Special Issue "Social Isolation and the Roles That Animals Play in Supporting the Lives of Humans: Lessons for COVID19"

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Human-Animal Interactions, Animal Behaviour and Emotion".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 June 2021.

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Aubrey H. Fine
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Education, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, CA 91768, USA
Interests: animal assisted interventions; social skills; parenting
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Isolation and a sense of loneliness are two outcomes that have occurred as a consequence of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Science has clearly documented that loneliness has tremendous impact not only on people’s mental health, but also their physical well-being. Clearly relationships with animals could support and ameliorate a sense of loneliness and hopelessness. Such relationships could also provide daily support for people and provide them with a positive outlet for hope. This Special Issue will focus on lessons that have been observed and documented with vulnerable populations during this pandemic and how human relationships with animals provided a degree of social support and possibly acted as social capital.

Prof. Dr. Aubrey H. Fine
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Animals is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • animals acting as social support
  • loneliness and social isolation
  • vulnerable populations companion animals
  • social capital

Published Papers (6 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
The Year That Has Passed Us By: Animals in Our Life of COVID-19
Animals 2021, 11(2), 395; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11020395 - 04 Feb 2021
Viewed by 456
Abstract
The year 2020 has been a dreadful one: a living nightmare that has changed and impacted the lives of many [...] Full article

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Attachment to Pets Moderates Transitions in Latent Patterns of Mental Health Following the Onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Results of a Survey of U.S. Adults
Animals 2021, 11(3), 895; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030895 - 21 Mar 2021
Viewed by 420
Abstract
This cross-sectional study examined whether, and to what extent, attachment to pets was associated with changes in latent patterns of adults’ perceived mental health symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic (n = 1942). We used latent transition analysis to determine the stability of [...] Read more.
This cross-sectional study examined whether, and to what extent, attachment to pets was associated with changes in latent patterns of adults’ perceived mental health symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic (n = 1942). We used latent transition analysis to determine the stability of subgroup membership pre- and post-COVID and the effect of attachment to pets on transition probabilities. Mental health before COVID-19 was measured retrospectively. Five subgroups were identified: low symptoms, mild symptoms, moderate symptoms, high symptoms, and severe symptoms. Among individuals in the moderate and high symptoms subgroups, those who reported high attachment to pets generally had greater odds of transitioning to a less severe symptom profile (OR = 2.12) over time than those with low attachment to pets (OR = 1.39). However, those who had a severe symptom profile and high attachment to pets had lower odds of transitioning to a less severe symptom profile (OR = 0.30) and higher odds of maintaining a severe symptom profile (OR = 3.33) than those with low attachment to pets. These findings suggest that the protective and risk effects of attachment to pets differ based on individuals’ psychological symptom patterns across multiple indicators. We discuss the implications of these findings for research, policy, and practice. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Companion Animal Relationships and Adolescent Loneliness during COVID-19
Animals 2021, 11(3), 885; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030885 - 19 Mar 2021
Viewed by 1194
Abstract
The pandemic associated with the emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is an unprecedented historical event with the potential to significantly impact adolescent loneliness. This study aimed to explore the role of companion animals and attachment to pets in the context of the [...] Read more.
The pandemic associated with the emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is an unprecedented historical event with the potential to significantly impact adolescent loneliness. This study aimed to explore the role of companion animals and attachment to pets in the context of the pandemic. We used longitudinal quantitative survey data collected prior to and during the pandemic to assess the role of pets in predicting adolescent loneliness. Pet ownership was not a significant predictor of loneliness before the pandemic, but did predict higher levels of loneliness during COVID-19 as well as higher increases in loneliness from before to during the pandemic. Dog ownership predicted lower levels of loneliness prior to, but not during the pandemic, and dog owners were significantly more attached to their pets than non-dog pet owners. Adolescents with pets reported spending more time with their pets during the pandemic, and frequently reported pet interactions as a strategy for coping with stress. Overall, the results from this study did not support the presence of a buffering effect of companion animals on loneliness for adolescents and indicate complexity in the relationships between pet ownership, attachment, loneliness, and coping with stress. These results suggest a need for additional research further assessing how features of the relationship such as species and relationship quality might contribute to adolescent mental health outcomes. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Association between Experience of Pet Ownership and Psychological Health among Socially Isolated and Non-Isolated Older Adults
Animals 2021, 11(3), 595; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030595 - 24 Feb 2021
Viewed by 688
Abstract
The psychological health effects of pet ownership have been widely studied, but only a few studies investigated its impact among socially isolated older adults. The present study aims to investigate the psychological health of older adults with or without the experience of pet [...] Read more.
The psychological health effects of pet ownership have been widely studied, but only a few studies investigated its impact among socially isolated older adults. The present study aims to investigate the psychological health of older adults with or without the experience of pet (i.e., dog or cat) ownership who are socially isolated or not socially isolated. This study used cross-sectional data from 9856 community-dwelling older adults in a metropolitan area of Japan. Social and non-social isolation and type of pet ownership (i.e., dog or cat) were stratified to examine the psychological health. Logistic regression models indicated that, after adjusting for demographic and potential confounders, socially isolated older adults who never owned a dog were 1.22 times more likely to report lower psychological health in comparison to socially isolated current or past dog owners. No such difference was observed among cat owners. The results suggest that the experience of dog ownership may be effective to improve the psychological health among socially isolated older adult. Full article
Open AccessArticle
The Experience of Teleworking with Dogs and Cats in the United States during COVID-19
Animals 2021, 11(2), 268; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11020268 - 21 Jan 2021
Viewed by 1336
Abstract
In Spring of 2020, the novel coronavirus (SAR-CoV-2) prompted an unprecedented number of individuals across the United States to begin working from home. Prior research has identified both positive and negative impacts of teleworking on employee well-being, and this study built on that [...] Read more.
In Spring of 2020, the novel coronavirus (SAR-CoV-2) prompted an unprecedented number of individuals across the United States to begin working from home. Prior research has identified both positive and negative impacts of teleworking on employee well-being, and this study built on that research to explore perceptions regarding how companion animals factor into the teleworking experience. Individuals who had experience working from home and from their employer’s office completed an online survey about those experiences. Participants reported spending more quality time with their companion animals and family members when they worked from home. Furthermore, when working from home, individuals with dogs were more likely than those without dogs to report they socialized with other people, got a healthy amount of physical activity, and took at least one 15-min walk during the workday. Some participants, particularly those in households containing both dogs and cats, indicated that their pets created distractions during the workday. Future studies can build on this research by investigating whether the findings persist once the novel coronavirus is no longer a threat, and by paying close attention to the characteristics of pets, owners, and household dynamics that may influence the effects of pet ownership on the teleworking experience. Full article

