Research into Human-Animal-Environment Relationships

At the Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC), we conduct scientifically rigorous research and scholarship in the areas of trauma, youth development, and animals in communities 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 we share.

Therapeutic Human-Animal Interactions: Youth Development

We are working to understand how youth relationships with other animals and nature create pathways for collective thriving and ecological justice

  • We are identifying how to ethically and most effectively incorporate animals and the natural environment into therapeutic and educational settings to promote thriving among diverse youth.
  • We are measuring the impacts of involving therapy dogs in mental health therapy on client engagement and health outcomes.
  • In partnership with Denver Public Schools, we’re developing and empirically evaluating an eco-minded professional development curriculum for educators to support youth to contribute to building an equitable and regenerative future for themselves, their communities, and Earth.
  • We are identifying facilitators and barriers to youth civic development through participation in ecological justice.
  • Some of our collaborators include
    • Green Chimneys
    • Denver Public Schools
    • Center for Sustainability, University of Denver

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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Therapeutic Human-Animal Interactions: Trauma

IHAC's research team is working to understand how human-animal-environment interactions impact stress and trauma

  • We are 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 are measuring the impacts of human-canine interactions on both species’ responses to stress using biomarkers and measures of subjective stress.
  • We are using surveys and physiological data to explore how pairing military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their service dogs impacts both species’ well-being over time.
  • We are documenting indigenous and tribal community members’ perspectives on the impacts of colonization and historical trauma on their relationships with free-roaming dogs.
  • We are developing protocols for integrating trauma-informed care principles into research.
  • Some of our collaborators include:
    • Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, University of Manitoba
    • Dr. Aurélie Ledreux, University of Colorado Anschutz

Animals and Communities

We’re working to understand how companion animal welfare challenges intersect with social and ecological justice issues.

  • We are partnering with human and companion animal service providers to address interpersonal and structural barriers to accessing veterinary care.
  • We are documenting the experiences of families who are seeking pet inclusive affordable housing
  • We are exploring how to integrate community engagement strategies into animal control, field services, and humane law enforcement.
  • We are measuring the social, environmental, and economic impacts of animal welfare practices and policies.
  • Some of our collaborators include:
    • The Humane Society of the United States Pets for Life
    • National Animal Care and Control Association

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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News about IHAC Research

Featured Peer-Reviewed Publications

  • 2023

    Cardona, A., Hawes, S.M., Cull, J., Connolly, K., O’Reilly, K., Moss, L.R., Bexell, S., Yellow Bird, M., & Morris, K.N. (2023). Perspectives on rez dogs on the tribal lands of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation at Fort Berthold, North Dakota, USA. Animals, 13, 1422. doi: 10.3390./ani13081422.

    Flynn, E., Motiff, M., Mueller, M.K., & Morris, K.N. (2023). Testing the Facial Expression Coding System (FACES) for middle school aged special education students and development of a protocol. International Journal of Behavioral Development. doi: 10.1177/01650254231167313.

    Gerhardt, R., Flynn, E., & Morris, K.N. (2023). A scoping review of research on canine-assisted interventions to reduce loneliness and promote socializing behaviors in early and middle adulthoodHealth Sciences Review. doi: 10.1016/j.hsr.2023.100076.

  • 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.

    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. (2023). Animal Control and Field Services Officers’ Perspectives on Community Engagement: A Qualitative Phenomenology Study. Animals13, 68.

    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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