‘life space diagrams’ to measure
people’s relationships with companion animals and found that the
distance between figures was correlated to perceived emotional distance
between the client, the companion animal and other family members.
Of interest is the finding that a significant number of drawings showed
that some human-animal relationships were closer than human-human
relationships within the family system. Clearly, how individuals and
families relate to animals indicates whether animals are central or
peripheral actors in the system.
Locating animals in the client system can also be determined by
observing or asking about the physical location of the animal in the
individual or family environment. Where animals eat, sleep and spend
most of their time often correlates with their role in the system. For
instance, a ‘resident’ animal may be maintained outside the household,
confined to the boundaries of a property, and/or kept for purposes other
than companionship (National Canine Research Council, 2011). These
animals are often isolated from routine, positive human interactions.
154 Maureen MacNamara and Jeannine Moga

Conversely, ‘family’ animals are permitted access to shared spaces and

have opportunities to learn appropriate behaviours through regular
family interaction.
It is important to note that individuals who keep companion animals
outside the home do not necessarily care less about an animal, as animal
housing is often dependent on environmental and cultural factors. Most
important to assessing an animal’s location are the degree to which
animals and people have opportunities to engage in routine and posi-
tive interactions, the centrality (or marginality) of the animal actor in
system processes, and the closeness of the ties between humans and
animals within the system.

Assessing animal function

Much has been published on the importance of animals in family

systems. When animals are considered to be members of families, they
often function in ways that increase levels of happiness and open expres-
sions of affection (Cain, 1985), improve family cohesion and adapt-
ability (Allen, 1995; Cox, 1993), mediate family interactions (Tannen,
2004), buffer conflict (Strand, 2004), and reinforce family identity (Cain,
1983, 1985). Research also indicates that human-animal relationships
are comparable to human-human relationships in that families with
levels of intra-family support are likely to identify that support coming
from both the human and animal members of their family (Bonas,
McNicholas, & Collis, 2005). Likewise, the human-animal bond comple-
ments – but does not compete with – existing human ties (McConnell,
Brown, Shoda, Stayton, & Martin, 2011).
When assessing the function of an animal in a given system – What
does the animal do? How does the animal’s presence/absence contribute to
family processes? – a particularly useful tool is found in Walsh’s (2009b)
application of the family systems model to human-animal relationships
and family therapy. If animals are considered members of families in posi-
tion, role, and function, their membership implies that they are also of
consequence to the formation of subsystems and relational boundaries.
Animals may stabilise or destabilise relationships between other family
members (Gavriele-Gold, 2000), and may also help to define expecta-
tions and rules, specifically around how conflict, cooperation, and crisis,
are enacted. Practitioners may uncover these dynamics by asking clients
(a) how they would describe the relationship between themselves, their
animal/s, and the other members of the family system; (b) who holds
The Place and Consequence of Animals 155

the responsibility for animal caregiving; (c) to what extent animals are
considered in significant family decisions and transitions.
Directly asking about the animals in clients’ lives is preferred over
waiting for clients to offer that information on their own, as clients
may be reluctant to acknowledge these relationships – and their impor-
tance – for fear of being diminished or made to feel that animals are
irrelevant (Sable, 2013).
Also important to note are the ways animals may be included in scape-
goating, triangulation, and perpetration in families. It is not uncommon
to find at-risk families in which human and animal abuse/neglect
co-occur, so practitioners are advised to watch for signs of animal abuse
and neglect (DeGrue & DiLillo, 2009; DeViney, Dickert, & Lockwood,
1983; Faver & Strand, 2003). Children may also redirect home or school-
based aggression toward a family companion animal (Baldry, 2005).
On an individual level, the presence of an animal in a client’s life –
and the significance that animal represents – may serve as a potent
indicator of client attachment style, self-identity, and social/emotional
resources. Animals might provide a link to important life events, relation-
ships, and transitions; they may serve as a secure base and ‘safe haven’
(Zilcha-Mano, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2012); they may even serve as self
objects (Brown, 2007) in the form of mirrors, idealised others, and/or
‘twins (provoking a feeling of oneness), thereby providing a sense of
safety, esteem, and cohesion. Practitioners are wise to inquire about the
meaning of animals in clients’ lives in order to determine if that animal
enhances resilience, presents risk, and/or provides a workable opportu-
nity to enhance interventions.

Leveraging animals in intervention

A functional analysis of animals in client systems should inform each

practitioner’s decision to integrate animals in interventions, regardless
of the practitioner’s practice setting, target population, and theoretical
orientation. The most common model of integrating animals in prac-
tice is animal-assisted therapy (AAT), which brings a specifically selected
animal into the therapeutic process with a client (Chandler, Portrie-
Bethke, Barrio Minton, Fernando, & O’Callaghan, 2010; Evans & Gray,
2012; Geist, 2011). In most instances, ‘therapy animals’ are the practi-
tioner’s own animals and/or animals external to the client’s ecosystem
(Sacks, 2008). The inclusion of animals external to the client system has
been supported based on a rationale that AAT works, in part, through the
156 Maureen MacNamara and Jeannine Moga

attachment between the client and the animal. However, studies have
demonstrated that the impact of external animals is not always as robust
as the impact of client’s own companion animals (Allen, Blascovich,
Tomaka, & Kelsey, 1991). Thus, it is posited that a more logical and
effective place to begin is with the integration of clients’ own animals in
The animals within a client’s system may provide a more consistent,
accessible, and meaningful treatment adjunct. If a client demonstrates
a strong relationship with an animal, the practitioner should consider
how that animal may be of consequence to the intervention process,
either directly or indirectly. The authors introduce the ‘matrix of oppor-
tunity’ (Moga, 2011, figure 10.1) as a guide for practitioners considering
how animals – particularly those belonging to clients – may be included
to enhance client outcomes. Research evidence supporting each of the
matrix domains is provided to more clearly frame how a client-animal
relationship may be mobilised in intervention.
Rapport Building: The presence of animals appears to increase rapport
between people in stressful social contexts (Allen, Blascovich, & Mendes,
2002). For example, Tannen’s (2004) finding that family members
use companion animals to create a ‘frame shift’ to buffer criticism or

Meaning Skill
making Development

to change

Rapport Building

Figure 10.1 The matrix of opportunity

Source: Adapted from Moga (2011); ©MacNamara & Moga (2013).
The Place and Consequence of Animals 157

resolve conflict suggests that asking clients about a companion animal

may prove to be a safe and conflict-free topic for interactants. Similarly,
Peacock (1984) reported that youth relax and participate cooperatively
when clinicians inquire about companion animals rather than probing
about personal feelings and experiences in initial interviews. Questions
about the family companion animal may provide a safe and informa-
tive opening that draws adults and children into the therapeutic process
while reducing defended dialogue.
Assessment: Peacock (1984) notes that talking about animals some-
times enables adolescents to reveal painful material about their families.
Boat’s work (1999) supports the notion that children, in particular, may
disclose animal experiences instead of, or before, their own. The ques-
tion before practitioners considering this domain is whether the animal
might be useful to uncover the dynamics of a problem, the narrative
around a problem, or the maintenance/disruption of problematic
beliefs, behaviours, and patterns. Practitioners may also choose to incor-
porate human-animal relationship assessment tools in routine intake
processes. There are a variety of tools available, including the Poresky
Animal Attitude Scale (Poresky, 1996) and the Boat Inventory (Boat, 1995).
Clinicians should become familiar with, and use, these tools to enhance
understanding of how human-animal relationships may support, or
interfere with, client resilience and change.
Motivation to Change: Animals who are primary sources of social/
emotional support, and/or important links to independence and
generativity, can serve as powerful motivators for behavioural change.
Herrald, Tomaka, & Medina (2002) discovered a correlation between
having companion animals, particularly dogs, and completion of
cardiac rehabilitation following heart attack. The subjects in this study
noted that concern for their companion animal was a motivating force
for programme completion. Similarly, Johnson & Meadows (2010)
have found that dogs can improve adherence to a walking-related
fitness programme, while other researchers are investigating whether
companion animals may inspire the adoption of other health-related
behaviours, including smoking cessation.
The human-animal relationship may also be a particularly powerful
tool if the client behaviours a practitioner is working to affect directly
(or indirectly) threaten the health and stability of that relationship. One
of the authors experienced this dynamic while working with a client
for whom hoarding was a manifestation of overwhelming anxiety. The
client’s primary emotional relationship, an ageing and blind dog named
‘Bart’, was threatened because of the clutter that made it impossible for
158 Maureen MacNamara and Jeannine Moga

the dog to safely live and move within the space they shared. Focusing
on small steps to preserve the dog’s safety enabled the client to slowly
reduce her hoard and experience small, but significant, successes in
anxiety management.
Engagement: It has been shown that the presence of animals stimulates
communication between individuals who are otherwise socially margin-
alised, isolated or disenfranchised (McNicholas et al., 2005). Many well-
designed studies measuring the effect of animals on social engagement
have demonstrated robust effects, regardless of the individual’s age,
gender, or manner of dress (McNicholas & Collis, 2000). In this domain,
allowing clients to bring their companion animals to treatment sessions
may result in client continuation and completion of time limited
programmes. A novel application of this domain is found within veteri-
nary settings, where social workers are sometimes employed to address
animal-related crises, as well as to assess and address other life stressors
for which clients may not be ready or willing to seek help. In these
settings, animals open the door to bigger conversations and provide a
safe springboard for resource referral and continuing intervention.
Meaning Making: Animals serve as a vehicle for clients to create
meaning and value out of difficult life experiences, especially if those
animals provide a source of hope, possibility, or purpose (Wong, 2010).
Therapeutic metaphor is the most common method of meaning making.
For example, Gonski (1985) described the use of companion animals
in adoptive families to illustrate that, like some children, companion
animals do not always live with their birth parents. Additionally, client
animals may also illustrate possibility by providing exceptions to
‘rules’ that enable clients to change personal narratives. Clients who
experience difficulties that threaten their sense of stability, worthiness,
and skills may find great comfort and meaning in caregiving for an
animal. Clients with close animal relationships may also benefit from
being able to identify the many ways animals successfully companion
them through challenging life transitions. Including client animals in
this domain requires a thorough knowledge of the life history shared
between client and the animal.
Skill Development: Teaching clients about how animals learn and
respond to human cues can be used to parallel behaviour modifica-
tion efforts in other arenas. For parents struggling to manage children,
working to change the behaviour of the family companion animal
may provide an opportunity to practice skills in modulating emotion,
providing clear feedback, and establishing clear boundaries. Mallon
The Place and Consequence of Animals 159

(1992) describes a dog training programme in which adolescents at risk

of early pregnancy work with their own companion animals to learn
positive training methods that can later be applied to parenting a human
child. Including the client’s own companion animal in skill rehearsal
allows social workers to interact with individuals experientially, rather
than relying strictly on talk therapies in which demonstrable skills are
literally lost in translation. Learning to live and/or work effectively with
an animal can also reduce learned helplessness, encourage optimism,
and provide a sense of mastery and control (Treibenbacher, 2000).

Applying the matrix to mezzo- and macro-level work

Social workers might find it useful to employ the ‘matrix of opportu-

nity’ to analyse opportunities for integrating animals in both mezzo and
macro levels of intervention. Animals, whether as chattels, companions,
or working agents, are firmly embedded in all levels of our communi-
ties. In order to effectively address relationships with animals within
and across systems, social workers need to bridge diverse interests and
For example, domestic violence prevention agencies have begun to
establish partnerships with animal welfare organisations to provide
outreach, community education, and policy development around the
link between animal abuse and family violence (Ascione, 2005). In the
United States, there are numerous collaborations between social services
and animal welfare agencies to provide safe haven for the companion
animals of domestic violence victims. Additionally, the call to cross-train
professionals in the mandated reporting of both child maltreatment and
animal abuse is growing, as are the efforts to develop cross-reporting
protocols where human issues and animal issues intersect (Long, Long,
& Kulkarni, 2007).
Social workers must also be advocates and leaders in creating informed
policy regarding animal welfare and care, particularly because animal
welfare is linked to individual, community, and public health. The
lack of integration between micro level needs and macro level policies
becomes quite clear in times of crisis, when people are often forced to
choose between their own health/safety and the health/safety of the
animals to whom they are tied. The mental and public health conse-
quences of this gap have been well documented to include evacuation
failure in times of disaster (Brackenridge, Zottarelli, Rider, & Carlsen-
Landy, 2012; Heath, Kass, Beck, & Glickman, 2001), and an increased
160 Maureen MacNamara and Jeannine Moga

risk of post-traumatic stress disorder in disaster survivors who are forced

to leave animals behind (Hunt, Al-Awadi, & Johnson, 2008).
An additional area of policy concern is the proliferation of animal-
assisted intervention programmes. These interventions appear to be
driven by the ardent faith of practitioners and supporters who believe
that these interventions work in the absence of consistent efficacy data.
Organisations, communities, and even local governments are offering –
and sometimes mandating – these programmes despite the lack of
specific programme goals, outcome expectations, and coherent prac-
tice methods (MacNamara & Butler, 2010). It is incumbent upon social
workers, particularly with our discipline’s focus on systems thinking
and evidence-based practice, to propel change in the form of improved
practice methods, responsible programme development, clear outcome
measurement, and research-based policy creation. We must advocate for
improved policy and practice, starting within our own ranks.

Recommendations for training

According to Risley-Curtiss (2010), only 7 of 230 schools of social work

in the United States include human-animal relationship (HAR) content
in curricula, marking an absence of animals in foundational training
for professional social workers. Of those practitioners who choose to
integrate animals in practice, the vast majority depend upon informal
mechanisms of knowledge distribution (networking amongst peers and
personal relationships with animals) – not graduate or post-graduate
training – to inform their clinical reasoning and practice methods
(Risley-Curtiss, Rogge, & Kawam, 2013). Based on findings related to the
challenges of implementing innovations in interprofessional settings
(Rogers, 2003), the authors recommend integrating the topic of human-
animal relationships into both foundational and advanced training for
social work practitioners.
For social workers to consistently acknowledge and respond to system
challenges that include animals as a central rather than peripheral
component of the human social landscape, the conversation within the
field must move beyond that of animal companions and animal-assisted
therapies. While both are potentially important and useful, this narrow
focus leaves out those for whom animals are not companions, but sources
of basic life support, economic health (an ability to earn and maintain
a living, and secure enough financial resources to support oneself),
professional partnership, and social exchange. Of critical importance is
the acknowledgement that supporting the human-animal relationship
The Place and Consequence of Animals 161

requires attention to the many resources (including social, physical, and

financial) required to support these relationships in healthy, lifelong
ways. When viewed from this perspective, access to animals and the
natural environment becomes an issue of social justice.
Fully understanding of the role of animals in people’s lives also requires
more than personal experience with (or without) one’s own animals.
Formal training in the many ways animals inhabit social, emotional,
physical and spiritual worlds is necessary to combat reductionism and
fully serve the individuals and the communities in which social workers
practice. Furthermore, it is incumbent that training for social workers
differentiates between the practices developed for volunteers visiting
facilities with their companion animals and the practices necessary for
the full incorporation of animals in micro- and macro-level interven-
tions (MacNamara & Butler, 2010).
Recognising the dearth of evidence-based training available to mental
health providers to meet the unique conceptual and clinical challenges
to delivery of animal-assisted interventions, the following guiding prin-
ciples are provided to shape the development of training in this area.
Currently, training for providers is limited in both availability as well
as content in academic courses and formal seminars. The majority of
continuing education offerings related to animal-assisted interactions are
not rooted in clearly identified and measurable practice competencies.
At the very least, evaluating the strengths and capacity of companion
animals, exploring animal selection strategies, and developing policies/
procedures to ensure animal wellbeing should be a component of every
student’s training.
Because social work practice that includes animals in individual,
family and community practice is still emerging, with rapid and contin-
uous knowledge developments for the foreseeable future training would
need to differ from that in other fields in order to immerse trainees in a
mature intervention methodology. Thus, training needs to be informed
by the continuous refreshing and infusion of new research. This will
require annual reassessment and possible revision of the curriculum to
include most recent findings.
Next, the implementation of evidence-based social work practice inclu-
sive of human-animal relationships is uniquely complex in some ways,
given our profession’s presence and role in a broad range of practice
settings. Such complexity demands training that moves beyond single
workshops and weekend immersion programmes that focus on a single
method. Instead, postgraduate training should consist of a longer than
typical training period that entails experience supervised by a provider
162 Maureen MacNamara and Jeannine Moga

working within the scope of their profession, who incorporates animals

other than their own companion animal, enriched by in vivo training
through site visits to state-of-the-art animal-assisted intervention
programmes specifically selected for participants’ emerging practice.
Last, because the inclusion of human-animal relationships and
animal-assisted therapy are multi-level phenomena, with distinct but
interacting and nested processes operating at the individual, organi-
sational, and policy levels, training should include opportunities for
interaction with providers in national and international leadership posi-
tions. Most social workers draw upon mentors in their local communi-
ties for conventional social work practice strategies, but will require a
more extensive reach to develop advanced skills in the integration of
animals in goal specific interventions. Expert providers can be chal-
lenging to locate, given the existence of only pockets of expertise in
practice spheres.
Training in human-animal relationships should enable social workers
to intentionally integrate goal specific human-animal activities into
what the provider actually does with the client. Training should provide
the scaffolding and tools for providers to build a bridge between what
they currently know and do, and the methods and techniques neces-
sary to carefully and critically include animals in their interventions.
Any training must provide a comprehensive exposure to techniques,
approaches, and experiential methodology for implementing interven-
tion strategies that include animals in all aspects of social work service
The social work profession, at its best, has a large toolbox of poten-
tial strategies to assist clients in navigating their world. In fact, the
field of social work is ideally situated to explore this more expanded
perspective of humans and their environment. As people become more
isolated, less trustful of diversity, and live longer, it is vital that practi-
tioners attend to the ways human-animal relationships serve as either
a door, or a barrier, to the provision of basic services. With leader-
ship from within our field, people’s relationships with animals can be
acknowledged and leveraged in many different situations and envi-
ronments. Integrating animals into social work practice extends the
benefits available through traditional therapies, and may be the key
to maximising client motivation, engagement, and outcomes. Most
important, however, is the premise that expanding the human social
landscape to include animals is an ethical, practical, and just approach
to improving the services we offer.
The Place and Consequence of Animals 163

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No One Ever Asked Me That:
The Value of Social Work Inquiry
into the Human-Animal Bond
Nina Papazian


