Human Animal Bond Research Institute Awards Grant to the University of Georgia
Washington, D.C. (November 6, 2017) — Funded by a two-year grant from the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), faculty from the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health, College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Family and Consumer Science and the Obesity Initiative are collaborating on a new research project to examine the impact of pet companionship on mental and emotional health in older adults living alone.
“Housing and health are essential to overall well-being, a fact known to pertain to both humans and animals”, said Heidi Ewen, assistant professor, Colleges of Public Health and Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia. “We have proposed a unique solution to help older adults living alone at home establish new social bonds, by pairing them with homeless foster cats.”
Partnering with the Athens Area Humane Society and UGA’s Campus Cats organization, a rescue group that works with homeless cats on campus, the team will match foster parents and felines. The team is led by Heidi Ewen and Sherry Sanderson, a veterinarian and associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Beginning in October, the team will begin to identify older adults in the Athens Area that are willing to foster cats. The 34 pairs of cats and seniors will then be interviewed and assessed throughout the study to determine whether having a pet in the house leads to changes in their emotional well-being. Assessments include, loneliness, emotional well-being, and purpose of life scales as well as measures of attachment to, and comfort from, the foster cat. Findings are expected to demonstrate improvements in mental and behavioral health in foster parents including reduction in loneliness and depression, and that attachment to the companion animal will increase the duration of fostering or lead to adoption of the foster cat.
“As efforts around the country have increased to reduce euthanasia rates of homeless pets, there is an increasing reliance upon foster homes to bridge the time between intake and permanent adoption,” says Sanderson. “This study fulfills the needs of two populations, human and animal, that can mutually benefit each other, and is the perfect example of One Health.”
“Loneliness and social isolation are detrimental to mental health and wellbeing, especially for seniors aging in place alone,” said Steven Feldman, Executive Director of HABRI. “The results of this study will help demonstrate that the human-animal bond can facilitate healthy aging through providing companionship, a greater sense of purpose in life and emotional well-being.”
The majority of people who live alone are 75 years or older and many of them tend to spend their days inside the home. For those who are single, it can be hard for them to maintain social connections outside of their home. Ewen knows many older adults living alone may struggle to find a reason to plan meals or engage in other daily activities without another person around to share them with. “But once they have a pet in the house, they have a reason to get up and to do things, a sense of purpose. They have something to care for who depends on them,” she said. “We believe that older adults who live alone will be ideal foster parents because they can give the cat love and a lot more individualized attention, than somebody who works and has to leave the house for nine hours a day,” said Ewen.
Sanderson adds, “We’re also hoping that if we remove some of the barriers older people have for not wanting to adopt a pet that we may see enduring partnerships between the cats and their foster parents.”
“We will monitor and analyze the results of the various scales we’re using in this study to help us determine the impact the cats have on the quality of life for the seniors,” said Dr. Ewen. “Our goal is to increase feelings of purpose and raise the quality of life for our participating older adults.”
Loneliness is one threat to public health that can often be addressed in relatively simple and inexpensive ways, says Kerstin Emerson, assistant professor of gerontology in the College of Public Health’s Institute of Gerontology and team member on this study.
Emerson’s research on older adults has shown that loneliness is emerging as a serious threat to public health, with recent studies suggesting that loneliness poses a similar threat to our health as obesity and smoking.
“If we can address loneliness, we can prevent associated negative outcomes, such as disability, cognitive decline, and depression. Our intervention has the possibility of decreasing loneliness and increasing quality of life among vulnerable older adults,” said Emerson.
All the cats in the study will be spayed/neutered, screened for FeLV/FIV, vaccinated, dewormed, treated for fleas and microchipped before they go to their foster home. While the cats are in foster care the study will furnish all the supplies the foster parent needs, including food and cat litter, which is being donated by Nestlé Purina. Dr. Sanderson or a trained veterinary student will be checking on the cats monthly to see how they are doing, treat any minor health issues, and to bring food and litter. Diane Hartzell, program coordinator for UGA’s Obesity Initiative, will conduct interviews and assess results on an ongoing basis.
A preliminary case study initiated by team member Diane Hartzell — and the inspiration for the larger study and grant — has shown that a cat can bring joy and comfort into an individual’s life. Dan was overcome with grief after losing his wife of 61 years and 20-year-old cat within a two-month period. Seeing his pain, a neighbor decided to help find him a compatible friend. After working through his criteria for color, age and personality of a new cat, Dan adopted Sheldon, a six-month old foster cat from Circle of Friends Animal Society through PetSmart. The bond was instant, and Dan has said that he wasn’t sure he would have made it through the first Christmas holiday if it wasn’t for Sheldon. Sanderson adds that, “We hope we have many other success stories like Sheldon and Dan. It is a win-win for both.”
