Dr. Applebaum’s Research

Dr. Jennifer Applebaum is an interdisciplinary human-animal interaction researcher who studies the intersection of social inequalities and human-companion animal relationships, and the resulting implications for health and well-being in multispecies families. Dr. Applebaum conducts empirical research rooted in theory from human-animal interaction, public health, and sociology and informed by the One Health framework with the overarching goals of (1) understanding the implications of the human-animal bond within an unequal society and (2) working toward solutions for supporting marginalized populations of people and their pets. As a translational medical sociologist with a background and master’s degree in veterinary medicine, Dr. Applebaum is interested in the ways that social forces like economic inequality and racism can impact multispecies relationships, as well as potentially enhance the role of the human-animal bond in resilience and coping. This tension is the basis of her research to date and continues to drive her research program.

Elucidating the stress-related health facilitators and barriers among pet owners from marginalized backgrounds (e.g., minoritized racial and ethnic groups, low-income communities, LGBTQ+ identities): In this line of research, Dr. Applebaum and colleagues explored the human-animal bond in the context of systemic inequalities to challenge human-animal interaction researchers to look beyond individual outcomes and biased samples in previous work. They employed quantitative and qualitative population-based approaches to identifying and understanding the relationship between health disparities and human-animal interaction. Dr. Applebaum and colleagues found that pets often provide important stress relief and social support; however, pets can also cause or exacerbate stress for pet owners in adverse situations. Implications from this work suggest a need for broader social programs to support pet owners from marginalized backgrounds so they can access the protective effects of the human-animal bond.

Examining relationships between pet ownership and HIV health outcomes and co-morbidities: Previous research suggests that pet ownership can promote health among people with HIV. Via collaborative work with the Southern HIV and Alcohol Research Consortium, Dr. Applebaum and colleagues found that pet ownership was associated with current hazardous alcohol use and the historical use of other substances in this sample. Additionally, they identified potential healthcare access and utilization issues faced by people with HIV who have pets. These findings have important implications for understanding multifaceted, bi-directional, and often resource-intensive human-animal bonds and resulting health implications for people with HIV.

Assessing the human health and well-being implications of pet ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic: Pet ownership is believed to have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was hypothesized that pets would help to buffer some of the effects of social isolation by imposed COVID-19 precautions. Dr. Applebaum and colleagues deployed a survey to 3,000 pet owners from April through July of 2020 to test hypotheses regarding the impact of pet ownership during this novel public health emergency. They found that many owners believed their pets were instrumental to their mental well-being, while others were facing extenuating circumstances that made caring for pets more difficult. This work is now considered foundational in the field and has been cited extensively.

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