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Abstract

In part of a larger pilot study of dog walking as a physical activity intervention we assessed levels of attachment, social supports, and perceived mental health of 75 dog owners, identified through a tertiary- care veterinary hospital. Owners completed the Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) Social Support Survey, mental health component of the Short-Form-12 (SF-12) Health Survey, and the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS). Of particular interest was that younger owners had stronger attachments to their dogs (r = -.488;p <.001) and less social support (r = .269;p =.021). Our study suggests the importance of companion animals for social support, particularly for those without close friends/relatives. For younger owners, our study reveals vulnerabilities in support networks that may warrant referrals to human helping professionals. We suggest the use of Carstensen's Socioemotional Selectivity Theory as an interpretive framework to underscore the importance of including companion animals as part of the human social convoy, especially in terms of providing affectionate and interactional social support.

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