Student Spotlight: Eli Halbreich

Eli D. Halbreich

School of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2022

Perceived attitudes of pet owners about their pets during the COVID-19 pandemic

Research conducted during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic indicated mixed but generally positive relationships with pets, which were exacerbated both positively and negatively during the early lockdown phases of the pandemic. A number of studies have been conducted investigating the mental health benefits of pet ownership in a non-pandemic setting. However, these findings have been mixed, and especially as people spend more time with their pets than before COVID-19, further research is needed into the complex relationship between people and their pets to ascertain for whom and under which conditions pets are beneficial. As such, I aimed to investigate perceived attitudes of pet owners about their pets during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Additionally, I aimed to examine how these attitudes change as COVID-19 vaccination rates increase and social distancing restrictions are eased, allowing people to spend more time away from home.

With this study, I sought to collect data at two points during the COVID-19 pandemic. Measures of attitudes toward and attachment to pets, as well as a measure specific to pets and COVID-19 were distributed via online survey, and participants were asked to complete quantitative measures and answer open-ended questions about their attitudes and attachment toward their pets. Participants did not report significant changes in either their attitudes toward or attachment to their pets as a result of the pandemic. There was a significant positive correlation between attitudes toward and attachment to pets, which was maintained over time. Many participants reported a positive relationship with their pets and appreciated the increased amount of time they could spend with them during the pandemic. Some participants noted an increase in negative behaviors, such as separation anxiety, in their pets.

One aspect of this research that I would like to improve in the future is ensuring that I can recruit a more representative sample to capture the full experience of U.S. residents. Overall, I found that participants held generally positive attitudes toward pets, which was maintained over time; and additionally, that participants reported generally positive relationships with their pets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did your project impact your experience at Tufts?

My project greatly improved my experience at Tufts. I am incredibly grateful that I was able to experience creating and guiding a research study from conception to dissemination. My plan is to pursue a Ph.D. in the HAI field after I graduate from Tufts and having this experience in conducting research is incredibly informative as to how academic research is conducted. The support I have received from my mentors at TIHAI has been instrumental in guiding my future goals pursuing HAI research.

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