In our mission to improve the health of our community through positive interactions with animals, we are practitioners in a field called “Anthrozoology”, or “Human-Animal Interaction”. This is a field of study rife with anecdotal stories, “good vibes”, and potential for human healing. However, to gain mainstream acceptance as an intervention in therapy, education, rehabilitation, and other areas of social work, there needs to be a solid base of objective research.
Like many non-drug interventions, constructing a double-blind controlled study is difficult when the therapy is alive and wiggling. It is being done, however, and we intend to contribute to this growing body of research into how animal interactions can affect our moods, endocrine systems, and mental states.
One of our founding board members is a neurologist with special interest in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the well-known “fight or flight” reflex. In difficult social situations, or in periods of stress, this part of the brain prepares the body for conflict, and among the measurable effects are tiny changes in the electrical conductivity of the skin. We are exploiting this effect to design and perform studies on various populations including children on the autism spectrum, kids and parents, and students with learning differences, and how this primitive part of their brain responds when interacting with an animal. James Strickland has been interested in and performing neurological research for over 20 years and has recently retired from a non-profit organization he founded: parentsciences.org.
There are several pilot studies at college campuses around the country linking exposure to companion animals in the hours before a test being correlated with lower self-reported anxiety about the exam. We are attempting to secure funding for a small pilot study to introduce an animal intervention into the classroom in elementary and middle school during preparations and study for the STARR test, Texas’ much-stressed over standardized test. We are confident that data from classrooms across a broad cross section of public schools would yield interesting data about the role of animals in the classroom.