“I could never live without a dog”: Re-storied narratives of persons living with dementia and their companion animals
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More than half of Canadians choose to share their homes with companion animals, and for some people an animal may be one of the most important companions in their life. Most research on human-animal companionship highly regards the utility and influence of animals on the health and wellbeing of humans, and countless studies explore the impact of animal-assisted therapies and interventions among marginalized populations, including persons with dementia. However, these approaches fail to conceptualize the interactions and relationships people have with animals as reciprocal, personal, and dynamic. Guided by relational theory and a social citizenship framework, this project aimed to explore how persons with dementia story their relational experiences with companion animals, and sought to understand how companion animals contribute to life and leisure experiences. The methodological approach was structured by narrative inquiry, wherein relational narratives were co-constructed. Photovoice was employed with seven persons living with dementia in the community who share their homes with cats and dogs. Participants were asked to take photos that illustrated their relationships with companion animals, which were used during one-on-one interviews to guide conversations. Data was analyzed using McCormack’s (2004) storying stories approach and represented as a re-storied narrative collection (including short stories, poetry, a monologue, photo storybook, and comic-inspired photo essay). I chose to represent my re-storied narratives in different formats based on variations in storytelling. These narratives illustrate the significance and complexities involved in the relationships between persons living with dementia and their companion animals. These stories connect to a number of concepts from Bartlett and O’Connor’s (2010) social citizenship conceptual framework and illustrate how persons living with dementia practice citizenship in their daily lives. Caring for animals involves important roles and responsibilities, further, there is a sense of purpose that comes with fulfilling these responsibilities. Continuing to care for animals emphasises persons with dementia as developing and retaining skills and abilities, making intentional contributions to the lives of themselves and others. These relationships are characterized by togetherness and reciprocity, where persons with dementia and their animals share experiences and companionship. By sharing the stories of persons living with dementia from a social citizenship perspective, alternate narratives of dementia are introduced that challenge the dominant biomedical and tragedy discourses of dementia, and provide new perspectives that include persons with dementia within public and private spheres of life as active, contributing citizens.
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Alexine Serota (2020). “I could never live without a dog”: Re-storied narratives of persons living with dementia and their companion animals. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/15491