Other

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Open AccessCommentary
A Commentary about Lessons Learned: Transitioning a Therapy Dog Program Online during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Animals 2021, 11(3), 914; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030914 - 23 Mar 2021
Viewed by 571
Abstract
In 2015, the University of Saskatchewan PAWS Your Stress Therapy Dog program partnered with St. John Ambulance for therapy dog teams to visit our campus and offer attendees love, comfort and support. We recognized at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that students, [...] Read more.
In 2015, the University of Saskatchewan PAWS Your Stress Therapy Dog program partnered with St. John Ambulance for therapy dog teams to visit our campus and offer attendees love, comfort and support. We recognized at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that students, staff and faculty may require mental health support, particularly with the challenges of isolation and loneliness. In response, our team transitioned from an in-person to a novel online format at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We designed online content for participants to (1) connect with therapy dogs and experience feelings of love, comfort and support as occurred in in-person programming, and (2) learn about pandemic-specific, evidence-informed mental health knowledge. Our unique approach highlighted what dogs can teach humans about health through their own care and daily activities. From April to June 2020, we developed a website, created 28 Facebook livestreams and 60 pre-recorded videos which featured therapy dogs and handlers, and cross-promoted on various social media platforms. Over three months, first a combined process-outcome evaluation helped us determine whether our activities contributed to the program’s goals. A subsequent needs assessment allowed us to elicit participant preferences for the program moving forward. This commentary reflects on these findings and our teams’ collective experiences to share our key lessons learned related to program personnel needs, therapy dog handler training and support requirements, and online programming prerequisites. This combined understanding is informing our current activities with the virtual program and should be of interest to other therapy dog programs transitioning online. Full article

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

1. title: COVID companions: The instrumental role of companion animals in reducing pandemic-related distress

author: Cori Bussolari; Jen Currin-McCulloch; Phyllis Erdman; Lori Kogan; Wendy Packman