The title of this chapter quotes, in part, a response from a patient when
I, a clinical social worker, asked if companion animals were part of his
family. He was pleasantly surprised that a health professional would have
any interest in this aspect of his life. According to Risley-Curtiss (2010),
two-thirds of participants (1,091) responding to an American national
study on social work practitioners and the human-companion animal
bond reported that they do not include questions about companion
animals in assessments. However, according to Turner (2003), as much
as 60 per cent of the Western world lives with at least one companion
animal, but inquiry exploring the presence or absence of companion-
animal bonds in psychosocial assessment has yet to be fully integrated
into social work education and practice. Such inquiry can serve as a
portal to identifying a myriad of psychosocial risk and protective factors
associated with the human-companion animal bond. Furthermore, it
can facilitate the identification and disclosure of animal welfare concerns
presenting in the lives of our clients or patients.
There are many dimensions of the human-animal bond that lend
themselves to exploratory research, and almost limitless approaches
to underscoring the imperative of social work attention to the human-
companion animal bond. For the purposes of this chapter, I will tap
into my role as nephrology social worker in a hospital-based nephrology
(kidney care) programme. In this role, I support and assist patients and
families experiencing chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal
disease (ESRD). End stage renal disease, or stage five chronic kidney

168 Nina Papazian

disease, occurs when one’s kidneys are no longer functioning suffi-

ciently to support survival, and renal replacement therapy (dialysis), or
renal transplantation, are required to sustain life.
Chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease are becoming
global health and medical challenges due to increasing longevity, and
the rising incidence of chronic health conditions (particularly diabetes
and hypertension) that contribute to CKD and ESRD (Levy et al., 2007).
According to Couser, Remuzzi, Mendis and Tonell (2011) there are more
than two million people globally who require renal replacement therapy.
White, Chadban, Jan, Chapman and Cass (2008) suggest that the rate
of increase of people requiring renal replacement therapy is growing by
eight per cent annually.
The patient population facing CKD in general, and ESRD in partic-
ular, present a high need for social work intervention. Without dial-
ysis or kidney transplantation, individuals with ESRD would otherwise
succumb to kidney failure. Renal replacement therapy extends one’s
life; however it does not in itself provide for quality of life. Nephrology
patients face a multitude of threats to the quality of their lives including
physiological, psychosocial, and existential challenges (Cukor, Cohen,
Peterson & Kimmel, 2007; Finnegan-John & Thomas, 2013).
The field of nephrology social work provides an opportunity for
researching the influence, if any, that the human-companion animal
bond has on quality of life. The specialised role of nephrology social work
addresses the significant psychosocial stressors experienced by ESRD
patients, including the following: shortened life expectancy; changes in
social, financial, vocational role and status; impairments associated with
sexual intimacy; time and physical demands of treatment. Nephrology
social work responsibilities include: psychosocial assessment, interven-
tions oriented to optimise psychosocial functioning and adjustment
for patients and their families, education and information to assist in
guiding decision-making regarding dialysis modalities and advance care
directives, connecting with community resources to assist with finan-
cial, housing and transportation needs, identifying risk and protective
factors in relation to quality of life, counselling and conferences for
patients and families, crisis intervention, multidisciplinary team care
planning and collaboration, and patient advocacy.
This chapter intends to examine the potential value of the human-
companion animal bond by drawing on the contribution of a sample of
five ESRD patients, each of whom have one or more companion animals.
There is a gap in research exploring companion animals in the lives of
nephrology patients, and we must strive to rectify this void. Healthy
No One Ever Asked Me That 169

human-companion animal bonds are unique in their constancy, uncon-

ditional acceptance, and secure attachment. It is a rare human relation-
ship that does not experience occasional disruption or disconnection,
through hurtful behaviour, criticism, ambivalence, rejection and with-
drawal. We can be protected from these painful experiences within the
relational context of a human-companion animal bond, and benefit
from its many health-promoting aspects. However, we are not protected
from the stresses and risks that can be attendant with animal guardian-
ship, nor the pain of loss due to death or companion animal surrender.
All of these considerations can have an impact on either healthy or
compromised wellbeing.
This qualitative pilot study provides the basis for an exploratory
approach to understand if, and how, the presence of companion animals
may be reflected in the self-reported quality of life of these particular
patients with ESRD. Most importantly, this study highlights the poten-
tially expansive value of inquiry as to whether clients or patients have
companion animals.

End stage renal disease and quality of life

According to Wilson & Turner (1998), when broadly defined, quality

of life can be divided into constituent domains: physical status and
symptoms, general life satisfaction, mental/emotional status and finan-
cial/role activity. Although the concept of quality of life is subjective,
and there are various definitions, there is some congruence amongst
instruments measuring quality of life, including physical, emotional,
and social domains (Gokal, 1994). Individuals with ESRD have a strong
likelihood of diminished quality of life due to a high burden of disease
(Patel, Jain, & Kimmel, 2008; Theofilou, 2012). Functional status, and
the subjective state of wellbeing as it relates to health conditions, are
together held to constitute health-related quality of life (HRQOL),
which is particularly relevant for ESRD patients (Kalantar-Zadeh &
Unruh, 2005).
Health related quality of life assessment should include subjective
patient reports of psychosocial dimensions of health (Musci, 2008).
Kalantar-Zadeh and Unruh (2005) also discuss the Kidney Disease
Quality of Life (KDQOL) instrument that was specifically designed for
renal patients in recognition of the burden of disease for ESRD patients,
and subsequent quality of life impacts. This instrument includes a
36-item health survey that targets particular concerns of individuals
with patients with ESRD, including symptom-related problems, effects
170 Nina Papazian

of kidney disease on daily life, burden of kidney disease, cognitive func-

tion, work status, sexual function, quality of social interaction, sleep,
social support, dialysis staff encouragement, and patient satisfaction.
Exploring and assessing the quality of life of ESRD patients is of impor-
tance in identifying psychosocial strengths and vulnerabilities, in order
to tailor social work interventions to meet patient needs.

End-stage renal disease and psychosocial stressors

Psychosocial stressors associated with ESRD include the following:

anxiety (in particular, regarding loss of control and autonomy, mortality,
and a sense of living ‘on borrowed time’); financial burden of poten-
tial employment loss, as well as travel costs to and from treatment; diet
and fluid restrictions; body image/sexuality issues; diminished freedom
and independence; treatment and medication side effects; vocational and
physical capacity losses; self-esteem issues; ‘sick role’ identification; and
grief associated with multiple losses.
Of great significance with respect to quality of life, morbidity and
mortality considerations is the high correlation between ESRD and
depression (Israel, 1986; Finnegan-John & Thomas, 2013), with Chilcot,
Wellsted & Farrington (2010) estimating that approximately 20–30 per
cent of ESRD patients suffer from depression. The interdisciplinary clin-
ical practice known as ‘psychonephrology’ evolved as a result of the
growing clinical attention to the incidence and risk of psychological and
mental health challenges for ESRD patients (Levy, 1983). Close attention
to the psychosocial aspects of quality of life is important for identifying
risk and protective factors for these patients.
As there has been extensive research identifying various health bene-
fits associated with the human-companion animal bond, it is imperative
to integrate attention to the bond in quality of life research and meas-
urement instruments. According to Mucsi (2008), the strongest deter-
minants of health-related quality of life are psychosocial factors, and
interventions that target psychosocial spheres of influence are likely to
enhance quality of life for nephrology patients.

Methods: Participants

Five research participants were identified from the nephrology

programme in the outpatient hospital-based programme where I
am employed. All participants receive renal replacement therapy or
No One Ever Asked Me That 171

dialysis, and have one or more companion animals. All are considered
competent. All were very keen to participate in this research, and did
so on a voluntary basis. Four males and one female participated in this

● Participant A was male, aged 82, and was interviewed in the presence
of his spouse (his primary caregiver), two dogs and two cats. He had
been on dialysis since 2011. His spouse contributed to his feedback.
● Participant B was male, aged 65, and was interviewed on his own,
with his two dogs, four horses and one mule in the surrounding area
of the interview. He commenced dialysis in 2013.
● Participant C was female, aged 34, and embarked on dialysis in 2013.
She was interviewed in the presence of one of her two cats and her
● Participant D was male, aged 46, and was interviewed on his own. He
began dialysis in 2013. He has one dog.
● Participant E was male, age 67, and was interviewed in the presence
of his spouse (his primary caregiver). He started dialysis in 2012. He
has four cats and two dogs.


As part of initial assessment upon entry to the nephrology social

work programme, all participants had been asked whether they had
companion animals. This study utilised semi-structured interviews to
provide the opportunity for further inquiry into the benefits or draw-
backs of their companion animals on their quality of life. Three of the
five participants participated in individual interviews. The remaining
two participants participated with their spouse (also their primary
caregiver) present. Participants signed informed consent agreements.
All participants were known to me in a professional capacity, and were
assured that participation, non-participation, or withdrawal from the
interview would in no way prejudice or have an impact on participants’
access to social work services. Participants were asked the following

● Have you heard of the concept ‘quality of life’?

● How would you describe your quality of life?
● Do you think that your companion animal/s contribute to your
quality of life? If so, how?
172 Nina Papazian

● Are there any ways that your companion animal/s detract from or
diminish your quality of life? If so, how?
● Have you ever been asked by a social worker (other than me) or other
helping professional if you have companion animals?

Data analysis

The data that was analysed in this study was the text in the transcripts
of the interviews, all of which were transcribed verbatim. Quotes
from the participants that exemplified various themes were extracted
from the transcripts and then grouped according to specific subject


An important aim of the research was to explore the value of inquiry

into the presence of companion animals in the lives of the participants,
by examining associated quality of life benefits or drawbacks. Analysis
of verbatim transcripts identified a number of themes:

● Social support
● Structure, routine and incentive to self-care
● Companionship and loyalty
● Purpose, determination and responsibility
● Reciprocity
● Empathic attunement
● Comfort and relaxation
● Loss and grief

Four of the five participants unequivocally stated that their companion

animals contributed to their quality of life. Responses to this ques-
tion included: ‘Definitely!’(Participant B), ‘Extremely!’ (Participant D),
‘Absolutely!’ (Participant C), and, ‘I believe in them 100 per cent. There
is just not enough I can say about how they treat me!’ (Participant E).
In contrast, Participant A was very neutral in response to this ques-
tion, and stated: ‘I appreciate them when they are here; if they were
gone, it would have no effect. I’m not an animal person.’ He made this
statement while his small dog was lying contentedly in his lap, and his
second dog, as well as his two cats, were sleeping close by on their beds.
The irony of this was not lost on his wife, who pointed out that, in spite
No One Ever Asked Me That 173

of his declared position of neutrality, her husband and their small dog
‘are inseparable’.

Social support

Three of the participants spoke to differing aspects of social support.

The concept of companion animals as social connecters, was empha-
sised by Participant A’s spouse: ‘Pets are a door opening to good things.
Having the dogs opens a huge door to dialogue, contact, relationships,
and communication. It’s instantaneous, not related to age, can be with
older people or younger people.’ Participant D’s dog once belonged to
a deceased family member with whom he had a very close relation-
ship, and he explained that his dog ‘brings back memories of the good
times’. The role of companion animals in interpersonal dynamics, in
addition to their bringing levity to one’s daily life, was also identi-
fied by Participant C: ‘They are little mediators ... it changes the whole
atmosphere of a house ... They crack us up watching them interact. ’

Structure, routine, and incentive to self-care

All of the participants indicated that maintaining daily routine, struc-

ture, and incentive to self-care was assisted by having to provide daily
care for their companion animals. Participant C stated:

We have this routine in the morning, when I first wake up, the first
thing I do is my blood test and insulin. She [one of her cats] knows
that is the routine, and she waits, watches, and when I’m done, she
comes up to me and meows: she wants her breakfast. Never once has
she jumped on my lap during those times.

She also added: ‘Pets have helped me get through. Pets give you the little
things that help structure your day, they can help focus on dealing with
your life.’
Participant D shared: ‘Caring for them sort of makes you care for
yourself.’ Participant E’s spouse also added that the routine of caring for
their companion animals when her husband was hospitalised for several
months was of great benefit to her: ‘I’d be lost without them. They were
the only thing that kept me sane.’ Her husband felt they were helpful
in assisting him to focus upon other things apart from his illness: ‘They
have to be fed, cleaned up after, let out.’
174 Nina Papazian

Participant B echoed the emphasis on incentive to self-care: ‘I’ve gotta

look after them. You gotta think of feeding them; you gotta think about
feeding yourself. They give you a keel on a boat; without a keel on the
boat, you can’t even go in a straight line.’ The spouse of Participant A
noted: ‘They keep you grounded; you come to the normal.’ Her spouse
quietly agreed.

Companionship and loyalty

There have been conflicts and distance in Participant E’s relationship

with his adult sons, and he explained how his relationship with his dogs
was not troubled by such dynamics: ‘I’ll take my dogs before I take my
boys. I have my dogs, I appreciate them, the way they treat me. I treat
them good, and they treat me well. They are always there ... They don’t
back talk or ask to borrow money.’
Participant D reports that his dog rides with him in his vehicle, and
also sleeps with him. He stated of his dog:

He is usually beside me or has his head in my lap. I love his company

and his attention. He wants me to pet him; he sits on my lap, and
throws his head back to be petted. It helps just to know someone is
there. Life without him would be totally lonely. He is always there.
He is basically my kid.

Participant C shared that she is particularly close to one of her two cats:
‘I am totally bonded with her, she is my fur baby’, a sentiment echoed
by Participant E, alluding to relational affiliation: ‘They are part of the
family.’ This same participant also noted that his animals ‘are more
important than my wife; they come to me all the time,’ a statement his
wife, seeming to understand, did not flinch at. In fact, she later stated:
‘It is God’s blessing that he has those animals.’
Participant B shared that one of his dogs was particularly loyal: ‘She
would die for me. That kind of loyalty you don’t see in people.’ She also
noted, ‘They are always present; they are always glad you are home.
They greet you with a smile and are ready to go!’
Participant A, although reticent, did state of his own volition, ‘I
enjoy their company.’ His companion animals are his family for the
most part, always in the company of this patient and his wife, including
when they are out doing errands, and even with them when they are
flying their plane. This participant’s spouse stated that their companion
No One Ever Asked Me That 175

animals ‘have been a gazillion places with us. We live together in total

Purpose, determination and responsibility

Three of the participants spoke of benefits associated with having a

sense of purpose, determination and responsibility as animal guardians.
Participant C recounted her response to health challenges diagnosed in
early adulthood:

I had to decide to be a warrior. This is going to take me down. I’m

going to fight, do what I have to. I decided I really need to have a
cat around. I just knew that I did. I needed something to take care of
and that would reciprocate back. I was living alone; maybe I wanted
someone to sleep with.

She also noted that with her companion animals she benefited from
‘having some kind of responsibility and obligation. I have to take care
of myself, because if I don’t, who will look after them?’
Participant B reflected on his kidney failure earlier this year: ‘If I didn’t
have the dogs I wouldn’t have seen much hope, I would have been a lot
more suicidal ... what’s the point? Why bother?’ He also explained that
he has had at least one previous dog injured on the roadway, and the
dog’s recovery created a hopeful stance for him: ‘You begin to see the
circle of life. If they can make it past these things, surely I can make it
past all these little bumps.’ Participant E emphatically stated: ‘I live for
my dogs. I live for them!’


Three patients identified the experience of interdependence and reci-

procity of affection and respect. Participant D has a little dog, and stated,
‘He relies on me for everything, and he returns the favour.’ Participant E
asserted, ‘You treat them right, and they treat you right,’ and Participant
B reflected, ‘They give back what you give them in abundance.’

Empathic attunement

One patient said of his little dog, ‘If I’m not feeling well, he will stick
his head on my leg and look at me, not for food or a walk, but he knows
176 Nina Papazian

there is something wrong’ (Participant D). Participant C said of one of

her cats:

She is more in tune with me ... she has been around me for so many
years; it was just her and me before. When I had previous eye surgery,
she was really good with me, very cautious, would come and sit with
me, comfort me as if she knew I was in pain.

She also reflected on when she returned home after hospitalisation for
acute kidney failure:

When I came home from the hospital, it was “Meow, meow, meow.”
She came up to me really cautiously and quietly and sat next to me
really quiet, as if she could tell I’d been through something serious.
She just sat quietly and seemed to have an awareness to be more
gentle with me. They know when you are upset; they go out of their
way to be comforting.

A male patient (Participant B) said of one of his dogs, ‘I can have a sore
back and be lazing in bed, and guess where he goes? He knows; you
feel that connection. And if my leg is sore, he’ll sleep against my leg.’
Another male patient (Participant D) stated of his small dog: ‘He sees
what I go through every day. He knows when I am having a bad day;
he becomes more affectionate. I think he really understands what I go
through. There are not a lot of people that understand.’

Comfort and relaxation

Female participant C said of her ferret, ‘She is like an anchor. She is

always just happy. It’s hard to be angry around her; she just wants to be
petted. We call her “the amulet of sleep.” She curls up on our chests, so
warm and nice, and it helps us relax into sleep.’ She also said of her cats,
‘They are just loveable. I feel better when I’m around them, snuggling
with them. I feel better taking a minute to appreciate what I have and
not worry about anything; you are only appreciating the animal.’
A male patient (Participant E) said of his cats and dogs: ‘When I am
in a bad mood, they are still in a good mood, and it takes the stress out
of me.’ He also added, ‘They are friendly, very compassionate, nice to
touch, nice and fluffy. I pet them, I put my hands in their coat, they are
very relaxed, and I feel relaxed.’ When he is in bed, one of the cats lies
No One Ever Asked Me That 177

in the crook of his arm all night (during the day, the same cat is tucked
in by his side on his lazy oy chair). He explained:

The only time he leaves my side is to eat and go to the bathroom. It

feels great. He is quite friendly; he purrs all the time. He just lies on
my arm all night long. I just put my hand down, and he is right there.
He don’t (sic) go a foot from me. He has changed within the last four
years; he is right beside me the whole time, since I took sick. He is
my companion. I talk to him at night, and he talks back. I enjoy the
purring, and he is friendly and relaxed, so I feel kind of relaxed.

Another male patient (Participant D) finds his dog often in close prox-
imity to him: ‘He sleeps with me, sometimes on the other pillow. He
usually needs to be touching me.’

