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Grow Old Along with Me: The Meaning of Dogs in Seniors' Lives

By Ardra Linette Cole

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This is a phenomenological study intended to more fully understand the meaning and significance older adults attach to their relationship with their dogs. What do those relationships look like? How do they help to define seniors’ lives? What is it about those relationships that communities need to pay attention to in order to foster positive ageing? Participants were ten women and four men, ranging in age from 60 to 99 years, and their dogs, ranging in age from four to 16 plus years, in four communities in Nova Scotia, Canada. Information was gathered over a period of a year through in-depth conversations, observations, and photographs in order to capture the nature and meaning of the dog-human relationships. While each participating pair had a unique and nuanced relationship, four predominant themes cut across all of the participants’ relationships with their dogs. These themes depict the meaning the participants attach to their dogs and point to the psycho-spiritual nature of those relationships. The themes of beloved attachment, unconditional love, steadfast friendship, and joyful responsibility are presented using photographs and participants’ words. The research evidences the role of dogs in the well-being and quality of life of older adults and identifies the support of those relationships as a community and societal responsibility. The goal of creating conditions to ensure that older adults are able to maintain a high standard of health and well-being must include strategies that recognize and support the significance of dog-senior relationships; that is, the development of age-friendly communities as pet-friendly communities.

Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Assisted living facilities
  3. Dogs
  4. Long-term care facilities
  5. Mammals
  6. Nursing homes
  7. Pets and companion animals