Heather Pugh

Heather Pugh

Adjunct Faculty, Institute for Human-Animal Connection

What I do

Heather has practiced as an occupational therapist for the past twenty-two years, with experience in a variety of mental health and pediatric settings. She became inspired to work with animals and become an occupational therapist at the age of fourteen while shadowing an O.T. who was providing hippotherapy services, and she has been collaborating with animals in her practice for the past twenty years.

Heather is a PATH Int’l Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor. She also holds an Equine-Facilitated Learning Certification with the HERD institute and is looking forward to providing EFL services in the near future. In addition to her practice experience with horses, Heather has also partnered with three therapy dogs over the course of her career. Her current canine co-worker, a labradoodle named Duke (a.k.a. ‘Duke Dog’), partners with her in an AAI program she developed for a local school system. Duke and Heather are also a HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response Team, where they deploy to provide comfort and support to individuals who have experienced crisis or disaster. In addition to her role as a team member, Heather also serves on the National Operations and Marketing Committee for HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response.

Heather’s passion for AAI and animal welfare within the context of these interactions is also visible through her academic work. As a doctoral candidate in the Occupational Science (Sc.D.) Program at Towson University, her qualitative research focuses on acknowledging and understanding the contributions of animals in inter-species relationships. Heather holds a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy and a master’s degree in psychological sciences, with dual concentrations in applied behavioral analysis and applied research. She has been a speaker at numerous state and regional conferences, as well as the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship Int’l (PATH Int’l) Annual Conference, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Annual Conference, and the Society for the Study of Occupation USA (SSO-USA) Annual Conference.

In the fall of 2021, she will be speaking again at the SSO-USA Annual conference, with her presentation focusing on using visual methods to de-centralize the individual (human) experience when studying multi-species occupations. Heather is also looking forward to speaking at the Royal Geographical Society’s International Conference this year, where she will participate in a panel session entitled ‘Multispecies Methods for the More-Than-Human World’ organized by Dr. Harriet Smith and Prof. Mara Miele of Cardiff University.

Heather resides on a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and six year old son, Lucas. They share their home with a variety of non-human animals, including three horses, three canines, and two cats. In her spare time, Heather enjoys spending time with her animals, biking with her family, and kayaking.