Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology and Social Science


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Eyal Gringart

Second Advisor

Dr Deirdre Drake


Dog relinquishment or ‘getting rid of the dog’ is common practice in Australia and other countries where dogs are kept as pets. Each year thousands of dogs are relinquished for a variety of reasons. While losing a pet through death can be as devastating for some people as the death of a loved human, little is known about the human impact of losing a dog through relinquishment. This qualitative study sought to explore the experience of dog relinquishment from the perspectives of a Western Australian sample of 21 relinquishers, 10 adults who had experienced dog relinquishment in childhood and 15 animal welfare workers. Data, collected via semistructured interviews, were transcribed verbatim and analysed in accord with Straussian grounded theory methodology, an inductive, interpretative methodology, utilising the constant comparative method. The substantive grounded theory of ‘protective-restoring to maintain self integrity in the face of a self disturbing experience’ that was generated from an interpretative analysis of the data, describes the human experience of dog relinquishment as one of psychological, social and moral conflicts that challenged participants self and social image. The theory proposes that those who experience dog relinquishment personally or professionally experience a disturbed self integrity (i.e., a sense of cognitive and emotional unease). Five conditions, identified as threats to self integrity, were found to contribute to participants’ sense of unease, namely the culture of relinquishment, a crisis of conscience, a fear of losing face, losing faith and losing the dog. Variation in participants’ experience was accounted for by individual and social conditions that influenced the type, intensity, frequency and duration of their unease. Participants’ experience of dog relinquishment was characterised by one or more of three types of unease, namely, cognitive dissonance, psychological stress and grief, which were dealt with through a process identified as protective-restoring. The continuous four phase process of protective-restoring involved recognition, identification, assessment and counteraction of threats to self integrity. Its aim was to protect participants from further threats and to restore their self integrity. Six types of strategies were identified that participants employed during the counteracting phase of the protective-restoring process, namely, self enhancing, blaming, impact reducing, emotional management, avoiding and blocking. Strategies employed were not always successful and in some circumstances increased rather than reduced the unease of participants. Further the strategies sometimes contributed to the unease of others. These findings indicate that the human experience of dog relinquishment is multidimensional and complex. Further, given its potential to detrimentally impact the mental health and wellbeing of large numbers of adults and children, dog relinquishment is an experience that should not be trivialised or ignored. As well as contributing to the human-animal interaction body of knowledge, the substantive theory that has emerged from this research could be used to inform the development of a screening tool to identify those who are likely to be negatively impacted by dog relinquishment. Further, the theory could also be used to inform the development of interventions that could be used to assist adults and children to deal with the negative impact of dog relinquishment.

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Psychology Commons