Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Work or Play?: An Exploration of the Relationships between People and Their Service Dogs in Leisure Activities

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Work or Play?: An Exploration of the Relationships between People and Their Service Dogs in Leisure Activities

Article excerpt

"I would like to explore what might possibly be meant by love in a way that disrupts various romanticisms, troubles certain kinds of certainties about the relationship that we have with this other complex species, dogs, and perhaps leads us to a place I have tried to get throughout most of my work. That is, elsewhere. "

-Donna Haraway

(Harvard University Gazette 2002, via Solomon, 2010)

Just as it was Haraway's, so too, is it our intention to explore "elsewhere." Inspired indirectly by many and directly by Solomon (2010) who wrote about the social interactions between therapy dogs and children with autism, we wish to expand previous knowledge related to the relationship between owners and their guide dogs by exploring the leisure impacts of emotional bonds between adults with disabilities and service dogs. Solomon (2010) championed the idea that dogs lead humans elsewhere, "and this elsewhere is often better than where we have been before" (p. 146). She wrote of numerous situations in which dogs shared space with humans, allowing people to retrospectively and narratively chronicle the transformative experiences that had occurred. We wish to use leisure as a lens to explore these transformative relationships.

Adults with various disabilities commonly use service dogs for assistance in activities of daily living (Camp, 2000). Service dogs are trained vigorously and in many cases specifically to work for their owners' needs. Generally, it is recognized that owning a service dog has many positive and beneficial implications for individuals with disabilities. These benefits include increasing quality of life, independence, increased socialization, and providing emotional support (Shintani et al., 2010). However, little is known about how the relationship between service dogs and their owners impacts their leisure participation, leisure choices, or access to leisure opportunities.

Our aim is to contribute to the disability literature by expanding upon existing research that identified the emotional connections between humans and service dogs. This topic is of particular interest, especially provided recent changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act that no longer allow emotion-based connections between human and canine as a justification for possession of a service dog. According to the ADA (2011), some examples of physical work or tasks that a service dog may perform include, but are not limited to assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation, alerting individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. Social or personal benefits such as emotional security might be provided by an animal are no longer considered a viable reason for receiving or keeping a service dog.

We also hope to contribute to the leisure literature by providing in-depth examination of an under-researched subject (human-animal interactions) in the context of a population of people with disabilities. In particular, we wish to expand upon the growing, but still limited list of research considering the relationships that exist between adults with disabilities and their service dogs. To this point, much research has concentrated on the physical benefits of service dogs. We will posit that although myriad physical benefits exist in the relationships between humans and service dogs, the emotional and psychological benefits of service dog ownership may be just as great.

Very little is known about how the Human-Animal Bond (HAB) impacts leisure behavior or perceived access to leisure. We believe there is great potential to explore not only the HAB that exists between owners and their service dogs, but also to explore the ways in which relationships with their service dogs impact their owners' leisure behaviors and attitudes toward leisure. …

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