Strengthening Zooeyia: Understanding the Human-Animal Bond between Veterans Living with Comorbid Substance Use and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and their Service Dogs

Williamson, L. E.1, Dell, C. A.1, Chalmers, D.2, Cruz, M.1, & De Groot, P.3

1Department of Sociology, University of Saskatchewan
2Department of Social Work. University of Regina
3Captain Ret. Canadian Army

Zooeyia includes the potential benefits that interactions and relationships with companion animals can bring to human health. These potential benefits have been grouped into four components to describe the means through which they may occur: pets as builders of social capital, agents of harm reduction, motivators for health behavior change, and active participants in treatment plans. This construct has been used to examine the human-animal bond (HAB) and understand animal-assisted interventions. It has not, however, been intentionally applied within the context of military Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder and comorbid substance use paired with Service Dogs (SD). A qualitative approach to analysis using zooeyia was applied to data collected during an exploratory patient-oriented, time-series research design with Veterans teamed with SDs through a national holistic [name of country] training program. All four components of zooeyia were present in the experiences of Veterans with SDs; SDs were builders of social capital, agents of harm reduction, motivators for health behavior change, and active participants in treatment plans. While Veterans working with SDs reported many benefits, the pairs also experienced specific complex challenges, beyond the expected concerns for a household pet. The human-animal relationship between Veterans in this study and their SDs, and the subsequent growing bond, is a key contributing component and step to the strengthening of zooeyia. This analysis of zooeyia extends our understanding of how SDs support veterans’ health, including better management of PTSD and problematic substance use. Because the HAB is reciprocal, this analysis also challenges One Health to recognize and embrace concerns for animal welfare.

Keywords: zooeyia, PTSD, Veterans, service dogs, human-animal bond

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Keywords: human-animal bond, PTSD, service dogs, veterans, zooeyia
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