Dr. Ardra L. Cole is Professor, Graduate Program in Lifelong Learning at Mount Saint Vincent University, former Associate Vice-President, Research and Acting Dean of Education. As a qualitative research methodologist, Ardra has published extensively in conventional and non-conventional academic prose and in alternative, scholarly, non-print media. She is co-editor of the Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research (2009) as well as a series of books on the role of the arts in research. Her research on caregiving and Alzheimer’s disease involves multi-media installation and performance, and has been exhibited in numerous public and academic contexts across Canada. This work was foundational to the establishment of ElderDog Canada – a national charity that honours older dogs and older adults and the special bond between them. In her current research, Ardra explores, through photography and story, the in-depth meaning of dogs in seniors’ lives.
Grow Old Along with Me: The Meaning of Dogs in Seniors’ Lives
In the proposed poster we present an overview of a research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The purpose of the study was to gain insights into the multifaceted relationships older adults have with their companion canines and the significant role the dogs play in enhancing wellness, independent living, and community life for senior people. Set within a wellness and positive ageing context, the central questions explored in the research were: • For well elderly, who attach strong significance to their relationship with a canine companion, what is the meaning of that relationship? • What does it mean for a senior to live in the company of a canine companion? • How can such an inter-species relationship be adequately described? • What happens in those quiet moments of being in relationship with a canine companion that helps to explain such oft-heard, poignant statements as: “S/he is the most important thing in my life;” “My dog means everything to me;” “S/he is my best friend;” “I don’t know what I would do without her/him.” The research followed a phenomenological framework, appropriate for exploring the lived experience of being in relationship, in order to more fully understand the deep meaning of human senior-dog bonds. Our research group worked with 14 older adults and their 16 dogs over the course of a year engaging in several in-depth conversations, participant/observation, and shadowing of the people as they interacted with their dog(s) in different contexts. We also took numerous photographs to capture nuances of the relationships. A phenomenological analysis of the data revealed several predominant themes or ways of describing the nuanced relationships. In addition to contextual and methodological information about the study, the poster will depict the multiple meanings of the dog-human relationships through photographs and evocative text. This research elucidates the intensity and significance of the relationships seniors have with their dogs and points to a need for greater support to ensure a positive relationship between seniors and their animal companions. As the population ages and the older members of the ageing demographic increases, there is increasing need to consider factors that will contribute to seniors’ well-being. One factor is the role of companion animals and the roles they play in supp rting physical, psycho-social, psycho spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. By recognizing and supporting the intensity and depth of dog senior relationships, communities can better support older adults to live independently and actively.