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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Prison Dog Program

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.
Child carrying cat

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.

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Conservation Social Work

We’re investigating the interrelationships among humans, the natural physical environment and nonhuman animals. For example:

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.

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News about IHAC Research

Recent IHAC Books

Featured Peer-Reviewed Publications

  • 2022

    Flynn, E., Motiff, M., Mueller, M.K., & Morris, K.N. (2022). Testing the Facial Expression Coding System (FACES) for middle school aged special education students and development of a protocol. International Journal of Behavioral Development. Manuscript submitted.

    Flynn, E., Motiff, M., Taeckens-Seabaugh, A., Mueller, M.K., & Morris, K.N. (2022). Promoting youth social-emotional development through animal-assisted interventions: A qualitative analysis of special education students’ perspectives. Applied Developmental Science. Manuscript submitted.

    Gandenberger, J., Flynn, E., Moratto, M., Wendt, A., & Morris, K. N. (2022). Molecular biomarkers of adult human and canine stress during human-canine interactions: A systematic scoping review. Animals, 12, 651. doi:

    Gandenberger, J., Motiff, M., Flynn, E., & Morris, K.N. (2022). Staff perspectives on the targeted incorporation of nature-based interventions for children and youth. Residential Treatment for Children and Youth. doi: 10.1080/0886571X.2022.2096169.

    Gerhardt, R., Flynn, E., & Morris, K. N. (2022). A scoping review of research on canine-assisted interventions to reduce loneliness and promote socializing behaviors in early and middle adulthood. Social Science and Medicine. Manuscript submitted.

    Han, T., Flynn, E., Pena, R., & Morris, K. N. (2022). Measuring the impact of prison-based dog training programs on recidivism: A propensity score-matched survival analysis. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research. Manuscript submitted.

    Hawes, S.M., Flynn, E., Tedeschi, P., and Morris, K.N. (2022). Humane communities: social change through policies promoting collective welfare. Animals in the City. (Chapter 13, pp 306-319). New York, USA: Routledge. 1st Edition.

    Hawes, S. M., Gutierrez, L., Rojas, L., Cohen, R., Camacho, R, Taeckens-Seabaugh, A., Hupe, T., & Ekholm Fry, N. (In Press). Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in human-animal interactions: Reflections on practice. In Fine, Mueller, Ng, Peralta, & Beck (Eds.), The Handbook on Human-Animal Interactions, Interventions, and Anthrozoology.

    Howell, T. J., Nieforth, L., Thomas-Pino, C., Samet, L., Agbonika, S., Curevas-Pavincich, F., Ekholm Fry, N., Hill, K., Jegatheesan, B., Kakinuma, M., Macnamara, M., Mattila-Rautiainen, S., Perry, A., Tardif-Williams, C., Walsh, E., Winkle, M., Yamamoto, M., Yerbury, R., Vijay, R…Bennett, P. (2022). Defining terms used for animals working in support roles for people with support needs. Animals, 12, 1975.

    Moss, L.R, Hawes, S.M., Connolly, K., Bergstrom, M., Morris, K.N. (2022). Animal control and humane law enforcement officers’ perspectives on community engagement: a qualitative phenomenology study. Animals. In press.

    Rodriguez, J.R., Davis, J., Hill, S., Wolf, P.J., Hawes, S.M., & Morris, K.N. (2022). Trends in intake and outcome data from U.S. animal shelters from 2016 to 2020. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 9:863990. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2022.863990

    Taeckens-Seabaugh, A. (2022). Conducting diversity, equity, and inclusion-informed research with older adults. Innovation in Aging. In press.

    Taeckens-Seabaugh, A., Corcoran, M., and Morris, K. N. (2022). Examining human-animal interactions and their effect on frailty in later life: A scoping review. Innovation in Aging. In press.

  • 2021

    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/

    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.

    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.

  • 2020

    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.

  • 2019

    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 ResearchRead 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

  • 2018

    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 IssueRead 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

IHAC students with mini horse

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Current IHAC Research

Explore our ongoing research projects related to therapeutic human-animal interactions, animals in communities and conservation social work.

Displaying 1 to 7 of 7 Research Projects