Posted on behalf of Dr. Oliver Knesl, AVMA Steering Committee for Human – Interaction (SCHAI)
“I cannot talk. I have four legs. I have paws. My claws may intimidate you. I wag my tail when I am happy. I whimper when I am sad. At last, I have arrived and I am here to help you. Pet me and you will smile. I will calm you. I will help you forget the bad things, yet I’m here to help you remember the good things in life. I won’t offer solutions; I will just listen. All I have are gestures. . . . Pets are truly nonjudgmental and love unconditionally. Their love to give to others fails to weaken and is everlasting. Their lifetime of loyalty and companionship for humans is undeniable”1 .
As eloquently captured by Sarah Matusek in the introductory quote, our interactions with animals, whether as companions or helpers, often develop into consistent, reliable bonds., While many people recognize that these relationships brighten our days, they can actually benefit human health. As early as the 1860s, Florence Nightingale, famed for her efforts in caring for British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War, noted that that the chronically ill should keep “a small pet” to increase their sense of well-being.2 Over the past few decades pet ownership and animal assisted therapy have become increasingly recognized and accepted as tangible benefits for people. So much so that the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation was created in order to gather, fund and share the scientific research that shows the positive health impacts of animals on people. HABRI Central serves as an online hub that provides access research and information on the benefits of the human-animal bond.
Veterinarians and their staff are in a unique and very privileged position to help elevate/enhance the relationships between people and their companion animals, whether they are pets or serve as assistance or service animals, through the provision of high quality care throughout an animal’s life. Incorporating your respect and understanding of the human–animal bond into daily interactions with animals and their owners supports the development of trust and rapport between the veterinarian and their clients. Highly bonded clients are more likely to accept veterinary recommendations which, in turn, leads to improved animal care and welfare3. The AVMA officially recognizes the existence of the human-animal bond and its importance to client and community health. Critically, the AVMA holds the position that the human-animal bond has major significance for veterinary medicine, because, as veterinary medicine serves society, it fulfills both human and animal needs.
To support this position, the AVMA Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions (SCHAI) was formed to explore the characteristics of different types of human-animal relationships that veterinarians encounter everyday within the profession, while simultaneously promoting the veterinarian’s role in supporting good human-animal relationships outside of the profession. Recently the committee has created two new AVMA policies titled “Animal-Assisted Interventions: Definitions” and “AVMA Guidelines for Animal-Assisted Interventions”. The “Definitions” policy describes the classes of service, assistance, and companion animals that veterinarians may see in practice and helps veterinarians determine how best to address each animal’s unique health and welfare needs. The policy also supports the AVMA and individual veterinarians in advocating for clients and their animals so they can enjoy appropriate access to public areas, services, facilities, and housing according to the function and training of the animal and the needs of the client.
The “Guidelines” policy reflects current standards and expectations for animal-assisted intervention programs reinforcing the important role played by veterinarians and their staff in the care and management of animals used in these activities.
Using these policies as a springboard, SCHAI has plans to develop products that will help veterinarians better manage the care of animals participating in human health care interventions. These may include model intake questions and a “wellness health care checklist” suitable for the main classes of intervention activities. Our goal is to support productive communication between the veterinarian and client, promoting focus on preventive care and monitoring of the unique needs of assistance animals. The committee welcomes input and questions from AVMA members. Further information on SCHAI can be found at: Steering Committee on Human Animal Interactions (SCHAI).
1Matuszek, S. Animal-Facilitated Therapy in Various Patient Populations: Systematic Literature Review. HOLISTIC NURSING PRACTICE. 2010 July/August: 187 – 203.
2Takashima, G.K. and Day, M.J. Setting the One Health Agenda and the Human-Companion Animal Bond. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Nov; 11(11): 11110–11120.
3Lue T.W., Pantenburg D.P., Crawford, P.M. Impact of the owner–pet and client–veterinarian bond on the care that pets receive. JAVMA. 2008 232(4):531-540.