Drawbacks or stresses

Drawbacks and stresses that are associated with companion animal

guardianship include: companion animal illness and subsequent care
demand, medical expenses (particularly when they prevent animal
guardians from being able to provide veterinary care when there is a
life- threatening illness or injury), general care expenses, animal behav-
ioural problems, multiple animal households, interpersonal conflicts
associated with companion animals, fall risks, challenges in developing
prompt and sustainable care plans if patients require hospitalisation,
or have life-threatening conditions, and anticipatory bereavement
and grief reactions associated with companion animal loss under all
When asked if there were any drawbacks to animal guardianship,
Participant A stated, ‘on the contrary’, while participant E observed,
‘The only drawback is that I can’t bring them to treatment, so I can’t be
with them all of the time.’
One patient (Participant B) mentioned that at times he has experi-
enced financial stresses associated with caring for multiple animals,
especially when he raised several litters of pups to adulthood. Another
patient (Participant D) noted that his dog is ‘messy with his bones. I
have to vacuum three to four times a week.’
Participant C raised a concern about not being able to take care of
her animals’ needs when she is feeling unwell. Fortunately, she has a
partner to assist: ‘It would be harder if I was by myself with this many
178 Nina Papazian

Participant A reported only one negative aspect of having companion

animals present: ‘They have to keep their distance when I am on dialysis
at home, but the small dog sits on the stairs to the room and waits. They
know what the parameters are, and they respect them.’

Loss and grief

When one of the male patients (Participant D) was a child, he had a dog
with the same name as his current dog. His father got rid of his child-
hood dog because the family was relocating, and he stated, ‘It took me
a long time to get over it.’
Another male patient (Participant E) explained that four years ago, a
beloved dog died at his feet:

I still miss her. I wish I still had her. She was a great dog. I still talk
to her. She [her cremains] is on the mantelpiece. I use her as an idle
threat if one of the pets is misbehaving ... “Do you want me to have
her come back and deal with you?”

This patient was hospitalised for several months when he initially

became ill, and he shared, ‘I couldn’t wait to get home to see my dogs.’
Participant B explained that ‘the heartache’ of losing an animal is a
drawback for him. He once had a beloved dog killed on the road by his
home: ‘I just stood there in shock. I was devastated.’


Limitations of this study include a small representative sample size.

Despite this limitation, this study demonstrates the value in obtaining
patient-centred narrative about quality of life, rarely if ever captured
by traditional clinical research. Although the number of participants
involved is not large enough to be statistically significant, findings
gleaned from the five participants in the study did generate a number
of themes that merge with psychosocial domains of quality of life
For the most part, the participants expressed very positive attributions
and quality of life benefits associated with their companion-animal
bonds. One of the participants had a more ‘muted’ response; however,
his spouse was emphatic about his bond with his animals, particularly
his small dog. For each of the participants, the positive contributions of
No One Ever Asked Me That 179

the bond with their companion animal(s) towards their quality of life
far outweighed the drawbacks.
The two spouses (also caregivers) contributed informally, and spoke
to the protective factor of companion animal presence and bonds
with respect, not only for their spouses’ wellbeing, but for their own as
caregivers. Four of the five participants were male, which is an impor-
tant consideration with regard to avoiding gender assumptions about
companion animal bonds. It is also of importance to attend to the
potential ‘presence in the absence’, with regard to the often-considerable
bereavement associated with the loss or death of an animal companion.
Although a preliminary study, the results tend to support the value
of social work inquiry regarding the human-companion animal bond,
and the value of further consideration of including companion animals
as a domain of influence with respect to psychosocial wellbeing. This
would be congruent with Horowitz’s (2008) comment that the human-
animal bond is now increasingly considered as being an affiliative basis
for health and wellbeing.


‘They keep you in the land of normal when everything else has gone
to hell in a handbasket.’ (Spouse of Participant A)

‘If they took all my dogs and cats away, it would be like cutting off my
left arm.’ (Participant E)

‘I have never had a professional ask about pets. It doesn’t even come
into their field of vision.’ (Participant C)

Beck and Glickman (1987) have proposed that human health research
should be considered comprehensive only if the presence of companion
animals is considered and assessed as a potentially significant variable
associated with health and wellbeing. Omission of companion animal
inquiry may result in significant gaps for social work in psychosocial
assessment, formulation, treatment and interventions. In all areas of
social work practice, including nephrology social work, quality of life is
an important consideration. The focus and commitment of professional
social workers is to identify barriers to wellbeing, and to develop and
implement behavioural, cognitive, interpersonal, and other changes
that optimise wellbeing. Given the growing recognition in the medical
180 Nina Papazian

profession of the myriad of benefits associated with human-companion

animal bonds, we would be remiss to not integrate this knowledge into
our professional education and practice.
Findings from this study, involving participants from the high-needs
and high-risk population served by nephrology social work, underscore
and affirm the value of social workers integrating inquiry related to
human-companion animal bonds. Given none of the research partici-
pants had ever previously been asked by any helping professional,
including social workers (other than myself) if they had animal compan-
ions, it seems reasonable to extrapolate that there is considerable need
for attention in this area.
Incorporating the question ‘Do you have any companion animals?’
into psychosocial assessment allows us to further explore and iden-
tify protective factors as well as risk factors associated with companion
animals. In turn, our findings can inform social work intervention.
Although the increasing incidence of chronic kidney disease and end-
stage renal disease raises the likelihood that social work professionals in a
range of settings will interface with patients who are on the nephrology
care spectrum, assessing for companion animal presence when assessing
clients or patients in any setting will enhance the comprehensiveness,
effectiveness, and relevancy of social work interventions.

Beck, A., & Glickman, L. (1987). Future Research on Pet Facilitated Therapy: A
Plea for Comprehension Before Intervention. Paper presented at NIH Technology
Assessment Workshop: Health Benefits of Pets, Washington, DC, America.
Chilcot, J., Wellsted, D., & Farrington, K. (2010). Depression in end-stage renal
disease: current advances and research. Seminars in Dialysis, 23(1), 74–82.
Couser, W., Remuzii, G., Mendis, S., & Tonell, M. (2011). The contribution of
chronic kidney disease to the global burden of non-communicable diseases.
Kidney International, 80(12), 1258–70. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.
Cukor, D., Cohen, S., Peterson, R., & Kemmel, P. (2007). Psychosocial aspects
of chronic disease: ESRD as a paradigmatic illness. Journal of American Social
Nephrology, 18(12), 3042–55.
Finnegan-John, J., & Thomas, V. (2013). The psychosocial experience of patients
with end-stage disease and its impact on quality of life: Findings from a needs
assessment to shape a service. ISRN Nephrology, 2013, Article ID 308986. Doi.
Gokal, R. (1994). Quality of Life. In R. Gokal, & K. Nolph (Eds.), The Textbook of
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Horowitz, S. (2008). The human-animal bond: Health implications across the
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Israel, M. (1986). Depression in dialysis patients: A review of psychological factors.

Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 31(5), 445–51.
Kalantar-Zadeh, K., & Unruh, M. (2005). Health related quality of life in patients
with chronic kidney disease. International Urology and Nephrology, 37(2), 367–78.
Levey, A., Atkins, R., Coresh, J., Cohen, E, Collins, A., Eckardt, K-U., ... & Eknoyan,
G. (2007). Chronic Kidney disease as a global public health problem: Approaches
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Levy, N. (1983). Psychonephrology 2: Psychological Problems in Kidney Failure and
Their Treatment. New York: Plenum Medical Book Company.
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Verster, S. Pandi-Perumal, & D. Streiner (Eds.), Sleep and Quality of Life in Clinical
Medicine (pp. 389–99). New York: Humana Press.
Risley-Curtiss, C. (2010). Social work practitioners and the human-companion
animal bond: A national study. Social Work, 55(1), 38–46.
Theofilou, P. (2012). Quality of life and mental health in hemodialysis and perito-
neal dialysis patients: The role of health beliefs. International Journal of Urology
and Nephrology, 44(1), 245–53
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loss. Journal of Family Social Work, 7(1), 69–81.
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Stray Dogs and Social Work in
Mauritius: An Analysis of Some
Concerns and Challenges
Komalsingh Rambaree


Social work, as a profession, emerged from the expression of care,

humanity and social concerns and issues affecting Western societies
(Payne, 2005), and it has long been recognised that social workers
demonstrate a genuine concern for the wellbeing of all (Dubois & Miley,
2013) – a concern that emanates from, and is guided by, the profes-
sional values of social work. However, it has been argued that the profes-
sional social work guiding core values have mostly been human-centred.
Within this context, there has been pressing call for a paradigm shift from
anthropocentric social work (Besthorn, 2002, 2012, 2013; Coates, 2003;
Gray, Coates, & Hetherington, 2013; Ryan, 2011, 2013). In particular,
Gray and Coates (2012) opine that social workers should be reminded
that they have duties, obligations, responsibilities and commitments to
the nonhuman world also.
Despite the fact that animals have been influential in the course
of human history and social environment as part of the natural and
social habitats of human beings, not only have their moral claims
remained largely unacknowledged in social work discourses (Ryan,
2013), but their significance has also been overlooked in social work
theories, education and practice (Tedeschi, Fitchett, & Molidor,
2005; York & Mancus, 2013). In particular, the issue of social work
‘for animals’ is still very much lacking within social work research,
education, theory, and practice discourses (Ryan, 2011). In this sense,
Risley-Curtiss (2010, p. 39) argues that ‘companion animals should be
integrated into social work research, education, and practice because

Stray Dogs and Social Work in Mauritius 183

of their interconnectedness with humans’. In a similar manner, Ryan

(2013, p. 165) mentions that ‘The fact that domesticated animals are
part and parcel of the social environment – the world within which
social workers practice – should, of necessity, serve to widen the scope
of social work’s moral compass.’
Within this context, this chapter analyses some of the concerns and
challenges in ‘social work for animals’ using an inductive approach
with a case study of stray dogs in Mauritius. This chapter is based
on semi-structured interviews from social workers involved in some
selected animal welfare organisations in Mauritius. The qualitative
data analysis software, Atlas-ti 6.2, was utilised for managing an induc-
tive discourse analysis of the gathered data from the field; discourse is
broadly understood as ideas or patterned ways of thinking, reasoning
and communicating (Lupton, 1992). Fairclough and Wodak (1997,
p. 258) posit that ‘discourse is socially constitutive as well as socially
Using an inductive discourse analysis, this chapter considers the
knowledge, ideologies, and thinking and reasoning of people in the
context of social work for animals in Mauritius. With a view to creating
both depth and support in the discussion, secondary data, such as
reports, articles from newspapers and magazines, blogs, comments on
social networks and materials posted on YouTube, are also identified and
taken into consideration within the analysis of the gathered data. At the
end of this chapter, a general conclusion is drawn, based on the discus-
sions and findings.

The Context: Mauritius and stray dogs, a brief history

Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean. It is globally well-known

for two main reasons – the first being the Dodo bird (now extinct), and
the second being a popular ‘high-class’ tourist destination. The island has
a land surface area of 1,865 square kilometres, with a human population
of about 1.2 million. Mauritius has no indigenous population. Although
it is claimed that the Arab seafarers and the Malay sailors knew of the
island in the tenth century or earlier, it is reported that the Portuguese
were the first humans to visit the place during the sixteenth century
(Maurer, 2010). The first human settlement on the island started with
the Dutch colonisation during 1598 to 1710. The Dutch abandoned the
island because of problems such as the failure of the food supply by the
East Indian Dutch Company and cyclones (Teelock, 2009). Mauritius
was, then successively colonised by the French (1715–1810) and British
184 Komalsingh Rambaree

(1810–1968). The country became independent in 1968, and a Republic

State in 1992. Colonial history – with European settlers, African slaves,
Indian indentured workers, Chinese trade settlers – has made modern
day Mauritius a multi-ethnic society.
The history and development of social work in Mauritius is poorly
documented, and little can be found in the existing published litera-
ture. Nevertheless, it is known that like many other African countries,
professional social work in Mauritius was influenced in its formation
by colonialism. Its development can also be traced to some extent
to the Poor Law of the early 1830s British colonial period. Although
social entitlements and social services have a long history, profes-
sional social work is still not considered fully established in Mauritius
(Healy, 2008). In the absence of a council or authority to regulate
the professionalisation of social work, people often claim to be social
workers without having specific accredited education and training. In
Mauritius, it is therefore quite common to find, for instance, people
such as voluntary workers, community leaders, politicians and even
some priests who register their professions as ‘social worker’ in official
van Sittert and Swart (2008, p. 1) rightly point out that, ‘dogs, like
humans, are products of both culture and nature’. Like humans, dogs
also have a colonial history in Mauritius, as it is well known that settlers
brought them mainly as companions and guards during the colonisa-
tion periods. However, it is reported that before leaving Mauritius, the
Dutch settlers were instructed by the East Indian Dutch Company to
gather all the dogs and let them loose to devour game, so that other
nations might be deterred from settling on the island (Pitot, 1914).
During the French colonisation period, dogs were also trained and
used as guards for protection against runaway slaves (Maroons). For
instance, Issur (2009, p. 41) writes that ‘Maroon slaves were chased off
the estates with guns and dogs’. Most dogs were therefore kept loose,
night and day, outside the houses guarding the estates of the colonisers.
The climate in Mauritius is favourable for dogs to be outside all year
As far as it is known, there was neither control nor services for animal
companions on the island during the French colonisation. Such condi-
tions undoubtedly contributed to the proliferation of stray dogs on the
island. It was only during the British colonial period that some real
efforts were made to deal with the problems of stray dogs on the island
through the setting up of Mauritius Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals (MSPCA).
Stray Dogs and Social Work in Mauritius 185

Organisations for animal welfare

MSPCA was established in 1958 and incorporated by an Act of Parliament

in 1971 with the following objectives: (a) to promote kindness and to
prevent or suppress cruelty to animals, (b) to organise the catching and
disposal of stray dogs, (c) to do all such lawful acts as the Society may
consider being conducive or incidental to the attainment of the aforesaid
objectives (MSPCA, 2009).1 The organisation has also been mandated,
through the above-mentioned Act, for the control of stray dogs. For
quite a number of years, successive governments have been financing
the MSPCA through annual budget allocations from taxation.
During its early period, MSPCA was highly thought of by animal activ-
ists from all around the world. For instance, in a Mauritian newspaper
interview, the internationally recognised animal activist Jeanne Marchig
stated that Mauritius, as a result the activities undertaken by MSPCA,
is the most enlightened country in the southern hemisphere regarding
the protection of animals (L’Express, 1989). In particular, MSPCA has
been active through mass education on animal welfare, free sterilisation
and the setting up of animal care centres. However, in the last 15 years,
the same organisation has been heavily criticised by several local and
international animal activists and animal welfare bodies. In 1999,
International Animal Rescue2 (IAR) carried out a survey on stray dogs in
Mauritius and condemned the MSPCA approach as not only being inef-
fective and futile, but also inhumane and cruel (Richardson, 2002). In
particular, IAR (as reported in RadioMoris, 2006, p. 1) stated:

It is our view that the MSPCA currently run an efficient dog killing
service with little or no compassion shown to the animals. The simple
gentle handling of the dogs and reassurance was totally absent. From
the minute the dogs are caught to the time they are electrocuted the
dogs display all of the classic signs of being terrified.

Still, the then-Mauritian government continued to support MSPCA, and

enacted ‘The Control of Stray Dogs Act 2000’ to deal with stray dogs in
a more humane manner. Recent available statistics on stray dogs caught
by MSPCA are as shown in Table 12.1.
In particular, stray dogs have been considered as a major barrier to
the promotion of Mauritius as a ‘high-class’ tourist destination. In one
public speech, the then-Minister of Tourism stated, ‘We intend to make
Mauritius the most-valued island in the world. To do that, we need to
find a solution to the stray dogs issue across the island.’ (Duval, quoted
186 Komalsingh Rambaree

Table 12.1 Stray dogs caught by MSPCA from 2004 and 2011


Month 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

January 1777 528 1760 882 1242 1400 1627 578

February 916 1061 1744 712 1490 1402 1503 516
March 1064 1104 2049 758 1156 1598 1472 681
April 791 994 1268 796 1232 1510 1084 478
May 821 1366 1896 881 1874 1448 1283 770
June 891 1041 1479 979 2125 1952 1526 1328
July 1065 1046 1046 604 1882 1899 816 1692
August 873 1449 981 475 1569 1748 526 1489
September 964 1466 757 128 1195 1253 687 1111
October 758 1250 734 339 1284 2047 747 1000
November 741 1151 748 1129 937 1604 363 1200
December 907 1033 601 983 783 1087 325 622
Total per year 11568 13489 15063 8666 16769 18948 11959 11465

Source: Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security (2013, p. 1).

in Panapress, 2006, p. 1) Within this context, in the budget for the year
2012, the allocation to MSPCA was increased from 3.5 to 13.5 million
rupees by the then-government (Duval, 2011).
Despite increasing the financial support to MSPCA, the present
Mauritian government remains frustrated with the tackling of the
problem of stray dogs in the country. For instance, the current Minister
of Agro Industry and Food Security (Faugoo, 2013, p. 4) stated:

The situation has worsened since January 2013 as the MSPCA has
ceased to pursue the agreed established dog catching programme.
The MSPCA is using only one van for dog catching and the number
of stray dogs caught for the first two months of 2013, that is this
year, is 676 as compared to 1,857 for the corresponding period last
year, bearing in mind that the initial target – which we agreed to the
Ministry and MSPCA – was to catch 2,500 stray dogs on a monthly

It is estimated that the MSPCA have caught and killed about 350,000
dogs over the last few decades (Richardson, 2002), but there currently
remain more than 200,000 stray dogs (The Independent, 2012). It is
reported that each year, more than 20,000 companion animals and
stray dogs are brutally captured and slain, mainly by MSPCA (Fryer &
Stray Dogs and Social Work in Mauritius 187

Hall, 2012), and in addition it has been reported that several executive
members of MSPCA were also private pedigree dog breeders who were
using MSPCA to promote their lucrative business (Faugoo, 2013; Hope,
2009). Given that MSPCA has been failing in its tasks and accused of
favouring the lucrative business of pedigree dog breeding in a country
where hundreds of healthy dogs are being brutally captured and killed,
the government in a 2013 bill reorganised the MSPCA management,
initially by setting up an interim management committee in lieu. The
government thereafter proposed another bill to replace the interim
management committee by the establishment of a Mauritius Society for
Animal Welfare (MSAW). What impact the resulting Animal Welfare Act
20133 (hereafter, AWA; Government of Mauritius, 2013) will have on the
welfare of the stray dogs in Mauritius remains to be seen.
Another major organisation devoted to the promotion of animal
welfare in Mauritius is the Protection of Animals Welfare Society
(PAWS). Established in 1999 by a small number of people concerned
about animal welfare, PAWS’ main mission is to ensure a more humane
approach to dealing with stray animals (PAWS, 1999). The organisation
has been carrying out activities for the welfare of stray dogs parallel to,
and on a very few occasions, in collaboration with, MSPCA; over the
years, PAWS has been successful in mobilising volunteers to carry out
various types of animal welfare activities. In particular, PAWS4 has been
raised funds through national and international donations to launch
free sterilisation and public education campaigns across the whole island
of Mauritius. This organisation is also active in fostering the adoption
of stray companion animals through their regular activities in public
places such as shopping centres and popular beaches.
Save Our Strays (SOS) is another newly established organisation whose
members are young people who had previously volunteered for MSPCA
and then decided to regroup themselves in an organisation dedicated to
stray animals. The organisation has a very restricted budget and receives
most donations in the form of companion animal foods, and has been
very active in supporting sterilisation, carrying out animal welfare
education programmes in schools, and supporting MSPCA during large-
scale events organised at the national level. One of the regular activities
that this particular organisation is involved in is grooming stray dogs
caught or rescued by MSPCA, and it has also been regularly called upon
to rescue animals from distressing conditions.
All of the above-mentioned organisations work on behalf of three
different but overlapping categories of stray dogs. The first and most
vulnerable category is commonly referred as the ‘Sugar Cane Dogs’: those
188 Komalsingh Rambaree

that have no owners and take refuge in the sugar cane fields. ‘Sugar Cane
Dogs’ are usually very shy of people and mostly survive by hunting
small animals and birds. The second category is referred to as ‘Public
Dogs’, who are usually not shy of people and scrounge for their liveli-
hood around public areas such as schools, public beaches, supermarkets,
bus stations, and so on. The third category is referred to as ‘Street Dogs’,
who are very common, and while they usually have owners, they are left
to roam the streets.

