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PAWsitive Outlook: The Effects of Human-Animal Interaction on Incarcerated Women Participating in a Prison-based Animal Program

By Katherine Sohn

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This study investigates the effects of human-animal interactions, bonds and relationships on incarcerated individuals through their involvement in a prison-based animal training program. The context of the study provides a unique opportunity to examine human-animal interaction in a situation of relative human isolation. The incarcerated women participating in the animal program work with cats and dogs in boarding, grooming, foster care, obedience, and service training. These individuals not only work with cats and dogs daily, but also cohabitate with the animals they train in their living quarters in the prison. The theories of Symbolic Interactionism (Mead 1964), Dramaturgy (Goffman 1959, 1961), and Interaction Ritual Theory (Collins 1981; 2004) are used to frame the study; and the study is informed by research into the human-animal bond and the sociology of emotions. The investigation is largely qualitative and ethnographic and draws on observations from within the prison and its animal training facility, as well as on in-depth interviews with the 14 participants and 5 prison staff involved in the program. Results of the study suggest that human interaction with animals in a context of relative social isolation can provide an important basis of socio-emotional support. Interaction with animals not only provides self-esteem and self-efficacy for incarcerated women, but it also suggests that humans and animals can develop rich emotional bonds. The social relationship developed between animals and humans can create an important therapeutic assistance to both humans and animals. These results also have important implications for the theories of Symbolic Interactionism, Dramaturgy, and Interaction Rituals, and push us to rethink the social circumstances of incarcerated individuals and their social relationships.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2015
Pages 129
Publisher California State University, Northridge
Department Sociology
Degree Master of Arts
Language English
University California State University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Emotions
  3. Human-animal bond
  4. Human-animal interactions
  5. identity
  6. open access
  7. Pets and companion animals
  8. prison-based animal programs
  9. Prisoners
  10. Prisons
  11. Women
  1. open access