Digging Deeper into Human-Animal Connections

Digging Deeper into Human-Animal Connections
New Research Center Started to Explore the Relationships between Animals and Us
Some  young children interacting with a penguin

By Sherrie R. Whaley

A new research center is promoting the study of human and animal interactions, including the less-examined aspect: what animals get out of the relationship.

The Center for Human-Animal Interactions Research and Education was started to encourage more understanding into the connection humans establish with pets, wildlife and zoo and farm animals.

“We focus on both sides of the relationship,” said Kelly George, an assistant professor of animal sciences. George led the effort to start CHAIRE.

“When thinking about the positive effect of animals on human health, we also need to look at what is the effect on the animal,” George said.

What distinguishes the center from similar ones is that the research examines more than just companion animals and horses—it also includes wildlife as well as farm and exotic animals. Also, the center involves experts from various colleges at Ohio State including Veterinary Medicine, Public Health, Social Work and Nursing in addition to the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and organizations in central Ohio.

“You could make the argument that coyotes are helping to save lives”Stan Gehrt

The center’s research will focus on the conservation of wildlife, the health benefits of having animals, and the welfare and treatment of animals, including those raised on farms. The aim is to effect change in management or policies associated with animals.

With experts from so many disciplines involved, the research underway is varied.

Stan Gehrt, a professor of wildlife ecology, is conducting a study on how coyotes, often considered a nuisance or threat in urban areas, help trim the deer population and car accidents involving deer in Chicago and its suburbs.

“You could make the argument that coyotes are helping to save lives,” he said.

He and his graduate students are doing a separate study looking at the various personalities of coyotes living in or near urban areas and how their living so close to humans may be affecting their behavior.

Another researcher affiliated with the center, Joe Guada, is examining how pets help the physical and emotional wellbeing of homeless individuals and people at risk of becoming homeless, as well as the impact on the pets’ health.

“They see the animal as something to care for and that adds to their own sense of importance,” said Guada, an associate professor of social work.

Pets too have been shown to have a positive effect in therapy sessions with children who would otherwise be reluctant to talk or interact with a counselor. George will be working on a study examining how introducing a dog into therapy sessions may be helpful for children whose mother, father or both are addicted to opioids.

“We’ll be looking at the stress levels of the animal as well just to confirm we’re not putting an animal in a situation that’s too difficult for it.”

For more information on the center, visit https://chaire.osu.edu/news