Some concerns and challenges – Animal welfare:

rights and justice

Social work is underpinned by the philosophy of welfare – which in

its broad terms encompasses physiological, emotional, and psycholog-
ical wellbeing. The welfare of animals is a moral concept, questioning
what human beings owe to animals, and the extent and nature of our
obligations (Rollin, 2011). Social workers intervening on behalf of stray
dogs in Mauritius are therefore mostly motivated by a concern about
our moral obligations towards the welfare of animals. Moral questions
are an integral part of the discipline of social work, for as Ryan (2011,
p. 21) puts it, ‘Social work is a moral discipline, and the very existence
of social work values presupposes a moral framework and a vision of a
moral community.’ Thus, the social workers outlined their concerns for
the welfare of the stray dogs to at least include freedom from hunger and
thirst, freedom from maltreatment, pain, fear and traumatic experiences
and conditions, and protection from ill-health and diseases.
In Mauritius, there are thousands of dogs (and cats) that are mostly
straying for food and water, and sometimes for sex.5 In doing so, they
are not only risking their lives in road accidents and through diseases
such as distemper, but are also subjected to cruelty and maltreatment.
Stray dogs may become victims of mass poisonings,6 and in some cases
they do not die immediately but after days of suffering. Other acts of
cruelty towards stray dogs abound, and some have become known
through social media. For instance, some social workers have posted
pictures of cruelty against stray dogs on Facebook, such as one dog that
has been severely burnt by boiling water,7 and another dog whose throat
had almost been cut by being tethered to a tree with a rope.
Such acts of cruelty towards animals demand moral justice, and social
workers guided by their professional ethics arguably have a role to play
in addressing the problems. Even if social work has been human-centred,
Stray Dogs and Social Work in Mauritius 189

it can be argued that the profession has moral obligations towards the
making of a humane society (Gray, Coates, & Hetherington, 2013).
Some of the interviewed social workers even advocate for animal rights
parallel to human rights. For instance, Yeshna provided the following

Being born a human is not something any of us have control over,

but by simply being human, we are automatically entitled to many
rights. Why [should] animals ... be discriminated against, just because
they have an apparently different biological makeup?

This statement from the social worker endorses Regan’s (1983) argu-
ments that moral rights should be extended to animals for ‘animal liber-
ation’. Such an articulation of concern for stray dogs that is based on a
concept of rights parallel to human rights, rather than only considera-
tions of animal welfare, is a major challenge for certain social workers.
Particularly, such an articulation produces a combination of resistance
and denial because to claim rights for animals requires a major trans-
formation of the foundations of human society (Mitchell, 2003). A
prevailing perception is that human rights differ from animal rights.
As Cohen (2001) argues, rights are claims within a community of moral
agents, where human beings are able to comprehend moral obligations
and duties, whereas animals do not have such capacities, and therefore
animals do not and cannot have rights similar to human rights.
Regan’s (1983) extension of moral rights to animals is based on the
rejection of speciesism. Szytbel (2006, p. 2) mentions that ‘speciesism
is intended to be analogous to forms of discriminatory oppression such
as racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, and discrimination on
the basis of religion, creed, or nationality’. According to Wolf (2000,
p. 90), ‘speciesism is discrimination based on species, and social workers
are urged to reflect on and discuss the issue of whether differential
treatment based on species is justified.’ In principle, social work is a
profession that is devoted to liberation and uses a rights-based approach
to deal with various forms of ‘isms’ in an attempt to evolve towards a
just society. Particularly, social justice is one of the core values of social
work, and social workers are therefore compelled by their profession to
act against any form of social injustice, whether against human beings,
animals or the broader physical environment (Gray & Coates, 2012).
Within the context of non-anthropocentric approaches to social work,
social workers are being called upon to stand up in favour of animal
190 Komalsingh Rambaree

justice based on a deeper conceptualisation of justice. Besthorn (2012,

p. 255) provides a definition of what this would mean:

Shallow justice sees non-human nature as simply outside the bounds

of moral considerability ... Deep justice, on the other hand, recognises
all things in the cosmos as nested in a complex web of intercon-
nections between the human and non-human. All are seen to have
intrinsic worth and moral considerability.

In Mauritius, some social workers are determined to raise concern for

the injustices suffered by stray dogs. From their perspective, stray dogs,
like all beings, deserve a fair life, and it is therefore the role of social
workers to act on their behalf in cases of injustice caused by human
beings. Generally the profession of social work is known to speak up
for those who are voiceless. One of the main challenging tasks of the
Mauritian social workers is therefore to intervene in order to secure
justice for maltreated stray dogs in a human society that has known
years of failure in dealing with such problems, despite steadily making
socioeconomic progress over the past few decades.

Poverty and animal welfare

In Mauritius, the incidence of absolute poverty is considered to be rela-

tively low, although pockets of poverty still prevail in some suburban
and coastal regions. About 12 per cent of the Mauritian population is
estimated to be poor (household income less than approximately US
$165 per month, representing 7157 families in 229 pockets of poverty),
based on a poverty benchmark calculated at 50 per cent of the median
monthly household expenditure (Ministry of Environment and National
Development Unit, 2010). Consequently, the current Government of
Mauritius has set eradication of absolute poverty as a national priority.
A large number of social workers are therefore employed by the govern-
ment, corporate and non-governmental organisations to provide direct
support and services to those in absolute poverty.
According to the respondents from the interviews, a significantly large
number of stray dogs’ owners in Mauritius do not have sufficient finan-
cial means to ensure the welfare of their animal companions. Often,
the dogs owned by poor people are not registered, sterilised or vacci-
nated. The dogs are kept outside the house and often without secured
and fenced compounds. Thus, in localities with a high incidence of
poverty, a large number of stray dogs can be found on the streets and in
Stray Dogs and Social Work in Mauritius 191

the neighbourhoods. In many localities, the bodies of dead dogs (from

road accidents and/or poisoning) can be seen on the streets or by the
It is occasionally argued that poor people should not have
companion animals (IFAW, 2013). Dog ownership entails a number
of responsibilities and significant financial expenses, and the welfare
of companion animals has a cost that mostly has to be borne by their
respective owners. Some view having dogs without having the means
for their support as being irresponsible and careless. In some coun-
tries, for instance in China, government controls how many children
people can have; therefore, why not having such policies regarding
dog guardianship?
It can also be argued that dogs owned by the poor in Mauritius are
more likely to suffer a lot from ill-health and negligence, as those who
do not have sufficient financial means usually cannot afford veterinary
services. Animal hospitals/clinics are not available in many regions of
the country; therefore, these arguments could be seen to endorse restric-
tions on the number of dogs that poor people could have.
However, according to most of the interviewed social workers, not
allowing poor people to have companion animals will do little to solve
the problem of stray dogs. Dogs are companions and a source of affec-
tion and security for many people, including those families who are very
poor. Thus, measures forbidding people with low income from having
dogs might have a negative impact on their psychosocial wellbeing.
In addition, most social workers report that dog abuse and maltreat-
ment is also common among non-poor Mauritians. Some social workers
report that a number of middle class families, for instance, let their dogs
loose in the neighbourhood, so that they will not have to pick up dog
droppings. In addition, it is common for dogs to be tethered on a short
chain for almost the whole day while the owners are at work. Within
this particular context, Stella stated:

There are many stray dogs where there is a high level of poverty. This
does not mean that only the poor are responsible for stray dogs in
Mauritius. However, poor people do not have adequate welfare serv-
ices that could allow them to take better care of their pets. The cost of
registration with microchips, vaccinations, and sterilisation is out of
the reach and perhaps not a priority for the poor in Mauritius.

The AWA 20139 places greater emphasis upon owners to ensure that the
welfare needs of animals are met (Faugoo, 2013). This new legislation
192 Komalsingh Rambaree

is certainly making it more difficult for poor people to own a dog, with
the expenses related to registration and sterilisation, including trans-
port, in some cases representing almost 50 per cent of the monthly
salary of a poor person. According to some of the interviewees, although
this is a one-off payment, a significant number of Mauritian families
cannot afford to pay for such services. Some of the social workers
even doubt whether a law that imposes high fines on owners of stray
dogs can be enforced. Organisations such as PAWS are providing free
mobile services for sterilisation and vaccination; however, they are not
mandated to register dogs. MSPCA (or the future MSAW) do provide
some limited mobile services; however, such services are not free. In
Mauritius, poor people, through the intervention of social workers, are
able to get subsidies and support only for agricultural animals (such as
cows, goats, rabbits, etcetera). Arguably, concern for human problems
should integrate the care of animal companions of those who are poor
(Sorenson, 2010).
Risley-Curtiss (2010, p. 38) argues:

Evidence of the powerful relationships between humans and

companion animals, as well as the fact that the majority of people
with such animals consider them to be part of their family, supports
the premise that the social work profession should be informed about
these relationships and skilled in including companion animals in
their practice.

Mauritian social workers therefore face a major challenge in adopting

an integrated holistic approach in caring for the poor along with their
companion animals, in order to secure an inclusive provision of support
and services. Otherwise, the problem of stray dogs in Mauritius might
prove difficult to solve. In adopting such an approach, social workers
intervene not only because dogs play an important role in the wellbeing
of poor people, but also by applying principles of solidarity and justice
and attending to their moral obligations.
But such an integrated approach to social work entails several
critical questions: How can such support and services be financed?
How many people in Mauritius are prepared to pay taxes that will
be spent for the welfare of poor people’s dogs? If poor people are to
receive support and welfare services for their companion animals,
how many companion animals should such provisions be allowed
and made available for? These are some of the main practical issues
to be discussed further.
Stray Dogs and Social Work in Mauritius 193

Attitudes towards animals

Attitudes – the basis for influencing human behaviour – are basically

general and relatively enduring (negative or positive) evaluations that
people make, based on their feelings, experiences, and actions (Petty,
Wheeler, & Tormala, 2003). People’s attitudes towards stray dogs have a
major influence on the level of commitment and support that human
beings provide in enforcing and respecting relevant legislation, and
following the strategies related to animal welfare (Lindsey, du Toit, & Mills,
2005). In Mauritius, the majority of the social workers who are engaged
in animal welfare have a major concern about the prevailing negative
attitudes towards stray dogs. Several social workers have witnessed and
reported how common it is in Mauritius for humans to hit stray dogs
with stones and sticks, and, according to the social workers, people who
maltreat vulnerable animals like stray dogs are also more likely to have
behavioural problems towards human beings. On many occasions, the
Mauritian social workers have been confronted with people who are not
only abusive to animals, but also towards those who try to protect the
animals. In a similar vein, Wolf (2000, p. 90) writes that ‘Even if it is
argued that social work is concerned intrinsically only with the human
species, a strong case can be made that there is an association between
ill-treatment of animals and antisocial behaviours.’
Stray dogs are seen as nuisances by large sections of the Mauritian
population, and negative attitudes towards them are therefore not
making the tasks facing the social workers any easier. Marion, a social
worker provided this statement:

Some people do not sterilise their dogs (male or female) and let them
roam around in the neighbourhood. When the females are in their
heat cycles, several male dogs from the neighbourhood gather and
fight for sex ... people hit the dogs by throwing stones ... and this causes
road accidents ... This is a problem with people’s attitudes ... they do
not and cannot take the responsibility to sterilise the dogs (both
males and females) and when the puppies are born and grow a bit,
they just go and dump them in sugar cane fields or by the seaside.
Some people take good-looking male puppies from the street ... Many
people want pedigree dogs, and the mongrels are unwanted ... It is
difficult to get people to adopt female mongrels.

In Mauritius, there is a need for drastic change in people’s attitudes

towards stray dogs, not only through legislation, but also through work
194 Komalsingh Rambaree

at the level of its institutions, such as families, schools and religious

organisations. Faugoo (2013, p. 1) argues that ‘Animal welfare cannot
be achieved without responsible ownership, which requires knowledge,
skills and long-term commitments to animals.’
The foundation of attitudes and behaviour towards animals, compas-
sionate or otherwise, can be formed in childhood (Ryan, 2011); thus, it
is vital for social workers to continue with their strategies of reaching
children through schools, and the larger public through community-
based programmes, for the promotion of a more humane society that
shows love, care, compassion and responsibility towards stray dogs.
In fact, almost all the social workers believe that education for animal
welfare should be part of the national curriculum in primary school.
However, the Mauritian education system is known to be too elitist
and competitive, without sufficient provision of and space for moral,
humanistic, and civic value-based education programmes (Bunwaree,
2001; Dhunnoo & Adiapen, 2013; Mariaye, 2006).
According to some interviewed social workers, the problem of stray
dogs in Mauritius can be better solved if local people start by embracing
a positive attitude towards adopting dogs from different shelters, rather
than paying for pedigree dogs. Currently, two main organisations (PAWS
and MSPCA) are facilitating dog adoption from their respective shel-
ters. According to the interviewees, each organisation is managing to
get on average around ten dogs (mostly puppies) adopted per week.10
People are generally reluctant to adopt grown up dogs and mostly prefer
males to females. Sheltering dogs, and activities related to the promo-
tion of adoption, represent high costs for organisations such as PAWS
and MSPCA, both of whom rely heavily on volunteers and donations
from corporate organisations. A significant number of healthy dogs are
therefore being euthanised due to the lack of shelter spaces and limited
resources. The challenge for the social workers is therefore to get more
and more people to adopt, and for this to occur, there is also a need to
mobilise more resources (including volunteers).


Mauritius has a long history of problems related to stray dogs. MSPCA’s

approach – to capture and euthanise hundreds of thousands of dogs
over the past few decades – has clearly not solved the problem. The
current government, through the enforcement of AWA 2013, is there-
fore hoping for better strategies, conditions and approaches for dealing
with the problem. In this context, social workers have a crucial role
Stray Dogs and Social Work in Mauritius 195

to play, in at least three major areas: the promotion of animal welfare

through rights and justice perspectives; the provision of welfare support
and services to combat poverty, with due consideration given to the
companion animals of the poor; and finally, the fostering/inculcation
of compassionate attitudes towards stray dogs, with the view to dealing
with such a problem in a more humane and effective manner. In many
contexts (as in Mauritius) it is still extremely difficult to argue in favour
of social work for animals without reference to human values and inter-
ests (Gray & Coates, 2012). The majority of human beings in Mauritius,
including most social workers, have a tendency to look at problems and
issues from an anthropocentric perspective.
However, a small number of social workers have taken up the chal-
lenge regarding their moral obligations for activism in support of the
stray dogs in the country. It is perhaps good to end this chapter with
a reminder that the argument in favour of social work for animals is
not merely based on appeals to emotions, but rather grounded in utili-
tarian and deontological approaches to moral obligations and ethics for
a global humane society (Singer, 2002).


This chapter is dedicated to Roxy – our sunshine from Mauritius in

Sweden. Roxy was one of the two stray dogs that my wife and I adopted
from Mauritius. She left this world on 29 December 2011.

1. Social workers interviewed for this chapter are involved in these
2. For a related article by John Hicks, the founder of International Animal Rescue,
3. See Government of Mauritius (2013).
4. A video on the activities of Paws in Mauritius can be viewed at http://www.
5. For an article related to this issue, see
6. Newspaper reporting about some cases of this type can be found at http:// and http://
7. See
8. For a couple of blogs related to this issue, see
island-of-shame-dogs-assassin-mauritius/ and
196 Komalsingh Rambaree

9. The AWA 2013 stipulates (among others):

Section 31(3): Any person who shall fail to register, microchip, and steri-
lise his/her dog within 30 days of ownership will be liable to a fine not
exceeding 5,000 rupees (about US $160). (p. 25)
Section 41 (5): Where a stray dog which has been returned to its owner
under this section is caught for the third time, it shall forthwith be eutha-
nized. (p. 34)
Section 41, Sixth Schedule, Part 1: Period during which a seized stray dog
may be claimed by the owner 3 day. (p. 44) If not claimed accordingly, the
dog will be euthanised.
Section 41, Sixth Schedule, Part 1: Fine for registered dog seized for –
(a) the first time 1,000 (approximately US $ 33)
(b) the second time 2,000 (approximately US $66)
Non-registered stray dog seized 3,000 (approximately US $99).
10. Some dogs get adopted by tourists visiting Mauritius. See http://www.daily-–000-bring-home-stray-
dog-beach-Mauritius.html and

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Liquid Love – Grief, Loss,
Animal Companions and
the Social Worker
Adrienne Elizabeth Thomas

On a cold winter’s eve in 1962, I left behind all that I knew and
The Welsh valley that I had roamed in as a child, picking
wild wimberries and collecting newts and toads around
Llyn-y-Forwyn to take home as my little companions, receded
into the distance as the taxi rattled its way slowly towards the
Ponty station, marking the start of a new life in another land,
many thousands of miles away.
My heart ached as I farewelled family and friends. But there
was one parting that has remained with me throughout my life;
Sparky my little yellow budgie.
Some things remain etched in our minds forever and as my
mother stepped into the taxi, I recall my trembling voice asking
her, ‘Mam, have you said ta-ta to Sparky?’ These were the only
words I spoke during that journey as I sat silently, looking out
at the street lights illuminating the terraced houses, as they
wrapped themselves like a ribbon around the valley of my birth:
a valley of coal, of song, of tears, of hiraeth.
On that bitter night of other people’s dreams, my eight-year-old
mind was overwhelmed with sorrow.


