Dogs and the elderly: significant cohabitation and companionship towards the end of life
AffiliationUniversity of Derby
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AbstractWe seek comfort from other beings and this often finds a solution in our relationships with dogs. Walter Benjamin said “no single dog is physically or temperamentally like another,” which in part attests to our interspecies domestic closeness based on reliance and need. Nowhere is this seen more than in their companionship with the elderly. The positivity for health of a life with dogs is relevant to the elderly, those may feel isolated and vulnerable without another with whom to share life. Here, dogs become a vital companion, alleviating depression and isolation and giving a sense of usefulness. 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 concerns being worried of their dog’s fate should they enter managed housing or care facilities, or if separated by illness or death. The ‘burden’ they would leave sees the elderly intentionally deny homing another dog should theirs die. This denial renders the dog a last memorial to the significance of the companionship that informed life. This presentation discusses my art project ‘Dogs and the Elderly’ that focuses on the significance and benefit of interspecies companionship towards the end of life. This project with the Alzheimer’s Society demonstrates how interspecies cohabitation is valuable for emotional health and wellbeing. Participants offer heart-warming and heart- breaking accounts of a lonelier and dog-free life when their current companion becomes their last. The fear of not being able to ensure safe continuing care produces 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 dog becomes the living remains of a relationship that can no longer be accommodated.
CitationBartram, A. (2019) 'Dogs and the elderly: significant cohabitation and companionship towards the end of life'. [Seminar]. Animal Remains Conference 29-30 April. Available at: https://www.sarahbezan.com/animal-remains-conference-2019.
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