Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Human-animal relationships-Psychological aspects, Attachment behavior, Self psychology, Rural women-Psychology, Rural African Americans-Psychology, Group identity, Ethnicity, Spirituality, Human-companion animal relationship, Attachment theory, Sociocultural identity, Rural, Women, People of Color, Selfobject


In spite of burgeoning interest in the significance of human-companion animal relationships in social work and related fields, the theoretical conceptualization of these relationships in the context of mental health remains largely limited to the cross-species and cross-cultural application of Attachment Theory. Further, the literature on human-companion animal relationships through the lens of Attachment Theory reflects a narrow scope of research methodologies and demographic variables, thus leaving the unique, multiple meanings of these relationships – and their intersections with varying and marginalized sociocultural identities – largely unexplored. In order to address these gaps and expand theoretical discourse on the phenomenon, the thesis explores and analyzes human-companion animal relationships through the lenses of Attachment Theory and Self Psychology. The thesis utilizes social constructionist, feminist, and anti-racist paradigms to inform its analysis, thus focusing on the relationships and intersections between companion animals, women, and People of Color in the rural West. The thesis argues that the application and generalization of Attachment Theory across species lacks theoretical coherence and clarity regarding the particularities of human-companion animal relationships. Moreover, this paper hypothesizes that the theoretical and practical application of Self Psychology, with its emphasis on subjectivity and the role of non-human selfobjects, may add to a more holistic, nuanced, and coherent theoretical formulation of the woman-companion animal bond in contemporary rural and multicultural contexts. Finally, the thesis posits that the human-companion animal bond holds potential for improving mental health in rural women, a possibility best explored by investigation of this phenomenon beyond its existing theoretical conceptualizations.




iii, 180 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, 2013. Includes bibliographical references (p. 163-180)