Date of Award

8-30-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology

First Advisor

Fitzgerald, Amy

Keywords

companion animals, human-animal relationship, intimate partner violence, masculinities, qualitative research

Rights

CC-BY-NC-ND

Abstract

Companion animals are increasingly becoming part of our families, and the majority of homes in North America now include at least one companion animal (American Pet Products Association, 2018; Oliveira, 2014). One body of research has shown that both men and women have close relationships with companion animals (Irvine, 2013; Prato-Previde et al., 2006; Ramirez, 2006; Sanders, 1993), while another body of research shows that companion animals are the targets of threats and harm in connection to IPV perpetrated by men (Ascione et al., 2007; Barrett et al., 2017; Flynn, 2000a; Simmons & Lehmann, 2007). Most of the research at the intersection of IPV and animal abuse has used the perspective of the women survivors in the abusive relationships. This perspective is essential to establish effective programs and services for survivors of IPV, to understand the impacts of the abuse of a companion animal on their human companions, and to begin to understand the complexity of relationships with IPV. However, it is one perspective – the perspective of the abuser in the relationship is generally missing in this literature. The current study addresses this gap in the literature through focusing on the men’s perspective. Active interviews were conducted with 21 men, eight of whom had no reported perpetration of IPV recruited from the community, and thirteen who had been abusive towards an intimate partner and who were incarcerated or court-mandated participants in a domestic violence intervention program. Relationships with companion animals fell along a continuum with disinterest in the pet at one end and a cherished family member at the other. There was no discernable difference in how the companion animals were conceptualized between men who had been abusive towards an intimate partner and those with no reported abuse. Relationships with animals were characterized by unconditional love, loyalty, and trust, contrary to how most participants described their intimate relationships. Companion animals featured in the performance and construction of masculinity, from a ‘tough guy with a tough dog’ to a nurturing father. Companion animals enabled men to do a ‘softer’ masculinity in which sensitivity and emotional vulnerability were more acceptable, as well as do their masculinity in accordance with hegemonic norms of authority, power, and control. Men in this study evidenced varying acceptance of aggression towards people, including towards intimate partners, however, there was a clear consensus that aggression against animals was not acceptable. No participant reported abusing an animal in the context of IPV, which challenges the essentialization of abusive men in the literature by showing that men who abuse their partners do not necessarily engage in animal mistreatment, and in fact may have positive relationships with animals. The value of this research lies in its contribution to a better understanding of the perspectives of men who commit IPV, thus providing a more comprehensive understanding of IPV. The findings show companion animals, who are increasingly being considered members of the family and with whom relationships are highly valued, hold important roles in intimate relationships with both with and without IPV. These findings have important policy implications, namely in the modification and improvement of domestic violence intervention programs to reflect these positive relationships with companion animals through a strengths-based approach.

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