Research into Human-Animal-Environment Relationships
At the Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC), we conduct scientifically sound research and scholarship in the areas of therapeutic human-animal interactions, animals in communities, and conservation social work to improve the overall well-being of humans, animals, and the environment. Informed by a systems view of social problems and guided by principles of efficacy, beneficence, and justice, our research provides novel insights into the relationships between humans, animals, and the environment that we share.
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Therapeutic Human-Animal Interactions
IHAC's research team is working to understand how to ethically and most effectively incorporate animals and the natural environment into therapeutic and community-based settings designed to promote health, learning, and social change for diverse populations. For example:
- In partnership with Green Chimneys, we’re conducting a series of studies to understand the impacts of animal-, horticultural- and natural-environment-based interventions on youths’ social emotional learning and developmental health in complex mental health treatment and special education environments.
- We’re measuring the impacts of including animals in therapy on client engagement in clinical environments.
- We’re identifying best practices for implementing prison-based dog training programs and measuring the impacts of these programs on incarcerated people, prison staff, dogs, and community health.
- We’re measuring the impacts of human-canine interactions on both species’ stress responses using biomarkers and measures of subjective stress.
It took 418 pages, 621 references and more than 30 contributors for IHAC to create the first-ever documentation of Green Chimneys’ nature-based interventions and the research behind them.
Animals in Communities
We’re working to understand the role of companion animals in communities and their impact in areas such as local economies and human health. For example:
- In partnership with the Humane Society of the United States and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program, we’re measuring the impacts of Pets for Life, an intensive animal welfare intervention, on public and environmental health within the One Health framework.
- We’re measuring the social, environmental and economic impacts of animal welfare practices and policies in several cities nationwide.
- We’re working to identify animal sheltering practices that optimize outcomes for the animals and communities they serve by incorporating social work best practices and concepts.
There has been a misconception that people in low-income communities or communities of color are opposed to spaying and neutering, but in a recent study, IHAC researchers concluded that race and ethnicity are not primary determinants in use of veterinary services, although access to care is.
Conservation Social Work
We’re investigating the interrelationships among humans, the natural physical environment and nonhuman animals. For example:
- In collaboration with the Humane Education Coalition and Zoology Foundation, we’re assessing the state of humane education in primary schools across the United States.
- In partnership with Having Kids, we’re collecting feedback on a human rights approach to family planning.
- Working with the College of Wooster and Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, we’re combating the wildlife trade through education in China.
In our study of humane education, 96% of respondents—829 school social workers, psychologists, teachers and administrators—supported broader incorporation of humane education in U.S. schools.
News about IHAC Research
Institute for Human-Animal Connection
New DU Research Measures Impact of Denver's Pit Bull BanSince the ban’s adoption in 1989, the question of public safety has, in large part, shaped the conversation over Denver’s BSL, but a new University of Denver study, published in Animal Law Review by the Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC) at the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW), calls this argument into question.
Institute for Human-Animal Connection
Professor's Research Measures Economic Impact of Animal Welfare ActivitiesIssues like rising health care costs and increasing rates of obesity usually fall on the shoulders of doctors, policy makers and government officials. But Oklahoma City’s unlikely superheroes in the arena of human health may just be dogs.
Recent IHAC Books
Transforming Trauma: Resilience and Healing Through Our Connections with Animals
Edited by Philip Tedeschi & Molly Anne Jenkins, this book focuses on research developments, models, and practical applications of human-animal connection and animal-assisted intervention for diverse populations who have experienced trauma.
Beyond Cages: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment
Justin Marceau demonstrates that a focus on "carceral animal law" puts the animal rights movement at odds with other social justice movements and may be bad for humans and animals alike.
Featured Peer-Reviewed Publications
Ekholm Fry, N. (2021). Conceptualization of psychotherapy incorporating equine interactions in the United States. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin,9(3), 94-114.
Ekholm Fry, N. (2021). Welfare considerations for horses in therapy and education services. In J.M. Peralta & A. H. Fine (Eds.). The Welfare of Animals in Animal Assisted Interventions: Foundations and Best Practice Methods (pp. 219-242). Springer.
Flynn, E., Zoller, A. G., Gandenberger, J., & Morris, K. N. (2021). Animal-assisted interventions for improving engagement in mental health services: A scoping review. Psychiatric Services. 00:1-8. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.202000585
Gandenberger, J.*, Flynn, E.*, Mueller, M., & Morris, K.N. (2021). The impacts of a nature-based mentorship program on students’ self-regulation: Harnessing the anticipation effect. Read More
Gandenberger, J., Hawes, S. M., Wheatall, E., Pappas, A., & Morris, K. N. (2021). Developing the Animal Welfare Cultural Competence Inventory (AWCCI) to assess cultural competence in animal welfare. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. doi: 10.1080/10888705.2021.2008934.
Geldhof, G. J., Flynn, E., Mueller, M. K., Gandenberger, J., Witzel, D., & Morris, K. N. (2021). Emotion regulation and specificity: The impact of animal-assisted interventions on classroom behavior. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 73, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2021.101253.
Gu, X., Bexell, S. M., Wang, B. (2021). Attitudes toward animals during the outbreak of novel coronavirus in China. Anthrozoos. DOI:10.1080/08927936.2021.1974701.
