On interviewing people with pets: Reflections from qualitative research on people with long-term conditions
Ryan S., Ziebland S.
© 2015 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness/John Wiley & Sons Ltd. There is mounting evidence that pets are associated with physiological, psychological and social benefits for humans. Much of this research has come from western countries, where there have been consistent calls for greater engagement with pet ownership and health. Drawing on a secondary analysis of 61 in-depth interviews with people, or carers of people, with long-term conditions, we explore how pets feature in people's narrative accounts of their experiences. Our findings demonstrate the multifaceted nature of people's relationships with pets, and the embedded and embodied ways in which human-nonhuman interactions are played out in narratives of chronic illness. Our study differs from other work on pets and health in that, by returning to the interview video recordings, we were able to explore the sometimes three-way interactions, the co(a)gency, between participants, pets and researchers. Pets were often presented as important family members, yet the researchers' responses to the presence or talk about pets was often markedly different from their reactions to other household members. We conclude with cautioning against the downgrading of pets in narrative health research. Narrative approaches may invite participants to talk about what is important to them, yet they clearly have limitations in practice.