Human – Animal Connection, International Experts

by Mary Haight on September 29, 2009

TOKYO - JANUARY 20:  A woman feeds cats at Nek...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

We animal lovers are lucky. We have memories, moments where our furry family members have had a significant, sometimes even remarkable effect on our lives, or on the life of someone we love. You can probably reel off at least five memories yourself right now. The human – animal connection has blossomed over the years.

I was reading a science article on the benefits of having pets in the house. The psychological, medical, and emotional difference a dog or cat makes in your life was a theme, and it reminded me of an earlier discussion I had with Elizabeth, a good friend I work with on Lake Shore Animal Shelter’s board.

Elizabeth mentioned that a pet call came in having to do with a woman asking for help because her aging mom, who was caring for her dad with Alzheimer’s, had also been feeding the feral cats in the area. Now she was worried–the population grew…and grew… and there are too many kittens. She could see before her eyes, even though she experiences a simple joy in being able to help them live, she was not going to be able to afford to feed all those mouths. And it’s getting colder every day.

The caller, let’s say her name is Linda, was from the other end of the country, making her efforts all the more difficult. She tried calling organizations, but everyone she talked to was overwhelmed, underfunded, and out of cages.  It’s a stark reminder that pet problems are people problems and there is no separating the woof from the warp. We are responsible for what we have tamed (and left to go feral) (homage to Saint-Exupery).

Problem-solving continues as did the discussion. It turns out Linda is a social worker who trains other social workers. She was saying how tough it was to get through to “non-pet” social workers the importance of pets in people’s lives who come into the system, especially children and the elderly.  That connection to their pets is one that needs to be continued in some way, so they know how their furry friend is doing. It’s often the only purely loving connection that person has, not one to be ignored, diminished, dismissed. Training this idea into people who don’t get it can be like batting your head against a wall (my words).

And tonight this science article shows up, on one of the most interesting conferences I’ve heard of in awhile both for its diversity of interconnected professions and its global scope; one that Linda and people like her can really appreciate. It even considers what the animals get out of the interaction:

University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) will explore the many ways animals benefit people of all ages during the International Society for Anthrozoology and Human-Animal Interaction Conference in Kansas City, Mo., on Oct. 20-25.

Research in this field is providing new evidence on the positive impact pets have in our lives,” said Rebecca Johnson, associate professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, the College of Veterinary Medicine and director of ReCHAI. “This conference will provide a unique opportunity to connect international experts working in human-animal interaction research with those already working in the health and veterinary medicine fields. A wonderful array of presentations will show how beneficial animals can be in the lives of children, families, and older adults.”

The Human-Animal Interaction Conference will bring together people [from] around the world working on similar projects as ReCHAI, Johnson said. These people include nurses, physicians, veterinarians, social workers, psychologists, physical and occupational therapists, and activity directors.

Alluding to the fact that we’ve all heard about the benefits of the human-animal bond, James Griffin, a scientist at NICHD adds “But there has been relatively little rigorous research documenting these benefits and examining how and why they occur. By providing support for this conference and additional research studies, we hope to generate some answers.

Other conference discussions will include ways that human-animal interaction benefits humans and animals, new facets of human-animal interaction, and ways to apply new human-animal interaction knowledge to their fields. Some of the presentations will highlight the special role of companion animals in facilitating reading and physical activity in children and adults.

Read the rest at ScienceDaily.

It does make me smile to see that work like this is happening.

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