A Washington State University 4-H faculty member is doing a study on youth and the role of animals in their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Relationships with friends and peers are a major developmental component for young people. Major restrictions on in-person meetings and events are impacting schools and extracurricular activities around the country.

Stephanie Roeter Smith, a 4-H Regional Specialist and human-animal interaction researcher, is curious how animals like pets and livestock might be filling in and providing much needed social interaction for young people during the pandemic. To find out, she created an online survey for youth ages 7 to 18.

“We know that pets and animals already play an important role in the lives of children and families,” Smith said. “Families often view pets as family members. With kids spending more time at home and away from friends, I’m curious if and how animals might be picking up some of the slack for the social interactions youth are missing out on.

“This survey will help us better understand the role of animals in the lives of youth right now as we navigate this historical point in time, and maybe even clue us in on identifying strategies for helping youth and families cope in times of chronic stress.”

Youth today are struggling with mental health more than ever, and the impact of the current pandemic will surely be reflected in our communities for years to come, Smith said.

Recruitment for the study continues until enough survey responses are collected.

Please visit the study website to sign up or learn more.