Special Issue "We Are Best Friends: Animals in Society"

A special issue of Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760). This special issue belongs to the section "Community and Urban Sociology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 March 2019).

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Leslie Irvine
Website
Guest Editor
University of Colorado Boulder, USA
Interests: Animal welfare
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Friendships between humans and non-human animals were once dismissed as sentimental anthropomorphism. After all, who could claim to be friends with a being who did not speak the same language? Animals’ emotions were also questioned. However, decades of research on the emotional and cognitive capacities of animals have made it possible to recognize human-animal friendships as true relationships involving mindedness on both sides. Friendships with animals manifest many of the same characteristics as friendships between humans. Both parties understand the other as having interests, preferences, and other aspects of subjective experience. Both enjoy the shared presence that friendship entails, with its moments of intersubjectivity that comes with knowing another being. Both friends develop ways of communicating, apart from or in addition to spoken language.

Having an animal as a best friend often takes the form of companionship understood as the “pet”, but the relationship comes in other forms, too. People who work with animals often characterize their non-human partners as friends. People who work with search-and-rescue dogs, herding dogs, or police dogs develop, and even depend on, the closeness of best friendship. The same holds for equestrians of all sorts, as horses and riders must understand each other’s bodies and movements intimately. In some situations, animals provide the sole source of affection and interaction in people’s lives. Homeless people who live on the streets with animal companions often develop best friendships largely through 24/7 togetherness.

In this light, this Special Issue on humans and animals as best friends seeks to explore the various forms these friendships take. Moreover, it aims to shed light on what these friendships mean for society, broadly construed. In short, how do human-animal friendships, and best friendships, in particular, expand the existing interdisciplinary knowledge of the roles of animals in society? 

I encourage researchers from all disciplines and all methodological and theoretical approaches to submit contributions.

Prof. Dr. Leslie Irvine
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • best friends
  • companion animals
  • friendship
  • human-animal friendship
  • human-animal bond
  • pets