This chapter begins by ‘framing’ the human-animal bond (HAB), then

backgrounds grief theories within the context of the breaking of the

200 Adrienne Elizabeth Thomas

bond to highlight different approaches. It is not a ‘how to do it’ guide as

such. It considers different types of losses, attends briefly to the paradox-
ical nature of our relationship with animals, and concludes with some
points for attending to the complexities of the human-animal relation-
ship through a commitment to HAB social work practice.
The real life examples provided in this chapter, which are drawn from
my own clinical practice and research in the field of animal companion
loss (real names and details have been altered to ensure confidentiality),
are intended to exemplify the principles only – every situation of loss
is a singularity and must be understood within the context in which
it occurs. Although most people will experience a sense of loss, most
will not require professional support and intervention, and there is no
empirical evidence that routine intervention in acute/normal grief is
beneficial. Every person’s grief is individual and particular to them. This
chapter does not suppose to speak to all aspects of grief and the human-
animal relationship, and it is not intended to prescribe a cultural univer-
sality in relation to grief. It is written within the tradition of Western
expressions of grief and understandings, and Western expressions of
human-animal bonds.

Framing the bond

Although much is known about the breaking of the human-human

bond, it is only comparatively recently that attention has been paid
to the grief that occurs as a result of the loss of a companion animal.
For those who believe their companion is an integral part of their life,
and who have bonded strongly, the loss through death or other circum-
stances may evoke a grief that is similar in nature and content to the grief
experienced at the breaking of the human-human bond (Carmack,1985;
Field, Orsini, Gavish, & Packman, 2009; Lagoni, Butler, & Hetts, 1994;
Packman, Field, Carmack, & Ronen, 2011; Stewart, Docherty, & Brown,
1996; Weisman, 1991). As in the loss of significant humans, the nature of
the relationship plays a strong role in the grief experience, such that the
presence of a strong human-animal bond is associated with greater diffi-
culties in grief adjustment (Gerwolls & Labott, 1994). Animal compan-
ions are frequently seen as family members (Turner, 2005; Veldkamp,
2009; Wilson, Netting, Turner, & Olsen, 2013), and the companionship
they offer is of primary importance (Endenburg, 1995; Tower & Nokota,
2006); acceptance and affection is often less complicated, and they
have the capacity for forgiveness and ‘unconditional’ love not often
found in human-human relationships (Archer, 1997; Lagoni, Butler,
Liquid Love – Grief, Loss, Animal Companions 201

& Hetts, 1994; Morrow, 1998; Stewart et al., 1996; Weisman, 1991).
They are regarded as confidantes, companions and surrogate children
(Greenebaum, 2004) and provide those who care for them with a source
of security and the need to be needed (Lagoni et al., 1994).
The attachments themselves vary in intensity, the degree of attach-
ment often determining the degree and intensity of loss experienced
(Field et al., 2009; Planchon & Templer, 1996; Rajaram, Garrity, Stallones,
& Marx, 1993; Stern, 1996; Wrobel & Dye, 2003). The pattern of grief
can last from six to twelve months, with symptoms gradually decreasing
(Wrobel & Dye, 2003), with acute grief up to two months (Stallones,
1984). People describe a range of emotional, physical, cognitive, social
and spiritual experiences such as reliving events, feeling very sad and
low, numbness and shock, crying, anxiety, waves of grief, emotional
distress, turmoil, withdrawal, experiencing the deceased, restlessness,
a sense of unreality/being out of touch with the world, guilt and self
reproach, disbelief, anger, and sleep and appetite disturbances (Carmack,
1985; Lagoni et al., 1994; Stewart et al., 1996; Weisman, 1991; Wrobel
& Dye, 2003).
Because these expressions of grief are identical to those expressed at
the breaking of the human-human bond, attachment theories have
been applied to the human-animal relationship in order to understand
the nature, content and intensity of the bond.

Attachment and loss and the HAB

Bowlby (1969) defined attachment as a deep and enduring emotional

bond connecting one person to another. Importantly, it does not have to
be reciprocal. Theories of attachment are applied to the human-animal
relationship on the grounds that the four prerequisites for an attachment
relationship – proximity seeking, safe haven, secure base and separation
distress – can all be present and can also predict the intensity of grief on
the breaking of the bond (Zilcha-Mano, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2011).
Both attachment and social support are involved in human-animal rela-
tionships; for example, Stammbach (1999) found that this was the case
with human-cat relationships but noted that the relative importance
of each depended upon the individual person. Irrespective of animal
species and sometimes dependent upon it, people will bond with some
animals (species) and not with others.

Ruby and her husband, Rangi, had moved into their residential care
home ten years earlier with their dog, Coco, and their cat, Pickles.
202 Adrienne Elizabeth Thomas

Poppy was Ruby’s dog, and Rangi loved Pickles. Although she and her
husband were close and her family supportive, when Coco died, Ruby
was ‘heartbroken’. Rangi, however, was not particularly sad because
he didn’t share the same closeness with Coco that his wife did. After
Coco died Ruby wanted another dog. Her husband was in agreement
but made it clear that it would be his wife’s companion – that he had
his cat, Pickles. When Ruby asked the owner of the care facility if she
might have another dog, she was told she ‘could have another pet
but not a dog; she could have a cat or a bird’. She liked dogs and was
not especially fond of cats, and she told the management so. She said
they did not understand and thought that ‘any pet would do’.

Such a view risks minimising a person’s individual expression of love

and compassion towards animals of their choosing and undermines
their right to self determination and their expressions of loss and grief.
For people who have bonded strongly, the relationship with an animal-
companion can be similar in nature and content to the relationship with a
significant human. Beck (2008) reported that relationships with companion
animals were more secure on every measure compared to romantic part-
ners, and college students with high levels of attachment reported a close-
ness to their dogs that equalled the emotional bond to their mothers, best
friends, siblings, and significant others (Kurdek, 2008).

Academically able but very shy, Jim, 15, struggled to make friends
easily. When Butch, his three-year-old Doberman, became ill, he
was very upset. ‘I love him just like I love my Mam,’ he told me,
trying to push away the tears. ‘I don’t want him to leave us. We go
fishing together; he’s my best pal’. Fortunately for Jim and for Butch,
the illness was not life-threatening and Butch recovered. What was
evident from our conversation was that Jim’s love for Butch appeared
comparable to the love that he expressed for his mother.

It is not uncommon for people to express a connection with their animal

companion that is at least as deep, and sometimes deeper, than for a
person. Animals that have been special to their carer in some way are
likely to affect the level of grief experienced as a result of loss (Lagoni
et al., 1994; Stewart et al., 1996). In the case of animals who have been
‘rescued’ or who have ‘rescued’ their guardians, who have helped guard-
ians through a difficult time, who have required particular care, who
are ‘special’ by nature, who are connections to other important events
or people (Stern, 1996), who are the last remaining link to a significant
Liquid Love – Grief, Loss, Animal Companions 203

human and a reminder for past loss, grief upon loss is sometimes greater
than that experienced for the death of a human (Carmack, 1985; Lagoni
et al., 1994; Stewart et al., 1996).

Rachel’s dog, Finn, had been with her through difficult times. The
survivor of childhood sexual abuse after her mother died when she
was seven, she had chosen a Labrador to be her friend and protector
after leaving home in her late teens. She married at 20, pregnant with
her first child. Her husband was physically abusive. She was depressed
and ‘could think of no way out’. She ‘felt trapped’. Her GP prescribed
anti-depressants. Rachel looked to Finn for comfort and love. When
her husband hit her, Finn would growl and bare his teeth, placing
himself between Rachel and her abuser. Rachel was so frightened that
her husband would kill her dog that she frequently ‘acquiesced to his
demands for money and sex’. After three years of Rachel living in fear
of her life, her husband left. Emotionally exhausted but relieved, Rachel
spent her days looking after her young son, drawing and painting and
taking Finn for long walks. When Finn became unwell and was diag-
nosed with lymphoma, Rachel was desperate to find ways to ‘make
him well’. The vet suggested chemotherapy, which Rachel could not
afford. After two months, Finn was ‘so ill that he couldn’t get up off
the floor’. Rachel made a decision that she had been ‘dreading’. She
rang her vet. As she held Finn, she sobbed. He had been her protector,
her confidante, her love. Apart from her son, she had never experi-
enced the ‘beauty and intensity of a love that was so completely pure’.
The vet was nervous and could not find a vein. Finn, although weak,
struggled desperately, moaning as the drug took effect. For Rachel,
Finn’s death was neither peaceful nor quick, as the vet had promised.
Rachel could not forgive herself. She believed that she was responsible
for Finn’s ‘bad death’ and that Finn had become unwell because of the
stress he had experienced when Rachel’s husband was abusive. She
blamed herself because she couldn’t afford chemotherapy. She was
racked with pain and guilt and felt that ‘life was not worth living’. As
she spiralled downwards into severe depression, her son was removed
and placed into foster care. It was 20 years later when I met Rachel
and she relayed the story of her life to me. She had been in therapy for
many years and was working as a screen printer. No longer depressed
and re-united with her adult son, her life was ‘peaceful and contented’.
A locket of battered gold hung around her neck; in it were Finn’s ashes.
‘There has never been another love like the love I shared with Finn,’
she told me as she gently enfolded the precious locket in her hand.
204 Adrienne Elizabeth Thomas

Models and theories of grief and companion animal loss

Theories of grief are helpful in offering a framework for understanding

how people may grieve. Whilst there is no unified theory, nor is there one
standard therapeutic modality, those working primarily in psychology
and thanatology have developed theories and models to try to under-
stand and make sense of this complex process.
I outline several current theories here, firstly to show how there are
similarities between some, and secondly because in the recent and
popular literature on ‘pet loss’, there is still a tendency for people to
refer to and use the outmoded ‘predictable stages of grief’ model for
understanding grief. Thirdly, because ‘understanding’ grief allows us to
‘understand’ and support our clients.
Transformational change has occurred in recent decades around how
grief and loss is understood, and there has been a movement away
from stage or phase-like models (Kübler-Ross, 1969) where ‘successful’
grieving requires ‘letting go’, to a model of grief where the emphasis is
on meaning reconstruction and the value of maintaining continuing
bonds with the deceased.
In the dual process model of Stroebe and Schut (1999, 2010) grief
oscillates back and forth between the experience of loss-oriented
coping, where sadness, anger, yearning, and crying occur, and restora-
tion-oriented coping, where doing new things, joy, contentment and
laughing occurs. This dual process gives the bereaved person respite
from attending to their grief. Worden (2009) suggests that grieving is
an active process that involves four tasks: (1) accepting the reality of the
loss; (2) processing the pain of grief; (3) adjusting to a world without the
deceased (including internal, external and spiritual adjustments); and
(4) finding an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of
embarking on a new life.

When Jill’s Collie, Billy, died suddenly, she ‘could not stop crying’.
Not long after Billy died, she began a new job working in a specialist
rose nursery. When she was working with roses, planting or pruning
them, she would remember how Billy loved to chew the bark off her
neighbour’s precious rose bushes and would suddenly find herself
smiling and chuckling out loud, much to the amusement of her
colleagues. After a few months, she described being able to think
about Billy without feeling so overwhelmed with sorrow and said
that ‘working with the roses helped’.
Liquid Love – Grief, Loss, Animal Companions 205

People grieve differently – so differently that some grief may go

unnoticed. Doka and Martin (2010) describe three different styles of
grieving: intuitive grievers who experience grief at an affective level,
instrumental grievers who are more likely to manifest grief in cognitive
or physical terms, and intuitive-instrumentals where both styles are
present at once. Where affective grievers may readily be ‘noticed’ and
supported because their grief is more ‘obvious’, instrumental grievers,
whose grief is no less intense, may not be, and hence not be offered the
same support.
New models of grief are emerging: ones that focus on continuing the
bond with the deceased rather than encouraging ‘letting go’. Whereas
traditional grief theories based on task-oriented models have assumed
the centrality of emotion, newer theories give attention to both the
cognitive and meaning-making processes involved in mourning.
For Attig (1996), life is enhanced by maintaining a web of connec-
tion with those we have loved, the bonds with the deceased continue,
and grieving becomes an active process of coping and relearning how
to be and act in a world where people’s lives have been altered by loss.
Neimeyer (2001) highlights the importance of recognising that the
bereaved person’s assumptive world has changed, and so new meaning
must be sought. Bonds that once existed continue but in a new way, and
one of the major goals of grief work is to construct a continuing bond
with the deceased. Klass (2006) emphasises the importance of weaving
cultural/political narratives into individual grief narratives.
The similarity with human-human loss has led to continuing bonds
(CB) being applied to companion animal loss. Packman, Field, Carmack,
& Ronen (2011) reported that those grieving the death of a companion
animal tended ‘to experience CB as more comforting than distressing,
and the extent to which they endorsed each of the CB expressions was
comparable to that found in a spousal loss sample, thus highlighting
important similarities in pet loss to that shown in human loss in regard
to CB’. Field et al. (2009) also reported that ‘the continuing bond to
the deceased pet partially mediated the impact of strength of the past
attachment to the pet on grief severity’.
People who love their animal companions and have bonded strongly,
often describe reminiscing, reflecting and talking after the loss. ‘Both
of us go out and have a chat with him each day, and my husband
takes him for a walk each night! We keep a complete album of his
photos from birth. One day we will choose one photo to be enlarged
and framed.’
206 Adrienne Elizabeth Thomas

Anticipatory grief in animal loss

Not all grief occurs after loss. It can appear beforehand and is known
as anticipatory grief. The term was coined by Lindemann in 1994 to
describe premature mourning, where signs and symptoms of grief occur
prior to the actual loss (Worden, 2009). Just as in human-human loss,
anticipatory grief can occur when the death or loss of an animal is
expected or anticipated (Lagoni, Butler, & Hetts, 1994).
When we love our animals, we want and hope that they will be with
us always, yet this is not the case. Not only do most animals have a
shorter lifespan than we do, but some die young. Anticipatory grief
includes anticipated losses such as chronic and terminal illness, relin-
quishment and planned leaving, such as emigrating. During this time,
a person may experience any or all of the manifestations of ‘normal
grief’. Gerwolls & Labott (1994) found that anticipatory grief, which
may lessen the impact of death in human loss, did not lessen grief in
companion animal loss. In the veterinary setting, anticipatory grief is
often characterised by anxiety, worry, guilt, confusion, and indecision.
In the midst of anticipatory grief, clients are sometimes misunderstood
and considered ‘difficult’ (Lagoni, 2011). For others, however, anticipa-
tory grief may allow time to consider such things as parting rituals and
making positive plans for the future (Toray, 2004).

Disenfranchised grief in animal loss

Because companion animal loss is often unrecognised and indeed

minimised, the loss or death of an animal companion has been
described as a type of disenfranchised grief (Carmack, 2003; Cordaro,
2012; Meyers, 2002). Doka’s (1989) term refers to a grief that is not
legitimated or validated by society and does not allow the grieving
person to publicly mourn their loss. Sharkin and Bahrick (1990) found
that ‘Although the grief over the loss of a pet can be as intense as
the loss of a significant person, the loss of a pet is more likely to go
After her cat’s death, a client described the following:

Judy was my whole life; even my ex-husband was jealous of her. After
my divorce nine years ago, Judy was closer than ever to me. At night
she was like a watch dog, woke me if she heard a noise, something
the other cats didn’t do; now at night I feel so alone without her. Her
loss has taken away part of me, she’s in my mind every day, and no
one understands how I feel.
Liquid Love – Grief, Loss, Animal Companions 207

Negative attitudes towards bereavement occur paradoxically at the same

time as people praise the value of animal companions. For human-
human grief, there are publicly recognised rituals that support people
and legitimate the death or loss of those who are mourning. Lacking the
support that helps sustain people through human loss, those grieving
the loss of their animal companion may feel alone. This is particularly
the case when guardians’ grief for their companion animal is greater
than for a person (Carmack, 1985; Lagoni et al., 1994; Stewart et al.,
1996; Weisman, 1991). Shapiro (2013) makes the important point that
‘Animal welfare workers who become attached to relinquished animals
may find that their grief is disenfranchised by friends and family. It may
be undervalued or simply unrecognised. They aren’t recognised as legiti-
mate grievers.’
Specialist social work support and counselling services therefore
provide an important means of affirming, and acknowledging a grief
that may not be otherwise validated. (Cordaro, 2012; Toray, 2004)

Euthanasia – Effects on clients and vets

Euthanasia is one of the most difficult decisions that guardians have

to make (Harris, 1984; Lagoni et al., 1994; Quackenbush & Glickman,
1984; Sharkin & Knox, 2003; Stewart et al., 1996; Weisman 1991). This is
compounded by vets who often feel poorly prepared to deal with those
who care for terminally ill animals (Antelyes, 1984; Morris, 2012; Stern
1996): ‘I have no idea what to do with these emotionally vulnerable
people.’ (Morris, 2012, p. 118)
Guilt is often a feature of euthanasia decisions: guilt at betraying
the companion and having the power of life and death, and guilt at
taking too long over making the decision (Quackenbush & Glickman,
1984; Weisman, 1991). However McCutcheon and Fleming (2001–02)
and Quackenbush and Glickman (1984) found that clients who
allowed animals to die naturally also found their decision extremely
Illness and death have an impact on veterinary professionals on a
daily basis. Vets have both a client and a patient. Euthanasia forms a
significant part of veterinary work, and animals, because they are legally
regarded as property, may be euthanised on the request of their ‘guard-
ians’. As a client-dependent profession, vets are expected to give people
‘what they want’ or risk them going elsewhere (Morris, 2012). This
dichotomy has been referred to as the caring-killing paradox (Arluke,
1994) and can cause significant emotional stress for veterinarians
(Morris, 2012). Support services for the veterinary profession are rare,
208 Adrienne Elizabeth Thomas

and HAB social workers provide an important link between the vet and
the client (Strand et al., 2012).