Hawes, S. M., Hupe, T., Gandenberger, J., & Morris, K. N. (2021). Temporal trends in intake data for animal shelters and rescues in Colorado, 2008 to 2018. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Hawes, S. M., Hupe, T., Gandenberger, J., Saucedo, M., Arrington, A., & Morris, K.N. (2021). Detailed assessment of pet ownership rates in four underserved urban and rural communities in the United States. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. doi: 10.1080/10888705.2021.1871736
Hawes, S. M., Hupe, T., Winczewski, J., Elting, K., Arrington, A., Newbury, S., & Morris, K. N. (2021). Measuring changes in perceptions of access to veterinary care in underserved communities. Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine. Read More
Motiff, M. & Morris, K.N. (2021). Nature-based interventions for children with special needs. Exchange, November/December issue, 12-15.
Van Buiten, H., Flynn, E., & Morris, K. N. (2021). Dog training as a complimentary intervention to support veteran mental health and well-being: A scoping review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 44, 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2021.101425
Flynn, E., Gandenberger, J., Mueller, M. K. Morris, K. N. (2020) Animal-assisted interventions as an adjunct to therapy for youth: Clinician perspectives. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal.
Flynn, E., Massey Combs, K., Gandenberger, J., Tedeschi, P., and Morris, K. N. (2020). Potential psychosocial drivers behind improved in-prison outcomes for inmates participating in dog training programs. The Prison Journal, 100(2), 224-239. doi: 10.1177/0032885519894657.
Han, T.M., Gandenberger, J., Flynn, E., Sharma, J., and Morris, K.N. (2020). Empowerment theory and prison-based dog training programs: Implications for social work. Journal of Social Work. In Press. Read More
Hawes, S.M. Hupe, T. Morris, K.N. (2020). Punishment to support: The need to align animal control enforcement with the human social justice movement (Commentary). Animals, 10, 1902. doi: 10.3390/ani10101902.
Hawes, S.M., Ikizler, D., Loughney, K., Temple Barnes, A., Marceau, J., Tedeschi, P. and Morris, K.N. (2020). A quantitative study of Denver’s breed-specific legislation. Animal Law Review, 26(2). 195-271.
Hawes, S.M., Kerrigan, J.M., Hupe, T., Morris, K.N. (2020). Factors informing the return of adopted dogs and cats to an animal shelter. Animals, 10, 1573. doi: 10.3390/ani10091573.
Flynn, E., Zoller, A.G., Mueller, M. K., & Morris, K. N. (2019). Human-Animal-Environment Interactions as a Context for Child and Adolescent Growth. Journal of Youth Development, 14(4), 144-163. doi:10.5195/jyd.2019.839
Hawes, S. M., Flynn, E., Tedeschi, P. and Morris, K. N. (2019). Humane Cities: Social change through policies promoting collective welfare. Journal of Urban Affairs, 1-13. doi: 10.1080/07352166.2019.1680244.
Bexell, S. M., Clayton, S., & Myers, G. (2019). Children and animals: Incorporating the importance of human-other animal relationships in fostering resilience in children. In P. Tedeschi & M. Jenkins (Eds.), Transforming trauma: Finding resiliency and healing through animals (pp. 217–240). Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press. Read More
Clayton, S., Bexell, S. M., Xu, P., Tang, Y. F., Li, W. J., & Chen, L. (2019). Environmental literacy and nature experience in Chengdu, China. Environmental Education Research. Read More
Ekholm Fry, N. (2019). Horses in the treatment of trauma. In P. Tedeschi & M. Jenkins (Eds.), Transforming trauma: Finding resiliency and healing through animals (pp. 265–298). Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press. Read More
Hawes, S.M., Camacho, B.A., Tedeschi, P. and Morris, K.N.(2019). Temporal trends in intake and outcome data for animal shelters in Colorado, 2000 to 2015. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 254(3), 363-372. doi:10.2460/javma.254.3.363 Read More
Hawes, S., Ikizler, D., Loughney, K. Marceau, J.F., Tedeschi, P. and Morris, K.N. (2019) The Impacts of the City and County of Denver’s Breed Specific Legislation. Speciesism and Breed Discrimination Collection. 5. Read More
Ascione, F. R., McDonald, S. E., Tedeschi, P. & Williams, J. H. (2018). The Relations among Animal Abuse, Psychological Disorders, and Crime: Implications for Forensic Assessment. Behavioral Sciences & The Law Special Issue. Read More
Bexell, S. M., Decker-Sparks, J. D., Tejada, J. & Rechkemmer, A. (2018). An analysis of inclusion gaps in sustainable development themes: Findings in recent social work research. International Social Work 00(0) 1-13. Read More
Clayton, S., Bexell, S.M., Xu P., Zhang, Z.H., Li, W. J., Chen, H. W., & Hu, Y. (2018). Confronting the wildlife trade through public education at zoological institutions in Chengdu, China. Zoo Biology 37(2) 119-129. Read More
Ekholm Fry, N. (2018). Equine-assisted therapy for trauma-accidents. In K. Trotter & J. Baggerly (Eds.). Equine-assisted mental health for healing trauma (125-139). New York, NY: Routledge. Read More
Ekholm Fry, N., Meszaros, E., & O’Neill, K. (2018). Coursework in equine-assisted activities and therapies at universities and colleges in the United States: A scoping review. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, 6, 118-126. Read More
Fine, A. Tedeschi, P. Mackintosh, T. Boone, J. (2018). Fostering a More Humane University Environment Through Course Work, Service-Learning, and Animal-Assisted Interventions and Activities. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, 6, 105-117. Read More
Flynn, E., Roguski, J., Trujillo, K., Tedeschi, P. and Morris, K.N. (2018). The impacts of an animal-assisted therapy as an adjunct to intensive family services among Child Protection Services-involved families: A randomized controlled trial. Child Maltreatment. doi: 10.1177/1077559518817678. Read More
Current IHAC Research
Explore our ongoing research projects related to therapeutic human-animal interactions, animals in communities and conservation social work.