Human-Animal Bond 101: Recommended Reading
By Ed Sayres
We at PIJAC are often asked about our favorite sources for reading up on the nature of the human-animal bond – one of pet ownership’s greatest rewards – and staying current on the latest research in the field.
The body of work on this subject explores not only pet ownership’s positive impact on our overall health but also its role in treating specific conditions. Having a pet has been credited with reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and helping children become better, more confident readers, to name just a few examples, and various species are also proving to be helpful in working with people with Alzheimer’s disease, depression, cancer, autism spectrum disorders and trauma.
For the latest developments, check the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation and Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society), both of which are excellent sources for keeping tabs on the latest research findings, expert commentary and media coverage.
Even with new science coming out, I always recommend the classic Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship (revised in 1996). Co-authored by Dr. Alan Beck, the Dorothy N. McAllister Professor of Animal Ecology and Director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, and Aaron H. Katcher, a psychiatrist and professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, this book explores the emotional and physical benefits of owning a pet and analyzes the complex relationship between people and their pets.
Dr. Beck is widely recognized for his leadership and scholarship in human-animal bond studies. Before joining the faculty at Purdue, he directed the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at Penn and was director of animal programs for the New York City Department of Health. He has published five books, more than 70 professional articles, 75 book chapters and over 40 popular articles on the nature of our bond with animals.
Dr. Beck also edited, with colleagues Rebecca Johnson of the University of Missouri and Sandra McCune of the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England, The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for Pets and People (2011). This volume deals with how human-animal interaction may help fight obesity at all stages of life.
Most recently, Dr. Beck spoke with USA Today about the many benefits of pet ownership in retirement: “Want a Healthy Retirement? Consider Getting a Pet.”
While much research has been done focusing on people and their dogs, clearly this bond is not just the dog’s domain. We know, too, that a similar dynamic is at work in the interaction between people and other species, and the research bears this out.
In one study conducted last year at Purdue, for example, an aquarium of fish was found to have a calming effect on people with severe dementia and their caretakers. And in “What the Sparrows Told Me,” a poignant opinion piece published recently in the New York Times, birds are both the inspiration and the teachers. As these accounts suggest, species seems to matter less than the attachment that develops between us and our pets – and what we can learn from each other.
My own experiences over the years have taught me about the strength of the human-animal bond and the different ways it can improve our lives. I look forward to sharing those stories and lessons here over the coming weeks.