Losses other than illness-related death

Less attention has been paid to some types of loss, even though the grief
that is evoked is just as significant as illness/death related companion
animal loss. Kwong & Bartholomew (2011) and Nicholson, Kemp-
Wheeler, & Griffiths (1995) found that following the loss of their assist-
ance dog, through either death or retirement, almost all participants
experienced intense grief. Research on relinquishment (DiGiacomo,
Arluke, & Patronek, 1998; Shore, Petersen, & Douglas, 2003) shows
that the decision to relinquish a companion animal is very difficult,
with people commonly tolerating very challenging circumstances until
they can no longer cope with keeping their animal, and the stress over-
whelms the attachment.
From September 2010, Christchurch, New Zealand, sustained severe
damage from a sequence of earthquakes. Veterinarians Karen and
Hamish Atkinson (Thomas & Atkinson, 2013) reported many distressed
‘pets’ and ‘owners’:

Most prominently in my mind is the tiny toy poodle belonging to an

older couple. She was a slightly timid puppy, and it took a while for
her to bond with her owner, but with time, she settled in and used
to sleep at the end of the bed. The earthquakes however traumatised
her and she woke with the ground-shakes and would try to sleep
in the middle of the lawn during the night. This was a tiny 4.5kg
dog trying to cope through a Christchurch winter night exposed to
the elements. Over time she was medicated with various anxiety and
sedating medications. However any small noise in the night (still) set
her off into a panic, running around barking. The eventual chronic
stress and disturbance to both the owners’ sleep and concern for the
pet’s wellbeing resulted in a decision to euthanase being made, some
two years after the February 2011 earthquake. Sadly this wee poodle
did not desensitise to loud random noises.

A change in someone’s health or living situation can also lead to having

to find a new home for an animal companion. Restrictive housing poli-
cies mean that it is not always possible for people to take their animal
with them. McNicholas, Collis and Morley (cited in Dawson & Campbell,
2005) highlighted the negative effects on older people when forced to
Liquid Love – Grief, Loss, Animal Companions 209

relinquish their companion animal on entering residential care; people

took longer to settle, didn’t engage in activities readily, didn’t consider
their new environment their ‘home’, and believed that others did not
understand the difficulty of leaving their animal. Companion animal
loss can occur during relationship break-ups, when children leave home,
and when families relocate.
In a recent report in a regional New Zealand newspaper, a lawyer
described a shared custody arrangement for a dog: ‘It was dealt with
exactly the same as a child care dispute. It took as much time, was as
expensive and as full of anguish for the parties.’ She said the couple
were young and affluent, and regarded the dog as their ‘“child substi-
tute” ... It became as emotional as a custody dispute. They looked at the
dog as their baby, they both wanted to be primary carer.’ According to
the report, the dog was also suffering and was behaving ‘as traumatised
as a child’; it was self-harming and lost fur (Irvine, 2013).
When animals go missing for various reasons, the loss can be traumatic
(Harris, 1991). In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Lowe, Rhodes,
Zwiebach & Chan (2009) reported animal loss significantly predicted
post-disaster distress.
Sometimes an animal companion is either accidentally or deliber-
ately killed. The link between human and animal violence is an area of
HAB social work that crosses the boundary of both loss and violence.
Sometimes animals are deliberately harmed. A newspaper in Sheffield,
England (Lynch, 2013) reported a case where hundreds of people rallied
together to show support for a man whose dog had been tortured and
killed: ‘I’ve been absolutely awestruck by how people in Sheffield have
responded. The support has been absolutely brilliant.’ Women in violent
relationships are often reluctant to leave their abusers because they are
unable to take their animal with them. Their partner may have injured
or killed an animal companion in the past (Ascione, 1997). For the
person who has bonded with their animal companion, the loss through
means other than illness-related death can evoke a grief that is just as

The paradox of species – ‘pets’, food and ‘pests’

Our relationship with animals is not straightforward. In a world where

different species mean different things to different people, the vali-
dating of any particular animal companion relationship when the bond
is either threatened or broken through death or otherwise, may not
happen readily.
210 Adrienne Elizabeth Thomas

I was in a reptile store recently when a young man and his mother
came in to purchase his first lizard.

His mother said that she would not be having ‘anything to do with
it ... They’re not pets like cats and dogs and rabbits – nice and soft and
cuddly – they are cold and horrible.’ As she said this she shuddered.

The bond that we share with animals, our fascination with them, is
marked by paradox, by inconsistency. On the one hand, animals are our
companions, to be cared for, loved and protected. On the other, they are
dispensable, disposable, replaceable. They are killed or used in the food
and clothing industries, in research, in ‘entertainment’ and in ‘sport’.
They are the meat on our plate, the shoes on our feet and our ‘best
friends’. The same person who grieves for her dog, sits at the table and
eats chicken soup. The farmer who kills his cattle asks an incredulous
vet to euthanise his family’s ‘pet’, a chicken (Morris, 2012, p. 3). In the
Antipodes, a beetle is most likely a ‘pest’ whilst in Japan the beetle is a
‘pet’. One family’s beloved rabbit is another beloved animal’s meal.
There are a myriad of differing views and opinions on ‘who’ and
‘what’ matters. And yet each relationship matters to the person who is
grieving irrespective of whether the animal is a beetle, a dog or a snake.
Validating the relationship and normalising the grief of those who love
their animal companions, sometimes when no one else does, advo-
cating for them and including them in social work processes and codes
of ethics (Ryan, 2011), and taking an educative role, are all important
roles of the HAB social worker.

HAB practice supporting the bond

The special and remarkable bond that exists between many people and
their companion animals can be supported by social work’s commit-
ment to the following understandings:

● the many and varied forms of attachments that occur with different
species of animals and with different groups of people,
● that no one species of animal is privileged over another,
● the paradoxes that exist in relation to animals in our world and why
it is so difficult to ‘think straight’ when it comes to our varied rela-
tionships with animals,
● grief and how it ‘plays out’ differently in different people’s lives,
● why companion animal grief is not always validated,
Liquid Love – Grief, Loss, Animal Companions 211

● how to support someone who is grieving the loss of their animal

● the importance of including animals in social work assessments,
● the importance of promoting a code of ethics that is inclusive of
● that those working with animals also experience grief and trauma,
● that it is not necessary, nor is it a requirement, to be an animal lover
to see the value of animals in people’s lives,
● the economic, social, political and cultural barriers that prevent
people from living with their companion animals, particularly when
change occurs in their lives,
● the importance of promoting education in relation to the companion
animal bond and to loss, and
● the importance of advocating for people and their animal compan-
ions. Thus both humans and animals will be able to live the best lives
that they can.

In conclusion, the bond that exists between companion animals and

their human guardians can be both deep and enduring, and the grief
when the bond is broken, like human-human grief. This special relation-
ship, supported by the promotion of HAB-centred social work practice,
necessitates a commitment not only to humans but to the creatures who
cannot speak for themselves, our animal companions.
One interview subject said of Samson, a golden angora rabbit, ‘He
was never too busy with work or social engagements to be there – he
didn’t outgrow being cuddled or worry if his friends saw me cuddling
him – he didn’t argue – and I could enjoy him without having to worry
about teaching him the right values or how he would turn out when he
grew up.’

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Domestic Violence and Companion
Animal Welfare: The Issues, Risks
and Implications for Practice
Deborah Walsh

This chapter will explore the link between domestic violence and
companion animals by first focusing on the debates around the defi-
nitions of violence, and the evolution of the coercive control under-
standing of domestic violence as a social problem. This critical
understanding allows us to locate broader tactics of power and control
along the domestic violence continuum, and thus provide a conceptual
understanding of the importance of companion animal abuse for some
While there is a paucity of literature linking domestic violence and
companion animals, it is expected that this will change over the next
few years, with a number of veterinarians recognising this in their prac-
tice and forming research partnerships with interested social researchers
(Tiplady, Walsh, & Phillips, 2012). A comprehensive literature review
of the available research on this topic will lead into a discussion as to
how and why companion animals feature as part of the tactics used in
domestic violence situations.
There is a huge gap in research and very little data available on the
actual impact on companion animals, but what little data exists paints
a very disturbing picture. Women have reported their animals were
killed, and others have reported their companion animals sustained
injuries as a result of the abuse (Tiplady et al., 2012). One Australian
study noted that dogs were the most prevalent household animal,
and therefore the most vulnerable to abuse, and women responding
to this study reported that their dogs displayed a range of negative
behavioural changes after experiences of direct abuse (Tiplady et al.,

216 Deborah Walsh

In addition to the impact on companion animals, it is important

to discuss the impact of this on women, as there are serious implica-
tions for their safety as a result of animal welfare concerns. The risk
to women’s safety is one key reason why social workers should under-
stand this component of domestic violence. As awareness grows about
companion animal abuse and the services available to assist those fami-
lies with animals affected by domestic violence, the better the chance
we have to intervene in meaningful ways.

Understanding coercive control

The 1970s was a particularly important decade, as it marked the time

where we witnessed an unprecedented focus on domestic violence. As
the 1970s progressed and women started to openly describe their experi-
ences of violence, the women’s movement began to formulate an under-
standing of this phenomenon. Feminists argued that domestic violence
incorporated both physical and non-physical acts that were a result of
patriarchal power and control (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Schechter, 1982;
Shepard & Pence, 1999). Alongside the feminist definition of violence,
family sociologists developed a very different understanding that has
caused deep, and at times acrimonious, divisions that are still evident
today (Gelles, 1993; Kelly & Johnson, 2008). The two diverse conceptual
understandings of violence have led to two different ‘camps’ emerging,
and these have followed very different pathways leading to each camp
developing their own research and holding their own conferences.
While there are a number of other theoretical understandings of
violence circulating in the literature, none highlight the polarised divi-
sions as starkly as the two that will be discussed here. In addition, under-
standing these different conceptual frameworks has very important
consequences for social work practice, and how we locate companion
animal welfare within the domestic violence experience.
Family sociologists Straus (1979, 1990) and Gelles (1974, 1987,
1997) developed what has become known as the ‘conflict tactic’ under-
standing of domestic violence. They argue that our culture supports
the use of violence in general as a means of problem solving, and that
domestic violence is a manifestation of an inability to resolve problems
and is therefore defined as a ‘conflict tactic’ (Gelles & Straus, 1979). From
this conceptual understanding of violence arose the measurement tool
called the conflict tactics scale (CTS and the CTS2 revised version which
includes psychological abuse), which measures how couples respond
to family conflict and identifies the frequency and types of violence
Domestic Violence and Companion Animal Welfare 217

used by both parties in an attempt to resolve that conflict (Straus, 1990;

Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1995).
Framing domestic violence as family conflict does not take into
account the circumstances in which the conflict arose, who initiated
the violence, the relative body size of each of the parties, and the nature
of the relationship between the couple (Kimmel, 2002). Researchers who
critique the CTS point out that if a woman retaliated after she was beaten,
this would score equally using the CTS & CTS2 scales (DeKeseredy &
Schwartz, 1998; Kimmel, 2002). This is the measurement tool used in
research that finds there is gender symmetry in domestic violence (that
women are as violent as men in intimate relationships), which is not
consistent with injury rates nor with the disproportionate numbers of
women in shelters or who access hospital emergency care (Dekeseredy &
Schwartz, 1998; Dobash, Dobash, Wilson, & Daly, 1992; Kimmel, 2002).
It is argued that the simple counting of the raw data of the number of
acts of violence committed while couples are arguing does not provide
adequate answers to the context, meanings and motivations for that
violence, and limiting intervention to conflict resolution strategies is
well known to increase the risk of injury and homicide rates for the
female victim. While highlighting the conceptual and methodological
problems with the CTS, Kimmel (2002, p. 1354) states that ‘the evidence
that there is gender symmetry is largely a myth’.
While those who critique the CTS & the CTS2 acknowledge the flaws,
most are quick to point out that we need to take care not to dismiss
women’s violence towards men, and that examining women’s violence
more closely may provide a context for some men’s violence towards
women. Kimmel (2002, p. 1354) argues that women’s violence towards
men is often retaliatory or committed in self-defence, exposing some of
the ways men use violence to control women. The notion that domestic
violence is a result of poor conflict resolution strategies reduces it to a
single factor explanation, whereas many researchers and practitioners
demonstrate that it is multidimensional, complex and frequently
used instrumentally to control women’s lives, decisions and choices
(Dekeseredy & Schwartz, 1998; Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Kimmel, 2002;
Schechter, 1982; Shepard & Pence, 1999). Therefore, a broader under-
standing of violence as a tactic of power and control along a continuum
provides us with an ability to see how a diverse range of behaviours can
be used successfully to achieve control, and why separation can increase
the risk of injury and homicide for some women (Mouzos & Makkai,
2004). Many argue that this lens accommodates the inclusion of chil-
dren and companion animals in some of these scenarios, and that the
218 Deborah Walsh

historical invisibility of women both socially and legally has allowed

domestic violence to continue (Dekeseredy & Schwartz, 1998; Dobash,
Dobash, Wilson, & Daly, 1992; Kimmel, 2002; Shepard & Pence, 1999;
Stark, 2007; Walker, 1979; Yllo, 1993).
Historically, men’s violence against women was seen as a male prerog-
ative, explained by feminists as a consequence of gender inequality
arising from patriarchal domination (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Pleck,
1987; Shepard & Pence, 1999; Stark, 2007, 2009). Dobash & Dobash’s
(1979) seminal work on domestic violence argues the case against patri-
archy, mapping the historical pathway from Roman times to the present
day. They propose that entrenched inequalities that face women socially,
politically and individually have created a level of social acceptability
about violence against women, and challenging this social order is not
only difficult but potentially dangerous for those who try. It was Dobash
and Dobash (1979) who first invited us to understand domestic violence
as men’s attempts to coercively control their female partners. This work
was followed by Pleck (1987), who chartered the plight of women from
colonial times to the present from a social policy perspective, attesting
to the fact that women were treated as second-class citizens and, in some
cases, not as citizens at all. Both authors argue (as do many others) that
the seeds of domestic violence lie in the subordination of women as a
consequence of their subjection to male authority and control within
the family unit, which is compounded by economic and political institu-
tions. So rather than seeing domestic violence as a means used to resolve
interpersonal conflict, this ‘camp’ argue that it has a long history, and
that perpetrators employ a wide variety of tactics that coercively control
their intimate partners, who in the main are women.
A coercive control understanding of domestic violence provides a
broader lens that includes same sex partnerships, child-to-parent, and
elder abuse. It also expands our thinking about what tactics ought to be
taken into account, and does not limit us to physical, verbal, emotional
and sexual abuse. The literature on the range of tactics used to coer-
cively control women is prolific, and when faced with the issue of how
to develop a definition, Walsh (1997) consulted women survivors,
and based on their experiences, developed a broad definition that was
applied in research exploring violence during pregnancy (Walsh, 2004;
Walsh, Weeks, Moo, Howe & D’Arcy, 2001).
This has been subsequently expanded to include companion animals
following further research in this area. The following is an adaptation of
Walsh’s (1997, p. 48) definition of domestic violence that incorporates
an expanded range of tactics:
Domestic Violence and Companion Animal Welfare 219

Domestic violence is defined as intentional violent, threatening, coer-

cive or controlling behaviour in intimate relationships. This encom-
passes not only physical injury, but direct or indirect threats, sexual
abuse, emotional and psychological torment, economic control,
property damage, harm or threats to harm animals, social isolation
and behaviour that causes a person to live in fear.

One woman related that she had a collection of porcelain dolls, one
of which had belonged to her grandmother, and that whenever her
husband was annoyed or wanted her to do something that she didn’t
want to do, he would pick up that particular doll and pretend to drop
it on the tiles (which would have smashed it, given its fragility). She
reported that she would comply with any of his demands as a result
of this type of behaviour, and that these events for her were tortuous
and left her frightened and anxious. This woman explained that her
husband wasn’t violent at all, as he had never raised a hand to her, nor
yelled or screamed abuse at her, but she felt he controlled her whole
life. It was clear that had this woman not been emotionally and psycho-
logically attached to these dolls, it is unlikely that her husband would
have targeted them. It is the degree of attachment that makes personal
belongings and other things targets, as these can and are used as tactics
to coercively control vulnerable woman.
As social work practitioners, our training has provided us with an
ability to critically analyse situations, policy and research. So when
research highlights that women are as violent as men, we need to look
closer at the methodology used and challenge the assumptions that
underpin the work, so that we do not just passively consume research
without question or critical reflection.