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle
Keeping Lily Safe: An Autoethnographic Exploration of Human–Animal Attachment during Adversity
Soc. Sci. 2019, 8(7), 217; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8070217 - 18 Jul 2019
Abstract
This article is an autoethnographic examination of my experiences as a pet owner during a particularly challenging time in my life. Beginning with a summary of a critical incident, it shows the way in which fears for the safety of my pet cat, [...] Read more.
This article is an autoethnographic examination of my experiences as a pet owner during a particularly challenging time in my life. Beginning with a summary of a critical incident, it shows the way in which fears for the safety of my pet cat, Lily, and my relationship with her impacted my health, wellbeing and identity. Depicting self-knowledge as partial, local and culturally located, I deconstruct the relationship I had with Lily in relation to the particular set of circumstances in which it was situated. I was seen by my doctor and prescribed a course of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) during this period, and so, my account draws on my medical records, CBT notes and my CBT thought diary in an attempt to understand how and why my anxiety was manifested in my concern for Lily. The article calls for cognitive behaviour therapists to carefully evaluate external stressors before fears are dismissed irrational and reformulated as alternative thoughts. This article also demonstrates that familiesare diverse, and there are many ways of ‘doing family’. For many heterosexual and same-sex couples, pets give stability to a partnership and elevate it to family status, if only within the privacy of the home. Human–animal attachments can be comparable to human–human attachments, and where attachments to pets are as strong as those toward humans, fear of harm can be devastating. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue We Are Best Friends: Animals in Society) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Chattel or Child: The Liminal Status of Companion Animals in Society and Law
Soc. Sci. 2019, 8(5), 158; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8050158 - 23 May 2019
Abstract
Companion animals in the U.S. are increasingly regarded as members of the family with whom one may share a strong emotional bond. However, despite an evolving social construction that has elevated their status in the dominant culture, companion animals lack meaningful legal rights, [...] Read more.
Companion animals in the U.S. are increasingly regarded as members of the family with whom one may share a strong emotional bond. However, despite an evolving social construction that has elevated their status in the dominant culture, companion animals lack meaningful legal rights, and “family member” is a provisional status that can be dissolved at will based on the discretion of the sole rights-holder in the relationship: the human owner. Because they are still defined within the U.S. legal system as property, it is a common lament within the animal protection movement that the law has not kept pace with the emergent cultural perception of companion animals as family or best friends who may occupy a significant place in one’s constellation of interpersonal relationships. But how divergent are the laws that govern our treatment of companion animals from prevailing social norms? This article examines current trends in animal law and society to shed light on this question. I find that while a new family member cultural status is emerging for companion animals in the U.S., their legal status as property is a countervailing force, enabling contradictory practices and beliefs that construct animals as expendable. The fact that their cultural status is in flux in turn reinforces their status under the law. I conclude with proposed policy reforms that will facilitate the integration of companion animals into society as true rather than rhetorical family members. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue We Are Best Friends: Animals in Society) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Why Would You Want a Baby When You Could Have a Dog?” Voluntarily Childless Women’s “Peternal” Feelings, Longing and Ambivalence
Soc. Sci. 2019, 8(4), 126; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8040126 - 20 Apr 2019
Abstract
This article explores voluntarily childless women’s experiences and understandings of human-animal interactions and their attitudes towards companion animals. It draws on interviews with 15 Swedish women who expressed a lack of “maternal” feelings and therefore had remained voluntarily childless, or childfree (used here [...] Read more.
This article explores voluntarily childless women’s experiences and understandings of human-animal interactions and their attitudes towards companion animals. It draws on interviews with 15 Swedish women who expressed a lack of “maternal” feelings and therefore had remained voluntarily childless, or childfree (used here as two interchangeable concepts). Instead, the women described how they perceived the attachment bonds to companion animals that they had developed as similar to, or even superior to, the attachments bonds between parents and their children. The article thus introduces the expressions “peternal”, and “peternal feelings”, to denote these women’s attachment bonds to companion animals (primarily cats and dogs). The results, however, also illustrate that few of the women actually took on the role as “pet parent”. Although they longed to develop attachment bonds with companion animals, they were conflicted and experienced ambivalence, leading to decisions to develop avoidance strategies, resembling those involved in the childfree decision. Hence, many of them described themselves as both childfree and “petfree”. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue We Are Best Friends: Animals in Society) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Framing ‘Friend’: Media Framing of ‘Man’s Best Friend’ and the Pattern of Police Shootings of Dogs
Soc. Sci. 2019, 8(4), 107; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8040107 - 02 Apr 2019
Abstract
The representation and framing of events by news sources plays a critical role in the way society comes to understand a given phenomenon. For example, the use of force by police officers against civilians is covered regularly by news media outlets. Far less [...] Read more.
