Dogs and the elderly: the significance of end of life interspecies companionship.
AffiliationUniversity of Derby
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AbstractWe seek comfort from other beings, which in the absence of opportunities to communicate with other humans often finds a solution in relationships with the dogs. Walter Benjamin said “…no single dog is physically or temperamentally like another,” and they bring this individuality to the co-dependence that is living with humans, an interspecies domesticity based on mutual physical and emotional need. The positivity for health of a life with dogs is particularly relevant to the elderly, those who may feel isolated and emotionally vulnerable due to illness, infirmity or being housebound. Their canine companion becomes the energy for life alleviating depression and isolation, creating instead a sense of usefulness to another. Although sharing one’s life with a dog gives purpose and comfort, it also brings anxieties regarding care and separation should that relationship change or cease. For the elderly, this specifically concerns being mindful and worried of the dog’s fate should they enter managed housing or care facilities, or if separated by illness or death. The ‘burden’ they would leave in this situation often sees the elderly intentionally deny homing another dog should theirs die, thus inflicting a self-imposed loneliness. This decision increases sadness and isolation, often with elevated levels of depression becoming a consequence. This illustrated presentation discusses this dilemma through the lens of the social art project ‘Dogs and the Elderly,’ which analyses the significance and benefit of companion relationships towards the end of life. Working with participants from the Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Café’s in Nottingham, the project analyses the importance of the interspecies relationships for physical and emotional health and wellbeing. Participants, who are interviewed and photographed in their homes with their dogs, discuss their current and past interspecies companions, offering equally heart-warming and heart-breaking accounts as discussions move to a lonelier and dog-free life when their current companion becomes their last. The fear of burden and lack of being able to ensure safe care of a beloved dog once they cannot prescribes a self-imposed loneliness, one where it seems better to know they will not commit a dog to an unknown future than to benefit from their friendship now. The presentation was delivered as part of ARC Artistic Research Forum, De Nieuwe Regentes, The Hague, 5th November 2018.
CitationBartram, A. (2018) ‘Dogs and the elderly: the significance of end of life interspecies companionship’, [Presentation], ARC Artistic Research Forum: Social Engagement, De Nieuwe Regentes, The Hague, 5th November.
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