Spotlighting BIPOC-Companion Animal Relationships
Companion animals are ubiquitous in the U.S., regardless of one’s demographic. However, previous research on human-companion animal relationships has focused mainly on white guardians. The authors of this study point out that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) may have a unique relationship with their companion animals: for example, research has found that Black people are less likely to have a companion animal than white people. However, it’s unclear what, if anything, this disparity tells us about BIPOC communities and their beliefs about animal guardianship.
The researchers in this study decided to take a closer look at the relationships between BIPOC animal guardians and their non-human companions. They created four focus groups, each with participants of a different race: Hispanic, Black, Asian, and white. Each focus group had four to five participants. The researchers asked them about how they think of their animals, their experiences being an animal guardian, and other questions related to living with a companion animal.
In general, people of different races had the same relationships with companion animals. Participants thought of their companion animals as family members, especially children and siblings. BIPOC guardians said that they received emotional support from their companion animals, while emotional support didn’t come up in the white focus group. Participants in all four groups said they felt safe and protected around their animals. Similarly, a common sentiment was that participants would go into a panic or “freak out” if their companion animal went missing.
All participants except for one grew up with animals in their family. Children who grow up with companion animals may have stronger relationships with companion animals when they’re adults. One participant who identified as African said that animals in African culture are supposed to be watchdogs and hunt for themselves. According to this participant, her family members and other members of the African community found it confusing that she was close and compassionate with her dog and that she hugged her dog.
Almost all participants said that they would not get a new companion animal if something happened to their current one. Companion animals require a lot of work and commitment, which the participants weren’t enthusiastic about. However, the participants had developed a strong relationship with their current companion animals. In general, participants said they had a hard time imagining their lives without their animals.
There were several limitations to the study. Participants in a focus group often influence each other’s responses, and because the researchers only organized one focus group for each race, it’s difficult to know how much the influence of individual participants affected the group’s opinions. Further, the researchers sought out respondents who indicated a relationship with companion animals in the past. The study doesn’t say anything about what people who don’t have companion animals think about them.
Based on this study, BIPOC animal guardians feel emotionally close and attached to their companion animals. The authors suggest that the “stigma” of animal guardianship among many BIPOC community members is outdated, and that these communities are now recognizing the benefits of keeping an animal as a companion. Given how much value the participants in this study gained from their companion animals, the authors recommend educational interventions to encourage members of BIPOC communities to adopt and care for companion animals.