Human Animal Bond Research Institute and Pet Partners Award Research Grant to Virginia Commonwealth University
Washington, D.C. (December 6, 2021) — The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Pet Partners announced today a new research grant to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to investigate the potential for reduced loneliness among people hospitalized for mental health conditions resulting from a program of therapy dog interventions. This project, titled “A Pilot Study to Examine the Impact of a Therapy Dog Intervention on Loneliness and Related Health Outcomes in Patients with Mental Illness,” aims to address key questions to support an animal-assisted intervention (AAI) as an inpatient intervention for these vulnerable individuals.
“This pilot study is important to Pet Partners as it will help advance standards of practice in the delivery of animal-assisted therapy for a population that stands to benefit from interaction with friendly, well-trained therapy animals,” said C. Annie Peters, President & CEO of Pet Partners. “In supporting this research, we hope to make an impactful contribution to the field of human-animal interaction and to support the work of volunteer therapy animal teams across the country dedicated to sharing the healing benefits of the human-animal bond with people in need of comfort and support.”
“We know that therapy animals can be beneficial to people in the hospital, but there is a need for more scientific studies to investigate their impact on loneliness, and to fully understand what aspects of those interactions are most effective and for whom,” said Nancy Gee, PhD, Professor and Director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction (CHAI) at Virginia Commonwealth University, the study’s principal investigator. “This study seeks to address this gap and provide further support for animal-assisted interventions as a way of addressing loneliness for this at-risk population.”
The goal of this new VCU research project is to collect pilot data in a population that is at-risk for loneliness and its negative effects to determine whether AAI in the form of therapy dog visitations can serve as a buffer against these negative outcomes. Dr. Gee and her team will employ a three-group randomized controlled trial of a therapy dog visitation program in a population of psychiatric inpatients to examine the effects of AAI on loneliness, mood, depression, anxiety, and health-related quality of life, compared to two control conditions. This feasibility and pilot study will be combined with already-funded pilot data from a sample of older adults to calculate power, determine sample size, and pursue federal funding for a large-scale, multi-site clinical trial.
Recognizing loneliness and social isolation as a major public health issue and the growing evidence supporting companion animals for alleviating loneliness and its ill-effects, HABRI partnered with Mars Petcare to form a Consortium on Social Isolation, Loneliness and Companion Animals. The Consortium is an ongoing, multidisciplinary effort to explore the potential of companion animals to provide effective, complementary treatment for social isolation, loneliness and related health outcomes. In May 2019, HABRI and Mars Petcare co-hosted the first-ever Summit on Social Isolation and Companion Animals in Washington, D.C. The Summit engaged experts and stakeholders in advancing scientific research, sharing best practices, and identifying societal barriers, resulting in a report on the tremendous potential of human-animal interaction (HAI) in addressing the crisis of social isolation and loneliness. Together, HABRI and Mars Petcare remain committed to building a strong scientific understanding of the impact of the human-animal bond on populations most vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation.
“A major goal of the Consortium on Social Isolation and Companion Animals is to advance high-quality research to develop new insights into the potential benefits pets and animal-assisted interventions can have on loneliness and social isolation, particularly for those most vulnerable,” said HABRI President Steven Feldman. “HABRI is thrilled to fund this pilot study, the results of which will be combined with those from a Mars-Petcare funded pilot study to lay the groundwork for a future clinical trial.”
About VCU and VCU Health
Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls nearly 30,000 students in 238 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-three of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Tappahannock Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and MCV Physicians. The clinical enterprise includes a collaboration with Sheltering Arms Institute for physical rehabilitation services. For more, please visit vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.
The Center for Human-Animal Interaction was established in the VCU School of Medicine in 2001. CHAI is uniquely positioned to deliver its mission because it is physically housed within the Department of Psychiatry, and it has been extensively integrated into the VCU Health System (VCUHS), giving CHAI immediate access to university resources and a major metropolitan medical center.
About Pet Partners
Pet Partners is the national leader in demonstrating and promoting the health and wellness benefits of animal-assisted therapy, activities, and education. Since the organization’s inception in 1977, the science proving these benefits has become indisputable. With thousands of registered teams making millions of visits annually, Pet Partners serves as the nation’s most diverse and respected nonprofit registering handlers of multiple species as volunteer teams. Pet Partners teams visit with patients in recovery, people with intellectual disabilities, seniors living with Alzheimer’s, students, veterans with PTSD, people who have experienced crisis events and those approaching end of life, with the goal of improving human health and well-being through the human-animal bond. With the release of its Standards of Practice for Animal-Assisted Interventions and international expansion, Pet Partners is globally recognized as the industry gold standard. In 2022, Pet Partners will launch an affiliate organization, the Association of Animal-Assisted Intervention Professionals, specifically created to serve the needs of AAI professionals. Learn more at www.petpartners.org.
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, please visit www.habri.org.
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