While the field of human-animal interaction (HAI) has made important advances in recent years, engagement with the full range of children's experiences with animals in community settings has yet to occur, and work in rural American Indian reservations is an especially notable gap. Given the extent of roaming dogs in many of these communities, there are significant questions about the extent to which models of HAI based on pet ownership may be applicable to thinking about how dogs can address children's needs. This project builds upon a partnership between faculty and staff from the University of Oklahoma's Center for Applied Social Research and members of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, who are leading an effort to restore respectful relationships between their children and their dogs. The project has three specific aims: 1) to explore the meaning of dogs to contemporary Blackfeet families;2) to describe interactions between dogs and children in contemporary Blackfeet communities;and 3) to articulate a model for improving interactions with dogs with the goal of improving children's outcomes. As a small grant, with the primary aim of generating knowledge to support intervention development, the project utilizes participatory and ethnographic methods, but does so with the express goal of supporting larger multidisciplinary efforts in the future.
This project seeks to address two potentially related public health problems in American Indian communities: large numbers of roaming dogs, which threaten children's safety and compromise social capital in reservation communities, and poor socioemotional outcomes for American Indian children. Recent research by the PI suggests that these two dynamics may well be related, and therefore amenable to coordinated intervention seeking to improve animal control and children's outcomes. If successful, the project has important implications for American Indian communities as well as the field of human-animal interaction, which has not, to date, engaged issues related to dogs in American Indian communities.