The COVID pandemic has impacted our lives in profound ways, not least of which is the increased social isolation felt by many as communities implemented stay at home policies. The upheaval of normal schedules, and for many, the financial/work losses, have led many people to feel anxious, depressed and isolated. During stressful times, many people find comfort in the relationships they share with their companion animals. Pets have been shown to have a positive impact on owners’ physical and emotional health. Research has shown that companion animals provide social and emotional support, and actively engaging with a pet is associated with reduced blood pressure and cortisol levels, and an increase in oxytocin, a hormone implicated in human to human bonding. The changes and stressors associated with COVID are unprecedented and it is unknown how the human animal bond is impacted, nor the potential benefits and challenges of pet ownership during this time. The current study was designed to assess this important element of the COVID pandemic. To obtain pet owners’ experiences and perceptions, an anonymous on-line survey was made available March 30, 2020 – May 1, 2020, resulting in 956 cat owner and 4105 dog owner responses. This mixed methods research design incorporated a descriptive analysis of categorical data and a directed content analysis of open-ended survey responses. Due to large corpus of qualitative data, a representative sample of 10 percent (n=95 cat; n= 410 dog) of the respondents was chosen by utilizing a randomized sample generator. Although results are reported separately for dog and cat owners, the two share many common factors. The majority of respondents for both groups were females living in cities that were currently recommending or mandating that residents stay at home, with only essential services remaining open. Both dog and cat owners reported feeling that they had less human support at the time they completed the survey than before COVID.  Most participants reported spending more time with their companion animals and that this increased time together strengthened the relationship. Respondents indicated feeling more bonded with their pets at the time they completed the survey when compared to how they felt before COVID. Importantly, most participants reported their dogs and cats helped them feel less anxious, depressed, isolated, and lonely. Their pets also helped their owners maintain a regular schedule, cope with uncertainty, be compassionate towards themselves, and find purpose in their lives. These benefits are discussed in terms of how best to support these critically important relationships during pandemic times.

2. title: Companion animals’ roles during pandemics, while supported by community lifelines such as PAWS: Parallels between AIDS and COVID-19

author: Aubrey H Fine; Lynette Hart; Ken Gorczyca; Katherine D’Amato

Over the decades, the field of human animal interactions has evolved to move beyond storytelling to demonstrating its value with stronger evidence-based research. These new findings are demonstrating the value of companion animals in the lives of many during difficult times. One of the tremendous challenges that pandemics bring upon our society is the implications of fostering isolation within the general population and more specifically vulnerable populations.

There are numerous lessons that can be learned from the tragedies of pandemics such as AIDS and COVID-19. Here we will initially highlight the emotional tragedies of the pandemics, focusing on the implications of loneliness and social isolation and highlighting the tragic parallels between the two pandemics. For both, companion animals have provided important contributions in fostering a quality of life for all those involved, who might otherwise feel extremely isolated.  The authors will integrate some findings from a survey conducted by the PAWS program of the Shanti Project organization of San Francisco highlighting how numerous clients viewed their animals’ impact on their lives and the importance of community-based organizations such as PAWS in supporting people during their difficult times. PAWS clients already are challenged with disabilities, such as AIDS and cancer, and poverty; and often they are lacking family support. COVID-19 adds further isolation and risks of profound loneliness. For its clients, PAWS provides a lifeline and connections to a broad supportive community, as well as facilitating continuing to live with a companion animal.

3. title: The New Status Quo: Enhancing Access to Human-Animal Interactions to Alleviate Social Isolation & Loneliness in the Time of COVID-19 

