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Protector and Friend:
The Human-Animal Bond Initiative at MSU
Animals have served humans in a number of roles over time, most notably the role of companion and protector. Anyone who comes home after a hard day and is cheerfully greeted by an animal understands the power of the human-animal bond. Additionally, service animals that act as the eyes and ears of handicapped individuals also have an impact on a person's quality of life. Although well understood on a personal level, the human-animal bond has been studied scientifically only on a limited basis.
In response to these needs, the MSU College of Nursing developed the Human-Animal Bond Initiative, a program which strives to better understand the interactions between humans and animals, to assess how animals enrich people's lives, and to improve the quality of life for both humans and the animals. "We're specifically interested in scientifically validating the importance of the interaction between humans and animals," explained Lana Kaiser, a professor in the College of Nursing and the College of Human Medicine who spearheaded the program.
The study of the human-animal bond is especially significant in the area of nursing where the goal is to understand and ease the symptoms of acute and chronic illness, to prevent or delay the onset of disease or disability or slow its progression, and to find effective approaches to achieving and sustaining good health. Since animals are often considered family members, it is only natural to incorporate them into total patient care.
To determine the scientific importance of the human-animal bond, members of the initiative conduct research projects that involve animals performing therapeutic roles. Current research projects include the study of the role of companion animals in the adaptation of chronically ill children, therapeutic riding, and dogs serving as nursing home visitors. The therapeutic riding project not only looked at the human impact of riding a horse, but the emotional well-being of the animal itself. "It's important to make sure the animal isn't subjected to any additional stress as a result of the therapeutic activity," said Kaiser.
Members of the Human-Animal Bond Initiative meet monthly to discuss human/animal interactions. Those who are interested in learning more about the Human-Animal Bond Initiative can contact Lana Kaiser at Kaiser@msu.edu or visit their Web site at http://nursing.msu.edu/habi/index.html .