The link between domestic violence and companion


Research into domestic violence has grown rapidly over the last 35 years,
but it has been slow to recognise the link between domestic violence
and companion animal welfare, with any real focus only emerging in
the late 1990s. While Renzetti (1992) found, when exploring violence in
a sample of women in lesbian relationships, that 38 per cent described
experiences where partners maltreated companion animals, it wasn’t
until the late 1990s that research embraced this as an issue. It was
Ascione (1997) who was one of the first to empirically confirm a link in
heterosexual couples, finding that in some circumstances companion
220 Deborah Walsh

animals were not only harmed but were killed. While research was slow
to pick up on this issue, women’s advocacy services had already noted
that threats of violence against companion animals were being used
against women as early as the 1970s (Adams, 1994; Walker, 1979; Yllo,
1993), with Flynn (2000) drawing our attention to the fact that the link
remained largely anecdotal for years before it was empirically tested.
In a study of 50 women’s refuges across the United States Ascione,
Weber and Wood (1997) enquired about the connection between
women escaping violence and reports of animal cruelty. They found
that 83 per cent of refuges reported that many of their female resi-
dents described animal cruelty as part of their victimisation. Following
this study, Ascione (1997, p. 125) wanted to establish the prevalence
of companion animals in the lives of a sample of women residing at a
women’s refuge in Utah, and whether or not there was any evidence of
animal maltreatment. Thirty-eight women were interviewed as part of
the study, with 28 (74 per cent) reporting having a companion animal/s
during the last year prior to entering the refuge. Of those women, 20
(71 per cent) reported that their abusive partner had threatened to
harm or had actually harmed or killed a companion animal. Sixteen
(57 per cent) women described observing actual harm or the killing of
animals that included slapping, shaking, throwing, shooting, drowning
and pouring flammable liquids over and igniting the animal, high-
lighting just how vulnerable animals are in these situations.
In a larger study in South Carolina, Flynn (2000) recruited 107 women
from women’s shelters, with 40 per cent reporting having companion
animals during their abusive relationship. Of these, 46 per cent reported
their partner had threatened to harm or had actually harmed their
animals. Wanting to explore differences between geographical settings,
Faver & Strand (2003) recruited women connected to a family violence
group from a rural setting, comparing this with their urban counter-
parts. Surprisingly, they found no difference between rural and urban
women’s reports of abuse towards animals, nor were women reporting
differences in their concern for vulnerable animals. They did find that
those with companion animals reported threats to harm or actual harm,
which resulted in some animals being killed, but location didn’t deter-
mine an increase of risk.
Simmons and Lehman (2007) explored the links between the level
of violent and controlling behaviour men used towards their female
partners, and whether this was linked to companion animal abuse.
Interviewing 1,283 women from a women’s shelter who indicated they
had companion animals during the relationship, they found a strong
Domestic Violence and Companion Animal Welfare 221

correlation between a higher use of violence and an increased likeli-

hood that the perpetrator would abuse these animals. The authors refer
to a companion animal as ‘the family pet’, and did not provide details
as to whom the animal belonged or who was the primary caretaker of
the animals. It is my contention that this information is vital for those
caring for both human and animal victims of violence, in order to iden-
tify at-risk animals.
The first Australian study to address the link between domestic violence
and companion animal abuse was undertaken in Melbourne by Volant,
Johnson, Gullone, and Coleman (2008) using a comparable commu-
nity sample demonstrating the vulnerability of companion animals in
domestic violence households. Two groups of women were recruited for
this study, one a group of 102 women with companion animals who
accessed domestic violence services, and 102 women with companion
animals in the community who had not experienced domestic violence.
They found that significantly higher rates of partner companion animal
abuse and threats of abuse, and abuse by other family members, were
reported in the households of women who experienced domestic
violence compared to the community sample of non-domestic violence
Prior warning of threats to their companion animals is likely to be an
important indicator in enabling women to take evasive action on their
behalf. To study this, a Canadian research team recruited 296 women
from a domestic violence shelter, and of these, 134 had animals, of which
41 per cent were dogs and 38 per cent were cats (Crawford & Bohac Clark,
2012). Women reported they were responsible for the animals’ care in 45
per cent of cases, and 36 per cent of those with animals reported threats
and/or actual harm to their animals. A significant proportion of these
women (64 per cent) reported they had observed their partner actually
harming animals when there had been no preceding threat made to do
so. We can conclude from this that while prior threats are important,
there are some perpetrators of domestic violence who will harm animals
without warning family members.
A recent New Zealand mixed method study explored the co-existence
between animal cruelty and domestic violence, and identified a number
of ways cruelty was used as a means to attain and maintain control over
women and children (Roguski, 2012) which confirmed several other
studies with similar conclusions (Ascione, 1997, 2008; Loring & Bolden-
Hines, 2004; Simmons & Lehman, 2007; Volant, Johnson, Gullone, &
Coleman, 2008). Roguski (2012) identified two distinct chronological
categories where the animal cruelty was used as a tactic of control
222 Deborah Walsh

during the relationship and after separation. During the relationship,

the focus was on having power and control over the woman and chil-
dren, and post-separation, it was as a punishment for leaving; further-
more, anyone perceived as helping a woman leave was also at risk of
having their companion animals hurt or killed.
The previous studies noted here share in common a focus upon
women who have experienced domestic violence and who have accessed
domestic violence services. Tiplady et al. (2012) reported on a small
qualitative survey of 30 women who had experienced domestic violence
but who did not access women’s domestic violence services, and found
that these women had observed similar violence towards companion
animals as has been documented in the aforementioned studies. The key
themes to emerge from this study included that the level of the woman’s
attachment to the companion animal increased the risk of that animal
being targeted, and while knowledge of companion animal fostering
services was limited, the majority would not have used the women’s
shelter or the fostering services due to the requirements of being forced
to separate from their companion animals for the duration of their stay
in the accommodation services.
A summary of the key findings from the literature in this area high-
lights that: women’s attachment to companion animals can render
them vulnerable targets for violence, and the targeting of animals is
one of a number of mechanisms used to exert power and control over
some women and children. In some situations, threats to harm may
provide a warning to act, and there exists a strong correlation between a
higher incidence of physical violence and companion animal harm. In
addition, when we consider that the prevalence of domestic violence is
estimated to be experienced by one in five women (Australian Bureau of
Statistics, 1996), and the fact that 63 per cent of Australian households
live with companion animals, it is clear that companion animals are at
risk in some circumstances where there is domestic violence present,
and this information needs to be attended to when working with fami-
lies (Australian Companion Animal Council, 2007).

How companion animals feature as a coercive

control tactic

There are many families who feel deeply about their companion animals
and view them as family members (Albert & Bulcroft, 1988), so any
threat or actual harm to them is devastating. Fook and Klein (2001), in
their edited collection of essays, highlight the importance of companion
Domestic Violence and Companion Animal Welfare 223

animals (in this case dogs) to women, and given that many perpetrators
isolate their victims, it may be that women’s connection and attach-
ment to their animals is increased when they find themselves in these
circumstances. In this section, we will explore how companion animals
feature in some domestic violence situations.
Gullone (2011) describes animal abuse as an act of commission
(the act of beating, shoving or physically harming) and/or omission
(neglect). She argues that the important focus is on the intent to cause
harm, and that in domestic violence situations, the act is purposeful
and instrumental. Intent was clearly demonstrated by the findings of
Tiplady et al. (2012) who reported that in multi-animal households, it
was the animal/s that women were attached to the most that were the
target of the abuse. In addition, Roguski (2012) confirmed that overt
threats and actual harm to companion animals were strategically used
to attain and maintain control of family members. It was reported that
companion animal cruelty, including using them as sexual objects, was
perpetrated for various reasons: it was used as a punishment for unsatis-
factory behaviour, as a threat to maintain ‘good behaviour’, as collateral
damage, as a response to jealousy, to avoid police attention (in order
to avoid a family violence conviction for assault on a person), and as a
normalised demonstration of anger.
Loring & Bolden-Hines (2004) demonstrated the role of companion
animal abuse as a coercive technique for women to commit illegal acts
on behalf of the perpetrator. They found that in some circumstances,
perpetrators used the threat or actual harm of animals as leverage to
coerce women into criminal activity, such as driving the getaway car for
a bank robbery, shoplifting, and other illegal activities. The distress and
anguish caused by this coercion includes the violation of the woman’s
own value system, as well as the terror of their animal being possibly
harmed. Loring & Bolden-Hines (2004, p. 36) state that ‘The well-being
of an abused woman’s beloved pet is highly valued, right alongside the
well-being of her children and parents.’

The impact on companion animals

A number of studies detail the types of harm to companion animals,

but few have asked women about the long term effects on the animals
(Ascione, 1997, 2008; Gullone 2012; Tiplady et al., 2012). A study in
Queensland, Australia invited women to comment on their observa-
tions about the impact of animal cruelty on the animals themselves,
and what behaviours they had noticed since they had left the violent
224 Deborah Walsh

relationship (Tiplady et al., 2012). Of the 26 women who participated,

22 reported that they had observed long-term behavioural changes as
a result of the harm inflicted on the animals. These changes included
being frightened, cowering, timidity, running away, being fearful of
all men, aggression, hiding and compulsive proximity seeking1 to the
women. These 22 women reported that they felt these changes were
long term and were not hopeful that they would dissipate.

The impact on victims

Quite apart from the obvious emotional and psychological impacts on

women who have experienced threats to harm and the actual harming
of companion animals, this situation poses an even greater risk for
some women. A number of studies have reported that women delay
leaving domestic violence situations due to animal welfare concerns,
and have returned to domestic violence situations because they have
not been able to find animal-friendly rental accommodation (Ascione,
1997; Faver & Strand, 2003; Flynn, 2000; Onyskiw, 2007; Simmons &
Lehmann, 2007; Tiplady et al., 2012). In addition, when women access
women’s refuge accommodation, they are expected to relinquish their
animals to foster care for the duration of their stay. As a result of this
expectation, there are a number of women who find separation from
their companion animals too distressing and decline to be accommo-
dated as a result (Tiplady et al., 2012).

Implications for social work practice: what can we do?

Frequently in social work practice, domestic violence is embedded in

other presenting issues, such as housing, income support, depression,
anxiety, relationship issues and children’s behaviour, to name a few. It is
incumbent on us to develop sufficient levels of trust so that women feel
safe enough to disclose, and that when they do, we need to determine
clearly what it is that women need. It is my experience that women seek
help for a range of reasons that don’t always include needing assistance
and support to leave their current situations. Women will help seek
to find validation that their partner is violent, and once this occurs,
they may take time (sometimes years) to come to terms with this before
considering any options. In a sample of pregnant women experiencing
violence, it was reported that many did not consider leaving the rela-
tionship because the impending birth provided hope that the violent
partner would change (Walsh, 2004), and many women will exhaust all
Domestic Violence and Companion Animal Welfare 225

hope for their partner to change before choosing to seek help for infor-
mation and assistance to leave. Hamby (2009) found that when women
sought assistance and leaving was the only option which the worker
canvassed, even when this was not their intention, this frequently
alienated women and acted as a barrier to them seeking help in the
It is therefore a practice imperative that social workers develop a crit-
ical reflective practice framework to address any bias towards any single
pathway for women who report experiencing domestic violence. Laing,
Humphreys, and Cavanagh (2013, p. 65) state that ‘Women-centred
practice that seeks to understand the ways in which the woman under-
stands her situation in all its complexity will avoid imposing inappro-
priate, worker-led solutions.’
When women do present requesting information, assistance and
support to leave, social workers need to be able to undertake a risk assess-
ment that provides enough information to assist them to access the
appropriate pathway. Risk assessment and safety planning requires that
the worker take into account the risks her partner poses for a woman,
as well as the risks the service system imposes (Laing, Humphreys, &
Cavanagh, 2013; Stout & McPhail, 1998; Walsh, 1999), be that where
women are expected to relinquish companion animals to access refuge
accommodation or the fact that rental accommodation is not always
animal-friendly (Tiplady et al., 2012). Working with women to find
alternative options when they are not comfortable with being separated
from their animals can and does present some challenges, but is essen-
tial because women are at a greater risk of homicide around the time of
leaving and for around 18 months post-separation than at any other
time (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004). In addition, some women have found
that their only option was to have their companion animal euthanased
because they were not able to find animal-friendly rental accommoda-
tion, and leaving the animal with the perpetrator posed a risk of serious
harm to the animal. As a result of this experience, they suffer ongoing
guilt and sadness that may never be alleviated (Tiplady et al., 2012).
In conclusion, companion animals are a significant feature in some
women’s lives, and in some domestic violence situations, this makes
the animals vulnerable to harm. It is my contention that it is critical
for social workers to understand that if a companion animal has been
threatened or harmed, then risk assessment and interventions need to
take this into account. We need to include all family members (including
the animals) in any safety planning because as Deanna (a respondent in
Tiplady, Walsh, & Phillips, 2013) so clearly stated, ‘When we’re at our
226 Deborah Walsh

downest and we’re sitting on the stairs crying, who happens to be sitting
beside us? The dog. I do believe that pets are therapy in themselves.’

1. Proximity seeking to an identified caregiver indicates a positive attachment,
but when this behaviour is exaggerated and compulsive, it usually indicates
the animal is distressed or traumatised in some way.

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228 Deborah Walsh

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While this select bibliography makes no claims to exhaustiveness, it will never-

theless provide readers with a substantial collection of animal related social work

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230 Select Bibliography

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—— (2013). Environmental beliefs and concern about animal welfare: Exploring

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ableism, 189 need for improved policy and

analogous to speciesism, 189 practice, xx, 160
abortion, 89–90 optimism about, 10
accountability practices, 10
cross-disciplinary, xix, 137, 142, 159 reservations about, xviii, xvi, 10–11
cross-species, xix, 137, 142, 159 techniques, 9, 155–9
ageism, 189 theoretical explanations for success
analogous to speciesism, 189 of, 126–8, 155–6
aggregation of interests, 89 treatment, 9
American Humane Society, 83 animal-facilitated interactions, 9,
American Veterinary Medical 155–9, 161
Association’s Human-Animal animalisation, 82, 83
Bond Task Force, 66 animals
animal rights, xv, xviii, xx, 66–7, 75, abolitionism, 68, 69, 129
80, 128, 189 abuse/cruelty/neglect
criticisms of, 81–2, 83, 84 triggers in common with child
deontological, 68–9, 86, 87, 90–1, abuse/neglect, 141–2, 144
92, 94, 189, 195 analogies and metaphors of, 82,
limitations of, 22–3, 30 84–5
philosophy, xviii, 66, 67, 68, 69, benefits of, xx, 25–9, 38–9, 60, 65,
75, 81, 83, 84, 85, 86, 88, 90, 66, 107, 115, 120, 124–8,
91, 92, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 162, 170, 171, 172–7, 178,
188, 189, 195 180, 200–1, 203
utilitarian, 67–9, 86–7, 88–9, 94, capabilities of, 68, 73, 75–6, 83, 87,
96, 195 88–9, 91, 92, 93, 95–6, 189
animal welfare agencies, 52–3, 66, and capitalism, 64, 69, 71
137, 140, 159, 183, 185–8, cognition, 66, 68, 69, 75
190–2, 207 cognitive, emotional and social
linkage between welfare agencies complexity of, xviii, 66, 68,
and, 82–3, 137, 140, 149, 73, 75, 92
159 comparison with human beings,
see child welfare agencies xviii, 22–3, 30, 80, 81–2,
animal-assisted activities (AAA), 13, 84, 85
124, 129 criticisms of, 81–2, 83, 84
animal-assisted therapies (AAT) limitations of, 22–3, 30
effectiveness of, xviii–xix, 66, consciousness in, 4, 66, 87
108–9, 112–14, 116–17, constitutive of human societies, xx,
124–6, 155–6, 167–8, 171–7, 51, 81, 151
178–80 contradictory and inconsistent
ethical concerns/considerations attitudes towards, xxi, 6, 8,
about, xvi, xix, 115, 116–17, 11, 14, 209–10
128–30 cultural assumptions about, 18,
interventions, 9, 66, 126, 162 23–4, 29

238 Index

animals – continued love of, 14, 18, 22, 26, 27, 28,
depictions of, xviii, 18, 82 29, 49, 57, 58, 65, 94–5,
devaluing of relationships, 18–19 105, 113, 116, 117, 136,
difference between humans and, of 138, 139, 140, 174, 176,
degree not kind, 67, 85, 92 178, 194, 202, 203, 205,
disposability, 136, 137–40 206, 210, 211, 223
domestic violence, see domestic marginalisation of, 72–3
violence meaning of in women’s lives, 19,
domesticated, xix, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 20, 21, 23, 28–9, 224
43, 183 moral qualities exhibited by, 85
undomesticated, xix, 7, 37, 40, powerlessness, 73
41, 43, 72, 97 professional and research bias
emotional attachment to, 19, 22–3, against, xvii, 18, 20, 21,
25–9, 52, 65, 94–5, 113–14, 23–4, 29–30
127, 136, 152, 155–6, 174–5, as property, 49, 52, 69, 73, 207
175–6, 199, 201–3, 205, see slavery
206–7, 210–11, 222–39 relational significance of, 23, 25–6,
exploitation of, 10–11, 64, 65, 67, 30, 81, 84, 96, 200–1, 223
68–9, 71–2, 74–5, 76, 97, responsibilities to, 9, 10, 11–12, 13,
128, 130, 210 14, 39–40, 65, 67–8, 69–70,
linkage between human 73, 74, 76, 81, 82, 83, 85,
oppression and animal 86, 87, 88–9, 90–2, 93, 94–8,
exploitation, xviii, 65, 68–9, 129–30, 162, 182–3, 188–90,
72, 83–4 192, 195
factory farming, 10, 32, 41, 64, 72, role in family, xix, 137–40
73, 74 as role models, 26–7
families, 38, 49, 50, 51, 52, 54–6, shelters, 72, 130, 194
59, 60, 61, 136, 137–8, 153, slavery, 73
154, 155, 157, 158, 191, 192, and social justice
209, 216, 221, 222 see social work; trans-species
see inter-species families as source of unconditional love,
as family, 25, 28, 49, 50, 55, 58, 59, 200–1, 203
60, 88, 129, 152, 153, 154–5, symbolism and mythology, 74, 84
167, 174, 192, 200, 201, 222, terminology, 48–9, 98
223, 225 with traumatised children and
friendship with, 25, 26, 88, 113 youth, 105–6, 107–9,
function, location and role of in 112–14, 116–17
client systems, 154–5 trials and excommunications of, 86
as guardians, 28 violence against, 74–5, 215,
hoarding, 142, 157–8 219–23, 225
and human health, xx, 65–6, welfare and wellbeing, xv, xviii,
151–2, 154–5, 156–7, 167–81 xx, xxi, 32, 36, 40, 41, 52,
importance of in childhood, xvii, 68, 83, 90, 91, 96, 97, 129,
xix, 3–4, 19, 136 139, 140, 149, 159, 167, 189,
impoverished conception of, 83, 84 190–5, 208, 216, 219, 224
linkage between child abuse and anthropocentrism, xvii, 6, 9, 10, 11,
abuse of, 82–3, 136, 139, 13, 14, 74, 81, 82, 83, 84, 87,
140–2 92, 93–4, 95, 182, 188–9
in literature, 20–1 anthropomorphism, 13, 14
Index 239

argument from marginal cases see animal welfare agencies

(AMC), xviii, 80, 81, 85–9, chronic kidney disease, 167,
90, 92 168, 180
criticisms of, 80–2 see end-stage renal disease;
weaker/stronger versions of, 87 nephrology; renal disease
argument from moral consistency, 87 classism, 70
Asperger’s syndrome, 121 cognitive deficits, 106
attachment theory, 112–14 colonisation, 73, 183, 184
attention deficit hyperactivity communication, 125, 127
disorder (ADHD), 105, 106, stimulated by animals, 158, 173
109, 110, 116, 121 communication deficits, verbal and
attention restoration theory, 109–11, non-verbal, xix, 120, 121,
116 122
Australian Association of Social compassion, xvi, xx, 14, 110–11, 176,
Workers, xxi 185, 194, 195, 202
autism spectrum disorder (ASD), toward animals, xx, 14, 185, 194,
xviii-xix, 120–4, 127–8 195, 202
causes of challenging behaviours, conflict tactics scale, 216–17
122–3 consciousness, 4, 66, 96
deficits of, 121–2, 127 self-consciousness, 87, 88, 89, 96
prevalence of, 121, 122 conservation medicine, xvii, 36
theoretical explanations for success critical reflection, 18, 20
of AAT with, 126–8 cultural imperialism, 70, 73–4, 75

