Rowena Packer, from the Royal Veterinary College, UK, was recently awarded £9,896 by SCASto study the impact of puppy acquisition during the COVID-19 Pandemic upon the mental wellbeing of families with children.
This is one of six pump priming grants that were awarded from Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) 2022 funding round.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has had profound, negative impacts upon human mental health, with effects upon adults and children/adolescents well documented globally. A strong media focus on the potential benefits of dogs to human mental health during the Pandemic is thought to have contributed to the ‘Pandemic Puppy’ phenomenon, an international surge in puppy acquisition. Since 2020, the ‘Pandemic Puppies’ research team at RVC have studied a large cohort of UK owners who purchased a puppy aged <16 weeks from a breeder during the Pandemic. We discovered that Pandemic Puppy owners were significantly more likely to acquire a puppy with the aim of improving their/their family’s mental health, to provide companionship for their children, and were significantly more likely to have children in their households, compared with ‘pre-pandemic’ 2019 puppy-purchasers. Existing evidence suggests that dog acquisition results in reductions in loneliness for owners within three months of acquisition, but to date, no published studies have explored the short or long-term effects of puppy acquisition specifically during the Pandemic on child or adult mental health. In addition, the outcomes of puppy acquisitions explicitly aimed at improving companionship and mental health for children and their families during the Pandemic are not yet known, for both owners (e.g. changes in mental health status), dogs (e.g. homing status) or both members of these dyads (e.g. the dog-owner relationship). We therefore propose to conduct a mixed-methods study on the impact of ‘Pandemic Puppy’ acquisition during the 2020-21 phase of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the mental health of families with children in the UK, compared to households with existing dogs acquired in 2019, recruited from the existing ‘Pandemic Puppies’ study population (>8000 owners in total). An online survey exploring (i) mental wellbeing of children/adolescents, (ii) dog-child relationships, and (iii) expectations vs. realities of dog ownership will be created using closed and open-text questions to facilitate mixed methods analysis, including advanced statistical modelling of predictors of (i) and (ii) and reflexive thematic analysis of text-based responses to (iii). Results will be disseminated via a wide network of animal behaviourists, veterinary surgeons, rehoming organisations, and HAI researchers.