The representation and framing of events by news sources plays a critical role in the way society comes to understand a given phenomenon. For example, the use of force by police officers against civilians is covered regularly by news media outlets. Far less widely examined, however, is the excessive use of force against companion animals or pets. Thus, to understand the ways in which police use of force against animals is framed in the media, we conducted qualitative content analyses of 189 print news articles published in diverse regions of the U.S. over the course of a six-year period (2011–2016). Drawing on symbolic interactionism, analysis reveals that the media’s representation of incidents of police shootings of dogs speaks not only to the social value dogs have in society, but also to the acceptability of friendships between humans and dogs. Specifically, we argue that some dog–human relationships are more socially acceptable than others and, therefore, shootings against some dogs are perceived as less acceptable than others. Ultimately, we find that news media representation and the ways in which incidents are framed reify existent social hierarchies. This research contributes to growing bodies of literature on police violence, the shift in perspectives on animals in society, and the power of the media to affect public perception of incidents. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue We Are Best Friends: Animals in Society) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Befriending Your Food: Pigs and People Coming of Age in the Anthropocene
Soc. Sci. 2019, 8(4), 106; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8040106 - 31 Mar 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Geologists and ecologists report that Earth is undergoing its sixth massive extinction event, an occasion that calls for radical revision of conservation ethics. The biologist Edward O. Wilson has proposed that conservation projects in the Anthropocene should be grounded in biophilia, an [...] Read more.
Geologists and ecologists report that Earth is undergoing its sixth massive extinction event, an occasion that calls for radical revision of conservation ethics. The biologist Edward O. Wilson has proposed that conservation projects in the Anthropocene should be grounded in biophilia, an evolved, relational (or biocentric) mode of perception that activates aesthetic and affective responses to non-human life alongside cognitive understanding. Because biophilia includes non-rational modes of perception, the nurturing of biophilic conservation ethics cannot fall to ecology alone; imaginative literature, for example, can prompt readers to imagine and work to realize more environmentally friendly roles for humans and, further, can assist in cultivating a conservation ethic suited to current ecological conditions. In particular, coming-of-age novels about friendships between people and pigs offer an alternative to the industrial “pork story” that seeks to gain narrative control of relational norms between people and pigs, at the expense of biodiversity and ecological health. Three such novels published in 2017 depict human–pig friendships, a relational model created by pigs’ shift in status from food to companion animals. In presenting this realignment, the stories facilitate development of a biophilic conservation ethic. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue We Are Best Friends: Animals in Society) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Exploring the Place of Animals and Human–Animal Relationships in Hydraulic Fracturing Discourse
Soc. Sci. 2019, 8(2), 61; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8020061 - 18 Feb 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Throughout human history, energy security has been a prominent concern. Historically, animals were used as energy providers and as companions and sentinels in mining operations. While animals are seldom used for these purposes in developed communities today, this legacy of use is likely [...] Read more.
Throughout human history, energy security has been a prominent concern. Historically, animals were used as energy providers and as companions and sentinels in mining operations. While animals are seldom used for these purposes in developed communities today, this legacy of use is likely to have far-reaching consequences for how animals and human–animal relationships are acknowledged in energy development. The US is currently experiencing an energy boom in the form of high volume horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (HVHHF); because animals are the most at risk from this boom, this study uses a thorough content analysis of peer-reviewed HVHHF articles mentioning animals from 2012–2018 to assess how animals and human–animal relationships are discussed. Three dominant article theme classifications emerge: animal-focused articles, animal-observant articles, and animal sentinel articles. Across themes, articles seldom acknowledge the inherent value or the social and psychological importance of animals in human lives; instead, the focus is almost exclusively on the use of animals as sentinels for potential human health risks. Further, what is nearly absent from this body of literature is any social science research. Given that relationships with animals are an integral part of human existence, this study applies environmental justice principles, serving as a call to action for social science scholars to address the impacts of HVHHF on animals and human–animal relationships. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue We Are Best Friends: Animals in Society) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Undercover Dogs: Pet Dogs in the Sleep Environment of Patients with Chronic Pain
Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(9), 157; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7090157 - 13 Sep 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
(1) Background: Chronic pain is a significant and prevalent condition in many industrialized nations. Pain and sleep’s reciprocal nature suggests that interventions to improve sleep may decrease pain symptoms. Little attention has been paid to the influence that owning a pet dog has [...] Read more.
(1) Background: Chronic pain is a significant and prevalent condition in many industrialized nations. Pain and sleep’s reciprocal nature suggests that interventions to improve sleep may decrease pain symptoms. Little attention has been paid to the influence that owning a pet dog has on the pain/sleep relationship. Typical advice to remove pets from the bedroom negates the possible positive benefit of human-animal co-sleeping. Aim: To investigate pain patients’ perceived impact of pet dog ownership on sleep. (2) Methods: We carried out a content analysis of interview data focused on the impact of pet dog ownership on sleep. The qualitative dataset comes from a subgroup of participants in a larger study examining the pain patient/canine relationship. This subgroup of participants from the larger study was asked, “Does your dog have a positive or negative impact on your sleep?” The data were thematically coded using an iterative approach. (3) Findings: Codes included: companionship; physical presence/’cuddles’; routine/schedule; distraction from anxiety/worry at night; reassuring/protective presence; active intervention to keep participant safe; daytime activity to promote sleeping at night; and reciprocal concern for the sleep of the pet dog. (4) Conclusions: Pet dogs may play important roles in helping people with chronic pain achieve sleep onset and maintenance. Removing the dog to improved sleep could be counter-productive and lead to additional sleep-related issues. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue We Are Best Friends: Animals in Society) Printed Edition available
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