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dr. david haworth of morris animal foundation: the science behind the human-animal bond



Everyone knows that having animals in our lives is good for us.  It is a foregone conclusion, right?  What could be better for us than having a furry head to scratch, having a dog or cat to play with or just seeing a wild animal running free?  These are all manifestations of the human-animal bond – but the surprising truth is that there is actually very little hard data that says animals are good for our health.  That may not sound very important.  After all, who needs data when so many of us already “know” it for a fact?  

Well, federal, state and local governments do for one thing.  Insurance companies, landlords and community planning agencies do too.  Without scientifically-supported data, it is very hard for organizations like these to endorse policies to make it easier for people to have pets. 

This is why the Morris Animal Foundation teamed up with the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI), a nonprofit organization that supports research, education and other charitable activities that validate the positive impact the human animal bond can have on the integrated health of families and communities. 

Let me be clear: the mission of Morris Animal Foundation is to fill knowledge gaps in order for animals to live longer, healthier lives.  But the mission of our Foundation and HABRI are so overlapping, that an alliance between us makes a great deal of sense.  

Earlier this year, HABRI decided to spend more than $250,000 on research designed to better understand aspects of the human-animal bond.  Morris Animal Foundation was happy to administer the selection process for those studies, and together with an independent scientific advisory board, seven studies were selected for funding.  

These studies explore the effects of several different examples of the human-animal bond, from the effect dog ownership has on the families of children with autism spectrum disorder, to the effect of a horse-therapy program on victims of trauma, to a study about the health effects to the dog of being a therapy animal for kids with cancer.  Each study is fascinating in its own way and each is an opportunity to better understand the ways that animals enrich our lives.

I firmly believe that animals are critical for our world, our communities and us as individuals.  I also believe that the scientific method is the best way for us to fill gaps in our knowledge and clarify our understanding of all sorts of mysteries.  We all believe that animals make us better – healthier, happier, and more productive.  But these beliefs require proof for some significant barriers to be brought down, and HABRI, helped by Morris Animal Foundation, is doing the hard work associated with generating that proof.  

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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