DOI: 10.1079/hai.2023.0032 ISSN: 2957-9538

“A ray of light in the chaos”: Relationships between companion animals and LGBTQ+ emerging adults during the COVID-19 pandemic

Angela Matijczak, Nicole Corley, Isabella Vergara, Jake Johnson, Shelby E. McDonald


There is evidence that pet owners experienced benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic and also struggled with pet-related stressors. Notably, almost all of these studies were conducted with predominantly cisgender and heterosexual samples. This is problematic, as evidence suggests that individuals who belong to marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ+ emerging adults, have been disproportionately affected by stressors associated with the pandemic. This qualitative study explores the unique experiences of LGBTQ+ emerging adults who lived with a pet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, we sought to identify resources needed to assist LGBTQ+ emerging adult pet owners during the pandemic. The sample included 65 participants aged 18–21 years who had lived with one or more pets within the past year (Mean age = 19.5 years; 36.9% transgender/gender diverse; 40% minoritized racial/ethnic identity). We conducted semi-structured interviews consisting of 18 questions (including five COVID-specific questions). Two authors coded and analyzed the interviews using template analysis. Then, the authors used a thematic analysis approach to organize codes into themes, identify patterns of meaning, and examine relations between themes. Four themes emerged related to the experience of living with a pet during the pandemic. Almost all participants said that their pets provided various types of support to them. Many participants stated that their pets also added stress to their lives during the pandemic. Some participants attributed the changes in their pet’s behavior and/or attitude to pandemic-related quarantines. More than half of the participants discussed changes in their relationship with their pet, with the majority claiming their relationship became stronger. Two themes emerged that related to necessary resources: greater community-based resources (e.g., low-cost veterinary care, pet-friendly outdoor spaces) and more government resources (e.g., better access to information, more material and financial support). Participants offered suggestions for ways to alleviate pet-related stressors, such as developing community-based programs (e.g., pet food pantries, mutual aid programs). There is the opportunity for collaboration between researchers and practitioners in piloting these community programs, as well as implications for policy makers to advocate for policies supportive of LGBTQ+ emerging adult pet owners (e.g., university pet policies, housing policies).

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