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
Therapy Dogs Improve Social Behaviors in Psychiatrically Hospitalized Youth with Autism
March 14, 2019– The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), the Children’s Hospital Colorado and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus today announced the publication of a pilot study exploring the benefits of animal-assisted activities (AAA) for psychiatrically hospitalized youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). “Individuals with autism spectrum disorder have difficulties with communication and socialization skills, and often experience difficulties with emotion dysregulation, which can lead to more intensive intervention services such as psychiatric hospitalization,” said researcher and lead author, Monique Germone, PhD, BCBA, University of Colorado, Children’s Hospital Colorado. “Psychiatric hospital environments can be particularly overwhelming and stressful environments for individuals with ASD, and animal-assisted activity is one of the most widely used complementary forms of treatment in hospital settings. We chose to build on existing science that shows children with ASD demonstrate significantly more positive social-communication behaviors when an animal is present.” Dr. Germone, along with study’s principal investigator Robin Gabriels, PsyD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine recruited participants ages 4-17 years old from the inpatient and partial hospitalization unit of a specialized psychiatric unit for pediatric patients with ASD. A crossover study design, participants attended both the experimental (AAA) and control (novel toy) conditions. Both group sessions occurred in a classroom setting and began with quiet play, followed by social skills group and then participants engaging in either the experimental or control condition. The 10-minute experimental sessions included therapy dog-handler teams. The researchers captured behavioral data via video and used the OHAIRE coding system designed to quantify social communication, and interactions with animals and control objects. Categories...
Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Awards Grant for New Study to Examine Therapy Dog Impact on Pediatric Echocardiograms
The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) announced today it has awarded a $44,000 grant to Duke University School of Medicine’s Division of Pediatric Cardiology for a new research study titled Impact of Animal Assisted Therapy on Quality, Completeness, and Patient and Parental Satisfaction in Children Undergoing Clinical Echocardiography. This study will examine the influence of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) on young children undergoing an echocardiogram. It is hypothesized that children will have a more complete and higher quality echocardiogram in the presence of therapy dogs. In addition, parents are expected to report higher visit satisfaction scores and greater exam comfort for their children. “Echocardiography is an effective way to use ultrasound to ‘see’ inside the heart, and while taking the pictures is non-invasive, it can still be a scary procedure for young children,” said the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Piers C.A. Barker, Division of Pediatric Cardiology, Duke University School of Medicine. “Typically, we must sedate children who have trouble holding still so that we can get adequate pictures. This study aims to evaluate whether animal-assisted therapy could serve as an effective alternative technique to comfort the children and put them at ease, potentially resulting in more complete echocardiograms, higher quality images, and avoidance of sedation drugs.” “We know from previous scientific research that animal-assisted therapy is effective in alleviating anxiety in hospital patients,” said co-investigator, Margaret Gruen, DVM, PhD, DACVB of Duke. “This is one of the first studies to focus on the potential of animal-assisted therapy to impact a clinical outcome. If results are successful, this study could potentially add non-pharmacologic, low-cost options to improve diagnostic quality for children having medical imaging procedures and could encourage broader use of therapy dogs in other pediatric cardiology settings.” The...
With Announcement of 2017 Research Grants, Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) Hits $2 Million Level for Research Support
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) today announced funding for four new research grants focused on the effects of human-animal interaction on human health, including social skills outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorder; the physical and developmental health of children living with family pets; and the mental health and well-being of seniors living alone. These four grant projects raise HABRI’s total research funding to more than $2 million. “The companies and organizations that make HABRI’s research program possible deserve the credit for hitting the $2 million dollar milestone,” said Bob Vetere, HABRI President and Chair of the Board of Trustees. “With their support, HABRI is building a strong pipeline of high-quality research projects that are showing how pet ownership is essential for human health and wellness.” Since HABRI’s founding in 2010, HABRI has funded 21 competitive research projects from institutions across the globe, and has supported the creation of the world’s most comprehensive online library of human-animal interaction research, bringing its research funding to more than $2 million. In 2017, HABRI awarded a total of approximately $200,000 to the following four research projects, identified by the expert HABRI Scientific Advisory Board out of a total of 48 proposals received: Heidi Ewen, PhD (University of Georgia Research Foundation): Healthy Aging: Human Companionship Through Fostering Felines Gretchen Carlisle, PhD (University of Missouri): Shelter Cat Adoption in Families of Children with Autism: Impact On Children’s Social Skills and Anxiety as Well as Cat Stress Alexandra Protopopova, PhD (Texas Tech University): Integration of AAI and Applied Behavior Analysis to Improve Academic Performance in Children with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disability Hayley Christian, PhD (The University of Western Australia): The Health and Developmental Benefits of Companion Animals for Young Children: Advancing...