About The University of Georgia
The University of Georgia (UGA), a land-grant and sea-grant university with state-wide commitments and responsibilities, is the state’s flagship institution of higher education. It is also the state’s oldest, most comprehensive, and most diversified institution of higher education. The university was chartered in 1785 and has a current enrollment of over 35,000 students. The University of Georgia is classified as a Research I university based on its annual incoming external funding awards and the strength and diversity of its graduate degree programs. The University of Georgia is tied for 20th in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 list of the 50 top public universities in America and was ranked #18 on the Forbes “Top 25 Public Colleges 2015.”
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is a not-for-profit organization that maintains the world’s largest online library of human-animal bond research and information; funds innovative research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals; and informs the public about human-animal bond research and the beneficial role of companion animals in society. For more information about HABRI, www.habri.org.
More Press Releases
New Research Says Therapy Dogs Are OK!
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today the publication of a study exploring the impacts of therapy dog sessions on the welfare of the dogs involved. Conducted by researchers at American Humane, findings of the study demonstrate that dogs did not show increased stress resulting from the therapy visits. Funded by HABRI and Zoetis, American Humane’s newly-released “Canines and Childhood Cancer Study,” is one of the largest human-animal bond studies focusing on the impact of animal-assisted interaction (AAI) on children with cancer and their parents, as well as the participating therapy dogs. “Results of this study demonstrate that dogs did not show increased behavioral or physiological stress, indicating that placing therapy dogs in this type of therapeutic setting does not cause undue stress to the animals,” said Amy McCullough, PhD and Principal Investigator, American Humane. “This research will help American Humane, HABRI and practitioners in the field to maintain the highest standards of animal welfare.” “This research project is important because now we have strong evidence that, with proper training and handling, the welfare of therapy animals in hospital settings is not adversely impacted,” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “As more animals are deployed to help hospital patients, we can be confident that the dogs are OK!” Dr. McCullough, along with Ashleigh Ruehrdanz, MPH and Molly Jenkins, MSW of American Humane, supervised data collection on participating handler-dog teams at five children’s hospitals across the United States. The objective of the study in regard to participating canines was to determine the stress levels of therapy dogs during regular AAI sessions with pediatric oncology patients and their families. The research team videotaped each animal-assisted therapy session and coded the dogs’ behavior using an ethogram developed to capture affiliative and stress-related behaviors. The frequency...
New Research to Study Effects of Dogs on Children’s Stress
The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) announced today it has awarded a $26,000 grant to Yale University for a new study, Interactions with Animals to Reduce Children’s Stress. The study will examine the effects of interactions with dogs on children dealing with stress and anxiety. “I am keenly interested in improving the quality of life among those who are experiencing stress, strains, and challenges of everyday functioning,” said the study’s primary researcher, Dr. Alan Kazdin, professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University, Ph.D, ABPP. “I am hoping to identify ways in which animal-child interaction can reduce stress and, furthermore, wish to understand precisely how that works, how the interaction can be optimized, and how it might translate to what’s being done in animal-assisted interventions and also in everyday life.” The two-year laboratory-based experiment on behalf of Yale University’s Department of Psychology will examine 73 children between the ages of 8 and 13 and randomly assign them support from a dog, support from an object, or no support. Researchers will then employ a series of tests and compare the stress levels in each group. “HABRI is committed to improving child health and development through the power of the human-animal bond,” said HABRI Executive Director Steve Feldman. “This study has the potential to provide necessary evidence on the specific benefits of human-animal interaction to children’s mental health.”
New Research to Study Therapy Dog Visits for Elderly ICU Patients
The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation today announced it has awarded a $6,000 grant to The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Nursing for a pilot research study, Biobehavioral Effects of Therapy Dog Visitation in Elderly Intensive Care Unit Patients, to investigate how brief visits from therapy dogs can reduce stress in older intensive care unit (ICU) patients. “Elderly patients who are admitted to the intensive care unit are at risk for anxiety that negatively affects physical health,” said primary researcher Sandra Branson, PhD, MSN, RN, Assistant Professor at the UTHealth School of Nursing. “Limited evidence suggests the effectiveness of therapy dog visits in improving these biological responses. We’re hoping this study will help fill the gap and potentially translate into regular practice in ICUs.” Further exploring the effects of therapy dogs on stress in elderly ICU patients, the study aims to provide research-based evidence proving the efficacy of brief, 10-minute therapy dog visits in improving stress associated with being in an ICU. The 18-month study will observe two groups of 10 elderly participants in the ICU; one group will receive a 10-minute therapy dog visits at random and the other will receive usual care without the visits. Patients’ psychosocial, endocrine, and inflammatory responses will be measured immediately before and after the 10-minute care session and compared between the two groups. It is predicted that participants who receive the therapy dog visits will show greater reductions in the measured responses. The results of this study could yield therapy dog visits as a regular, low-risk and low-cost treatment intervention for patients in the ICU. “HABRI’s grant to UTHealth will help advance the science that demonstrates the benefits of companion animals for disease recovery and healthy aging,” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “The deployment of therapy...