author: Taylor Chastain Griffin; Zenithson Ng; Lauren Kenney

The human-animal bond, as it is expressed and experienced in a wide variety of settings, has long been a powerful agent for decreasing feelings of loneliness and social isolation. However, the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly and drastically impacted several primary avenues for accessing companion animals and subsequent human-animal interactions (HAI). Service animals who were trained and accustomed to daily access to public places have had to adjust to staying at home. Therapy animals and their handlers who previously visited with many of the populations who are most vulnerable to the virus have largely had to halt their programming. Professionals who utilize animal-assisted interventions (AAI) have had to creatively develop new strategies to working with animals. Even the landscape for companion animals has been significantly altered, leading to behavioral changes and new practices. While companion animals, therapy animals, service animals and their human companions face new challenges in the wake of the pandemic, our recognition of the power of the human-animal bond has ultimately been elevated as it provides a vital need for connection during this time of extreme isolation. Having moved through this challenge alongside our animals, we now have a refined appreciation for the complex role that all companion animals, therapy animals and service animals play in our lives as social, relational, and sentient beings. In this paper, we will focus not only on describing the new status quo related to various kinds of animals and the public’s access to HAI, but we will also offer solution-focused suggestions for sharing the power of the human-animal bond during a time in which physical connections are rightly limited, but the world needs social connection the most. Organizational data from the service and therapy animal fields will be explored, presenting impressive findings related to the auspiciousness of new initiatives such as animal-related engagement and virtual visitation programs. Recommendations relevant to people who share their lives with any of these kinds of animals will be made to inform preparatory activities for reintegrating back into the community and public landscape together when it becomes safe to do so. Finally, having realized the preliminary success of these innovative means for promoting HAI during the pandemic, future research will be suggested so that these programs can continue to develop and ultimately bring HAI to a wider audience than ever before.

4. title: From Epidemic to Pandemic: The potential for pets to alleviate the loneliness epidemic and help people cope during the COVID-19 pandemic

authors: Angela Hughes; Lindsey Melfi; Aubrey Fine

In May 2019, Mars Petcare and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) hosted a Summit on Social Isolation and Companion Animals. The primary purpose of the Summit was to conceptualize and clarify the important roles that companion animals can provide in supporting the lives of vulnerable populations who experience social isolation. The forward thinking generated during the Summit produced numerous recommendations on the roles of pets that are even more relevant and applicable to the emotional challenges of social isolation caused by the global pandemic of COVID-19. It is evident that there appears to be a shift in how many people are viewing their relationships with companion animals during this time frame.

This paper will serve several purposes. Initially, attention will be given to capturing some of the major conclusions derived from the Summit and apply the relevant findings to the psychosocial challenges of being quarantined and sequestered for humans and their animal companions. Supporting these findings, information will be integrated from several large U.S. and international surveys identifying how people viewed their pets during the pandemic. The trends that shelters and rescue organizations are experiencing throughout the U.S. will also be discussed. While these organizations have faced some challenges as a result of the pandemic, including disruptions in normal animal transport operations that has limited the number of adoptable pets and delays in routine veterinary care due to shortages, there have been many bright spots. Many shelters and rescues have seen a significant increase in people fostering pets and a dramatic surge in pet adoptions as people turn to animal companionship to help cope with the pandemic. Themes and conclusions emerging from these surveys will be used to update and emphasize the recommendations borne out of the 2019 Summit, including how best to address and overcome new barriers to help pets and people thrive together.

5. title: Do Pets Buffer Feelings of Loneliness During Difficult Life Events? Insights from the COVID-19 Pandemic for Loneliness and Older Adults

authors: Dawn C. Carr; Erika Friedmann; Natalie Sachs-Ericsson; Chelsea Gilchrist

Pet ownership can provide important sources of social connection and companionship for individuals at all ages, and is suggested to be particularly important to older adults who are socially isolated. The COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique opportunity to evaluate whether these kinds of beneficial effects persist in helping individuals navigate periods of extended isolation. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many scholars argued that we had another pandemic underway: widespread and growing incidence of loneliness. Given the significant impact of loneliness on health and wellbeing in later life, many predicted that the safety measures imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic could greatly increase the problem of loneliness, particularly among populations more vulnerable to the negative consequences of COVID-19 like older adults. Recent research suggests that older adults with pets have fared better with respect to loneliness when faced with acute periods of stress than those without pets. It is unclear whether pets can buffer loneliness in the context of long-term social isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The current study is based on a community-based sample of adults 60+ in Florida, with data first collected on participants in September, 2018, and subsequent data were collected three months following the start of the COVID-19 national pandemic in June, 2020, and again seven months later. We evaluate changes in loneliness for two populations: a) those who indicated having a cat or dog consistently across all three study waves; and b) those who consistently reported not having a pet. Preliminary results suggest that those with a pet maintained lower levels of loneliness across the study period, net of baseline differences in loneliness, controlling for key control measures.

6. title: Social isolation and mental health among LGBTQ+ adults during the COVID-19 pandemic: Examining the risk and protective effects of relationships with companion animals

authors: Angela Matijczak, Jenny Applebaum, Shelby McDonald, PhD, Barbara Zsembik, PhD
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