Bergh, Henry, 82 Darwin, Charles, 67, 85

binary oppositions, 24 dehumanisation, 80, 81
biophilia, 115, 126 Delta Society, see Pet Partners
hypothesis, 115, 116, 126 dependency, xviii, 80, 83, 84, 87–8,
bipolar disorder, 106 89, 95, 96
Blue Cross, 55 as a continuum, 87–8
marginalisation of, 80, 86
Cartesian worldview, 6, 74 moral priority of, 94–5, 96, 97
child abuse/neglect Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
abused children who abuse of Mental Disorders (DSM),
animals, 136, 155 121, 125, 126
linkage between animal abuse and, dialysis, 168, 170, 171, 178
xix, 82–3, 137–40 disability, xviii, 80, 81, 82, 88, 91, 93,
triggers in common with animals 94–5, 122, 130
abuse/neglect, 141–2, 144 cognitive/intellectual, 80, 81, 82,
child protection workers, 135 91, 93
assessing child safety, 135 historical abuses, 80
need for cross-disciplinary and linkage between abuse of animals
cross-species focussed and the disabled, xix, 141
interventions, xix, 137, dissimilarity as source of moral
142, 149 inclusion, 13–14, 27, 69, 95
child welfare agencies, 66, 135–7, 140 as source of moral exclusion, 6–7,
historical linkage of human and 8, 13, 96
animal welfare, 67, 82–3, domestic and ordinary life, devaluing
84, 96 of, xvii, 18–19, 22, 29
240 Index

domestic violence emotions, undervaluing of, 65, 69

and animals, 41, 50–1, 136, empathy, xvii, 13, 14, 110, 114, 128
139–40, 155, 159, 215–16 end-stage renal disease, 167, 168, 170
animals heightening threat to psychosocial stressors, 170
women, 216, 222 see chronic kidney disease;
heightening animal vulnerability, end-stage renal disease;
219–22 nephrology; renal disease
and homelessness, 48, 50–3, 60 enlightenment, 9
impact of animal abuse on human environmental problems, 64–5
victims, xxi, 219–22, 224 environmentalism, 8, 109
impact of on animals, 215, 223–4, epistemology, 40, 44
225 equal consideration of interests, 68,
implications for social work 88, 89
practice, 224–6 ethic of loving care, 96
and interspecies-families, 50–1 ethics
linkage between violence to implications when biology
animals and, xxi, 41, 51, 52, sequestered from, 84–5, 87–8
66, 69, 74, 75, 136, 139–40, see social work, ethical moral
155, 159, 209, 215–26 responsibilities
majority of shelters responding to ethics of care, 69
only humans, xxi, 52 ethology, 66, 85
need for animal-friendly cognitive, 66
accommodation, xxi, 53, 60, euthanasia, 20, 130, 194, 196, 207–8,
224, 225 210, 225
need for inclusion of animal in effects on people and veterinarians,
assessments, xxi, 50–3, 225 20, 207–8
need to factor in women’s concerns evolution, 5
for animal safety, 51, 52 evolutionary continuity, 84, 85
shelters and animals, 51, 53, 217, radical discontinuity, 84
220, 224
theories of, 216–19 families, xix, 8, 49, 50, 61, 136,
use of animals as coercive control 137–8, 153, 154, 155, 157,
tactic, 136, 139–40, 222–3 158, 167, 168, 190, 191, 192,
domestico-centrism, 11 194, 209, 216, 221, 222
assessing at risk humans and
ecofeminism, 68, 69 animals in, xix, 69, 140–2
ecology, xvii, 11–14, 36, 37, 42–4, calendar, 145–7
151 Know Your Hot Buttons chart/Know
deep, xvii, 11–12, 13, 14, 43 Your Warm Buttons interview
informing social work theories guide, 143–5, 147–9
and practices, 8–9, 11–14 definition of, 49
informing social work values, 11 failure of agencies and authorities
shallow, 12 to factor in, 49–50, 54–5
ecosystems, 5, 7, 32 inter-species families, 49–52, 54–6,
elder abuse 59, 60, 61
linkage with animal abuse, xix, 66, linkage between human and
136, 139, 140, 141 animal abuse in households,
emotional deficits, 106 138, 139–40
emotional fellowship, 96 role of companion animals in,
as morally significant, 96 137–40
Index 241

fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, need for greater research on

105, 110 co-sheltering and inter-
flourishing of capacities, 95 species to inform policy and
foetus, 90 responses, xviii, xxi, 60–1
veterinary care, 56
generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), youth, 48, 57–9, 60
105–6 homophobia, 189
global warming, 7 analogous to speciesism, 189
global worldview, 32–3 human medicine, xvii, 35, 36
globalisation, 32–3, 71 historical interrelationship with
grief veterinary medicine, 35
and animal loss, xx, 20, 22, 23, human nature, 80, 84
204–5, 208–9 and animal inheritance, 85, 87
anticipatory, 206 caring as constitutive of, 88
attachment and loss, 201–3 human welfare and wellbeing, xx,
cultural and political narratives, xxi, 8, 9, 10, 36, 39, 40, 52,
205 65, 66, 72, 75, 81, 83, 90, 91,
disenfranchised, 22 94, 96, 115, 116, 151, 152,
animal loss, xxi, 22–3, 206–7 159, 161, 169, 179, 182, 188,
minimisation and non-validation 191, 192
of animal loss, xxi, 22–3 human-animal bond (HAB), xx, xxi, 9,
models and theories of, 204–5 23, 24–9, 48, 49–50, 51–2, 58,
guardianship of animals, 27, 49, 54, 66, 136, 154, 167, 199–203
55, 56–7, 59, 61, 108, 169, assessment tools, 157
175, 177, 191, 202, 207, 211 attachment and loss, 201–3
benefits of, xx, 25–9, 38–9, 60, 66,
health 107, 115, 120, 124, 162, 170,
benefits of animals in, xx, 65–6, 171, 172–7, 178, 180, 200–3
151–2, 154–5, 156–7, 167–81 as diagnostic treatment tool, 152
global issues, 36, 40, 41, 44, 168 drawbacks of, 177–8
interconnectedness of human, historical recognition of, 65
animal and natural world in importance in homelessness, 53–60
social work literature, 33 importance of training in for social
interrelationship of humans and workers, 162
animals, 40, 43 importance to human health and
homelessness, xviii wellbeing, xx, 65–6, 151–2,
chronically homeless, 49, 154–5, 156–7, 167–81
50, 53–5 lack of professional understanding
criticised for having animals, 57 of, 136
definition of excludes animals, 50 need for incorporation of in
domestic violence, 48, 50–3, 60 foundational and advanced
inter-species, xvii, 48–63 social work training, 152,
mutually beneficial relationships, 160–2
55, 56–9, 60 need to integrate into social work
natural disasters, 48, 59–60 assessments, practice and
co-sheltering of humans and theory, 51–2, 136, 153–62,
animals in, 59–60 167, 179–80, 210–11
need for animal-friendly theoretical explanations for
accommodation, 53, 54, strength of, 201–3
55, 59 uniqueness of, 26, 168–9
242 Index

human-animal relationship, 151, mandatory reporting/reporting

152–3, 154, 157, 161, 162 responsibilities, 137, 159
humanism, 9, 34, 88 marginal apes, 96
Humanitarian League, 67 marginal humans, 80, 81, 85–7, 89,
humans 91, 92–4, 96–7
unique moral standing of, 6, 48, marginalisation
80, 81, 82, 83, 84 of animals, 19, 70, 72–3, 75, 84,
with animals as unique cultural 86, 97
group, 152 of humans, 19, 70, 72–3, 75, 80,
84, 86, 97, 158
individualism, 34, 49 Matrix of opportunity model, 156
inductive discourse analysis, 183 Mauritius, xx, 182–8, 190–6
infanticide, 89–90 animal abuse/neglect in, 184–8,
infants 190–1, 193
undervaluing the capacities of, 87 attitudes to animals in, 193–4
inherent dignity, 10 development of social work in,
inherent value, 10, 68, 69–70, 89, 184, 190
90, 91 historical background, 183–4
inherent worth, 9 Mauritius Society for Animal
insects, xvii, 3–8 Welfare (MSAW), 187, 192
appreciation of, 3–4 Mauritius Society for the
attitudes towards, 4, 5, 7, 8 Prevention of Cruelty to
cultural depictions of, 5, 7 Animals (MSPCA), 184–7,
dissimilarity, 7 192, 194
insectification, 13–14 Poor Law, 184
transformative influence of, 4, 14 poverty and animal welfare in,
ubiquity and prolificity of, 5, 6 190–2, 195
inter-disciplinary collaboration, 33 Protection of Animal Welfare
interpersonal relations, 120 Society (PAWS), 187, 192,
inter-species families, see families 194, 195
intersubjectivity, 9, see subjectivity; role for social workers in fostering
subjects-of-a-life humane attitudes towards
intrinsic respect, 12 animals, 194–5
intrinsic value, 12, 13, 14, 23, Save Our Strays, 187
89, 90 stray dogs problem in, xx, 184–8,
intrinsic worth, 12, 190 190–5
social work response to, xx,
Kant, Immanuel, 74 183, 188, 189, 190, 191,
192, 193, 194
language mental health, 21, 57, 65, 105–6,
as distinguishing capacity, 67, 87, 109, 113, 115, 122–3, 137,
89 161, 170
as morally significant, 87, 89 benefits of animals in, 21, 57,
role of in oppression and 65, 115
liberation, 48 benefits of nature in, 9–11, 115
learning theory, 114, 126 Mill, John Stuart, xv, 82
Linzey, Andrew, xv mixed communities, 81
love, as central to morality, 96 modernism, 32–3, 34, 38, 44
love of humanity, 95 moral agency, 86, 87, 90
Index 243

moral agents, 86, 91, 189 limitations of ontological aspects of,

moral community, xvii, 14, 81, 84, 87, 38, 39
89, 91, 188 need for animal inclusiveness,
criteria for membership in, 67–9, 37–41, 43–4
74, 81, 84, 85, 87–98, 195 social work’s absence from, xvii, 35,
moral considerability, xvii, 10, 12, 13, 41–2
91, 92, 93, 96, 190 theoretical limitations
moral consistency, 97–8 of, 34–5
moral continuity, 85 totalising ontology of, 40, 41
moral patients, 86, 91 transformative and integrative
moral priority, xviii, 80, 88–9, 94, 96 epistemology, 40, 44
motivation, 56, 57, 58, 91, 112, 116, One Medicine, 35–6, 37, 40
156, 157, 162 limitations of, 36
oppositional defiance disorder (ODD),
National Museum of Animals and 100–11
Society, 48, 49
National Society for the Prevention of particularity, moral importance of, 89,
Cruelty to Children, 83 91, 94, 95, 96
natural disasters, see homelessness patriarchy, 72, 218
natural kinds, 92 person-as-place, 43
natural world person-in-context, 24
benefits of , 109, 115 person-in-environment, xvii,
moral invisibility of, 42 xxi, 8, 42
Western attitudes towards, 4, 6, limitations of, and alternative
7, 11 theoretical models to, 8–10,
nature deficit disorder, 109 11, 12–14, 42–3, 151
nature-assisted therapies, xix, 7, persons/personhood, 34, 69, 85, 88,
109–11, 115, 116, 117 89, 90, 91, 92–4, 96
nephrology, 167–8, 170, 171, 179, 180 as independent of biological
social work, xx, 167, 168, 170–2, characteristics, 93
179, 180 personism, 97
see chronic; end-stage and renal as socially constructed/determined,
kidney disease 34, 93
neurodevelopmentally impacted traditional criteria for, 67–9, 74, 81,
children and youth, xix, 84, 85, 87–98, 195
106–7, 110, 111 see respect for persons
non-cognitive wellbeing, 91 pervasive developmental disorder
non-verbal communication, 107, 120, (PDD), 105
122, 127 not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS),
121, 123
One Health Pet Partners, 66, 124,
animal welfare and wellbeing, 33, 128, 129
36, 37–41 Porphyry, 87
anthropocentrism of, xvii, 38, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
39–40, 45 105–6
definition of, 33 postmodernism, 34, 44
interconnectedness of human, poverty, 49, 56, 76, 190–1, 195
animal and natural world in, practice wisdom, 9
34, 36, 37 psychonephrology, 170
244 Index

psychosocial factors/assessment, xx, Safe Haven for Pets (SHP), 52–3

151, 167, 168, 169, 170, 178, sanctity of life ethic, 89
179, 180 schizophrenia, 106
inclusion of animals in, 151, 167, self
179, 180 demarcation between non-self and,
6, 13, 14, 42, 44, 73, 74, 83,
quality of life 84, 85
animals, 57 expansive sense of, xvii, 3–4, 11,
enhanced by animal 12–13, 26, 84, 95, 96, 98
companionship, 168–9, self-realisation, 12–13
178–80 sentience, 13, 38, 67, 68, 69, 75, 83,
humans, xx, 168, 169–70, 171, 172, 87, 88, 90–1, 92, 93, 137
178–80 as bestowing personhood, 69
constitutive of respect, 93
racism, 70, 73, 74, 189 devaluing of in animals, 92, 90–1,
analogous to speciesism, 73, 93–4
74, 189 moral significance of, 67–9, 83, 87,
rationality 88, 90, 91
as elitist, 96 sexism, 70, 189
as morally significant, 67, 74, 88 analogous to speciesism, 189
as not morally decisive, 67, 69, 74, slavery, enslaved humans as property,
87, 90–1, 93 73
reactive attachment disorder social deficits, 106
(RAD), 105 social justice, 19, 43, 44, 64–76, 161,
receptacles of value, 89, 90 189
relational identification, 11, see social work
12–13, 14 social work
relational needs and capacities absence of animals in assessments,
moral significance of, 95, 96 151, 167
nurtured by love, 96 access to animals and natural world
nurtured in humans by as an issue of, 161, 191
animals, 28 activism on behalf of animals, 183,
renal disease, 167–8, 169–70, 180 188–9, 190, 191, 192–5
see chronic kidney disease; animals as constitutive of, 152
end-stage kidney disease; animals in child protection
nephrology literature, 23
replaceability argument, 89 animals in domestic violence
respect for human beings, 95 literature, 23, 215, 219–24
respect for individuals, 97 animals in mental health literature,
respect for persons, xviii, 92, 94, 95 22
as key moral principle of social `as anthropocentric, xvii, xxi, 9, 10,
work, 92 13, 42–3, 44, 50–1, 69–70,
as morally inadequate, 92–4 71, 75–6, 80–1, 82, 84, 93,
as rationality dependent, 92–3 95, 151, 182, 188–90, 195,
see persons/personhood 210
right to life, 88, 90 anti-oppressive (AOSW), xvii, 42,
Royal Society for the Prevention of 43, 70–1
Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), codes of ethics
82, 83 anthropocentrism of, 81, 210
Index 245

social work – continued anti-oppressive biocentric, xvii,

need for animals in, xxi, 81, 211 44
culturally competent practice by as human centred, 64, 65, 67, 68,
inclusion of human-animal 70, 72, 75
bond, 152 trans-species, xviii, 64–76
deep ecological, xvii, 8–9, 11, 42–4 extrapolation of social justice
dismissal of animals theory to animals, 70–5
absolute, xvi values as human-centred, 182
relative, xv specicide, 8
ecological/systems theory, xvii, 8, species membership
9, 42 as linked with the border of value,
environmental, 9 84
ethical/moral responsibilities, xx, 9, moral significance, 80, 81, 82, 87,
10, 11–12, 13, 14, 39–40, 65, 93
67–8, 69–70, 73, 74, 76, 81, non-moral significance, xviii, 82,
82, 83, 85, 86, 87, 88–9, 90–2, 87, 88, 91–2, 93
93, 94–8, 129–30, 162, 182–3, speciesism, 68, 69, 71, 73, 74, 95, 96,
188–90, 192, 195 189
human-animal bond, passim capitalism, 64, 69, 71
interrelationship of the moral, as structural system, 69, 71, 76
theoretical and practical, xvi subjectivity, 85, 90
need for animal inclusive see intersubjectivity; subjects-of-a-
methodologies, xvii, xix–xx, life
9, 18, 20, 21–2, 23–4, 29–30, subjects-of-a-life, 68, 90
41, 51–2, 60–1, 126, 153–62, see intersubjectivity; subjectivity
need for incorporation of Therapy Dogs International, 66
human-animal bond/ trauma
relationship in foundational in animals, 188, 208–9, 226
and advanced training, xx, benefits of animals in, xix, 65,
51, 152, 159–62 105–17
need for moral recognition of benefits of nature in, xix, 105–17
animals in, 65, 80–101, limitations of therapy in, 107
189–90, 188–90 from loss of animals in natural
need to advocate for linkage disasters, 59–60, 160
between human and animal neurodevelopmental impact in early
health, 159–60 childhood, 106–7
origins of, 82–3, 182, 184
prioritisation of dependency and United Nation Food and Agriculture
vulnerability, 80, 81, 94, 95, Organisation (FAO), 36, 38
96, 97
role for social workers in fostering vegetarianism/veganism, 97
humane attitudes towards veterinarians, 32, 33, 39, 41, 56, 129,
animals, xx, 194–5 137, 138, 140, 158, 177, 191,
social justice, 19, 43, 44, 64, 65, 67, 206, 207–8, 215
161, 189 veterinary medicine, xvii, 35, 36, 37
animals as social justice issue, historical interrelationship with
xviii, 44, 64, 65, 68, 69–70, human medicine, 35
72, 75–6, 161 veterinary social work, xvi
246 Index

violence shared vulnerability of animals and

institutionalised and culturally children, 83
accepted, 75, 76
linkage between animal and Wilson, Mary Ellen, 82
human, 41, 50–3, 60, 66, 69, World Health Organisation (WHO),
74, 136, 159, 209, 215, 216, 36, 39, 40
219–23 World Organisation for Human
vulnerability, xviii, xxi, 80, 83, 84, Health (OIE), 36
88, 95, 96, 97, 141, 221
of animals in domestic Zooeyia, 38, 39
violence, 221 Zoonosis, 35, 36, 39, 45
marginalisation of, 80, 86 Zoonotic diseases, 32,
moral priority of, xviii, 94–5, 96, 97 36, 45