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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

All in the family? Understanding the meaning of dogs and cats in the lives of American pet owners
by Blouin, David D., Ph.D., Indiana University, 2008, 335; 3330815
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is an examination of attitudes toward, treatment of, and interactions with, animals. I investigate the impact of culture, demographic characteristics, and family structure on the role and meaning of animals in people's lives. This study employs both qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative methods consist of in-depth interviews with 35 dog owners, as well as analyses of local animal policies and statutes and of the literature and advocacy campaigns of national animal protection organizations. Quantitative methods consist of statistical analyses of a survey of 575 local dog and cat owners.

Results indicate that while pets are an important part of many people's lives, often providing companionship, entertainment, and meaningful interactions, there are distinct variations in how people relate to them. Pet owners typically exhibit one of three different orientations toward pets: "dominionist," "humanist," and "protectionist." Dominionist pet owners have relatively low regard for their pets, valuing them primarily for the uses they provide, such as protection. Humanists, who elevate their pets to the status of surrogate humans, value their pets primarily for the affective benefits they enjoy from their close emotional attachments. Protectionists have high regard for both pets and animals more generally. They view pets as valuable companions and as creatures with their own interests.

My findings suggest that cultural logics and scripts defining the meanings of animals and proper human-animal relations, such as those advanced by local statutes and advocated by animal protection groups, are important determinants of people's orientations toward their pets. Additionally, personal experiences, family structure, and area of residence affect these orientations, as people with children and those living in rural areas tend to have lower levels of regard for, and attachment to, pets. I argue that individuals' experiences, demographic characteristics, and family structures, help determine the culture that they are exposed to, the culture they find most compelling, and the culture they ultimately use to think and act.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Robinson, Robert V.
Commitee: Armstrong, Elizabeth A., Powell, Brian, Rojas, Fabio
School: Indiana University
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 69/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Sociology
Keywords: Attitudes toward animals, Cultural logics and practices, Culture, Human-animal relations, Pet owners, Pets, Treatment of animals
Publication Number: 3330815
ISBN: 978-0-549-86959-7
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