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New IHAC Adjunct Faculty, Heather Pugh

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Animals and Human Health Certificate: Expanding IHAC's Teaching Expertise

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Heather Pugh with horse

The Institute for Human-Animal Connection is excited to announce Heather Pugh has joined the adjunct faculty team for the Animals and Human Health professional development certificate program. Pugh is the first occupational therapist to join the teaching team, and she brings over 20 years of experience of including animals in her occupational therapy work.

Pugh was inspired to include animals in her work after shadowing a hippotherapy clinic as a teenager. She currently holds several certifications for her equine work including, PATH Int’l Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor and Equine-Facilitated Learning Certification with the HERD institute. In addition to her practice experience with horses, Pugh has also partnered with three therapy dogs over the course of her career. Her current canine co-worker, a labradoodle named Duke, partners with her in an animal-assisted intervention (AAI) program she developed for a local school system. Duke and Pugh 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.

Pugh’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.

Animal-assisted interventions are a central component of my practice and research as an occupational therapist. I’m looking forward to sharing my passion for the field of human-animal-environment interactions with the students in the Animals and Human Health program this year,” states Pugh.

Pugh resides on a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and son. They share their home with a variety of animals, including three horses, three canines, and two cats. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her animals, biking with her family, and kayaking.