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Companion animals in obituaries: an exploratory study


Wilson, C C; Netting, F E; Turner, D C; Olsen, C H (2013). Companion animals in obituaries: an exploratory study. Anthrozoos, 26(2):227-236.

Abstract

The benefits of human–animal interaction have been discussed extensively in the literature. In this paper we take a slightly different strategy in documenting that some humans acknowledge the importance of pets by actually referring to them in human obituaries. We begin with a brief overview of the human obituary, followed by the potential for pets as fictive kin to be named as survivors in obituaries. A bi-national, exploratory, content analysis of companion animal (CA)-related content in published newspaper obituaries is reported. The two criteria for inclusion were that a pet or pet survivors be named in the obituary or that donations be made to a pet-related charity. Of the 11,818 obituaries in three newspapers over a three-month period, 260 (2.2%) met one or both of these criteria. Five themes emerged within obituaries containing CA data. First, the word “pet” was rarely used. CAs were typically listed as survivors along with human family members. Second, terms of endearment were consistently used to describe animal companions left behind. Third, some family members, who likely crafted these last statements about their loved ones, engaged in a personification of (and projections onto) the animals left behind. Fourth, there was variation in the roles played by each person with their animal companion. And fifth, donations were made to a wide variety of animal charities. The possibility of CAs as fictive kin is explored, in addition to a call for further study.

Abstract

The benefits of human–animal interaction have been discussed extensively in the literature. In this paper we take a slightly different strategy in documenting that some humans acknowledge the importance of pets by actually referring to them in human obituaries. We begin with a brief overview of the human obituary, followed by the potential for pets as fictive kin to be named as survivors in obituaries. A bi-national, exploratory, content analysis of companion animal (CA)-related content in published newspaper obituaries is reported. The two criteria for inclusion were that a pet or pet survivors be named in the obituary or that donations be made to a pet-related charity. Of the 11,818 obituaries in three newspapers over a three-month period, 260 (2.2%) met one or both of these criteria. Five themes emerged within obituaries containing CA data. First, the word “pet” was rarely used. CAs were typically listed as survivors along with human family members. Second, terms of endearment were consistently used to describe animal companions left behind. Third, some family members, who likely crafted these last statements about their loved ones, engaged in a personification of (and projections onto) the animals left behind. Fourth, there was variation in the roles played by each person with their animal companion. And fifth, donations were made to a wide variety of animal charities. The possibility of CAs as fictive kin is explored, in addition to a call for further study.

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9 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:2013
Deposited On:19 Sep 2013 12:55
Last Modified:07 Dec 2017 22:32
Publisher:Berg Publishers
ISSN:0892-7936
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.2752/175303713X13636846944204

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