A Shared Vision for the Human-Animal Bond
The healing power of pets must be better understood and accepted as a key contributor to human health and wellness.
Ask any pet owner and they’ll agree, the relationship they have with their pets—the human-animal bond—is powerful. Their pets make them feel better physically and mentally. While individual stories are impactful, they are simply not enough if we truly want to make society a better, healthier place for pets and people.
Beyond the personal stories and strong feelings of animal lovers lies the science. Scientific research is used to better understand the world around us and to help us validate or debunk our theories and preconceived notions. It is used every day to develop new technological innovations and to solve our biggest problems. For these reasons, society needs science documenting the positive benefits of human-animal interaction in order for veterans with post-traumatic stress to have ready access to service dogs; for more hospitals and nursing homes to promote high-quality therapy animal programs; and for more public spaces and housing options to accommodate companion animals. Policymakers, health care professionals and other decision-makers need scientific data, and the good news is that the pet industry is helping provide it.
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is proud to partner with leading companies and organizations to share knowledge, resources and a common vision. We believe that the healing power of pets must be better understood and accepted as a key contributor to human health and wellness—benefitting people at all stages in life, from early childhood development to healthy aging and everything in between.
HABRI funds scientific research, which provides the underpinning for a more pet-friendly world. These research projects broadly examine the impacts of animal-assisted therapies, interventions and human-animal interaction. A few examples, made possible by pet industry contributions, include studies that have found:
- Families with a child with autism spectrum disorder who had a dog experienced more family harmony and less parental stress than non-dog-owning families.
- Therapy dog visits to children undergoing cancer treatment had a calming effect on the patients and helped reduce anxiety in their parents.
- Veterans with PTSD who have a service dog experience a decrease in symptoms and an improved quality of life.
This year, HABRI is funding four new projects that can move both the knowledge and practice of human-animal interaction forward:
- The University of Western Australia—The health and developmental benefits of companion animals for young children: advancing the evidence base
- College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri—Shelter cat adoption in families of children with autism: impact on children’s social skills and anxiety as well as cat stress
- Texas Tech University—Integration of AAI and applied behavior analysis to improve academic performance in children with intellectual and/or developmental disability
- University of Georgia Research Foundation—Healthy Aging: human companionship through fostering felines
Good research takes time and the outcomes are far from certain, but one day people could point to these studies as evidence that fostering shelter cats can have a positive impact on alleviating loneliness and social isolation in the elderly, that incorporating therapy dogs into applied behavior analysis can help improve interventions for disabled children, that adopting a shelter cat can improve the social skills of children with autism, and that pets can facilitate improved health and development outcomes for all children and families.
The field of human-animal bond research is growing and has tremendous momentum, which is important for the pet industry. When you bring together solid science and innovative companies that help people care for their pets, it’s a combination that will make our society more pet-friendly and help even more people benefit from the healing presence of animals in their lives. PB
Steven Feldman is executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). To learn more about HABRI, visit habri.org.