Human-Animal Interaction & Wellness


Photo of someone hugging a dog. The dog is white and shaggy with a red collar. They are sitting on a park bench.

The Research Exchange Group on Human-Animal Interaction and Wellness takes a collaborative approach to research and knowledge exchange about human-animal relations and their impact on the well-being of both people and animals. The group connects members of the community, university and health-system partners, government partners, community organizations, and anyone with an interest in human-animal interaction to discuss related research, policy, and programming.

See Group Activities and Presentations

Group Conveners
  • Dr. Carolyn Walsh—Assistant Professor, Canine Research Unit, Memorial University
  • Dr. Gail Wideman—Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Memorial University

Group Objectives

The group recognizes that reciprocity is an essential part of the human-animal connection.  As a result, our overarching objective will be to consider health and well-being in both human and animal terms. Fostering compassionate and respectful interactions with animals is a crucial consideration for our membership.

Community Capacity Building | The group will build community capacity for research and practice by:

  • Providing opportunities for community and university to exchange research and practice knowledge
  • Integrating community partners and people with lived experience in research collaboration: as the generators of research ideas, as leaders and catalysts for new research projects, and as full participants in the research process
  • Promoting an evidence-informed approach to community-based programs and practices
  • Supporting the evaluation of community-led programs and initiatives
  • Disseminating research evidence to the broader community to encourage healthy human-animal interaction, including evidence to support: therapeutic best practices, respectful interactions with animals, understanding animal communications, recognizing what we can learn from interacting with animals

Research Capacity Building | The group will build applied health research capacity by:

  • Fostering a multidisciplinary and inclusive approach to research by building connections among people working in diverse disciplines
  • Creating new opportunities for collaboration among university and community partners
  • Identifying knowledge gaps and promoting research to fill them
  • Facilitating and supporting student research
  • Locating and sharing research funding opportunities

Networking | The group will provide an opportunity for people with a shared interest in human-animal interaction to meet and to connect.

 Research Themes

Group members have identified the following research themes as being of interest:

  • Research on Animal-Assisted Therapies: understanding how animal-assisted therapies work, who can benefit from them, potential new environments where they might be applied, the mechanisms that underpin successful therapies, the well-being of the therapy animal, and mixed-methods approaches to provide qualitative and quantitative evidence for their effectiveness
  • Research on human and animal behaviour, psychology, and neuroscience
  • Research that seeks to understand human/animal communication and promotes a better understanding of animal behaviour
  • Research into the health impacts of pet ownership for people and animals
  • Research on the effects of humanization on animal well-being and behaviour
  • Research that looks at the role of animal interaction in promoting healthy aging and positive later-life experiences
  • Research into arts and health initiatives and other potential combination therapies that involve human and animal interaction
  • Research into public policy impacts on healthy human-animal interactions
  • Research that identifies and seeks to fill knowledge gaps in the domain of human-animal interaction and wellness
  • Research into cultural components that have an impact on human and animal interaction


Group Activities & Presentations


Febriary 29 2024 |A (Distracted) History of Rabies in Newfoundland and Labrador with Dr. Hugh Whitney |Rabies diagnosis in animals became available in this province shortly after Confederation with Canada, with the first confirmed case being in 1954. But could rabies have occurred before this? | Examining Colonial records, newspaper articles and other sources, a scientific, historical and cultural perspective is provided to this disease which has been known and often misunderstood by people for thousands of years, with many of our cultural memories residing in words and expressions that persist today, though their links to rabies are usually forgotten. These include the words “virus” and “curtail,” but also the expression "the hair of the dog". The disease also provides the imagery for such well known Gothic classics as Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Hugh Whitney worked for 30 years as this province's Chief Veterinary Officer. His work included all aspects of rabies management in animals, including diagnosis, public education, vaccination of pets, research, and twice (1988 and 2012) in the eradication of this disease from the island of Newfoundland. Also having an MA in History (MUN) he is interested in the history of this disease both in this province and elsewhere.

Previouos Talks

December 3, 2021 at 11:00am NST | Our Place in the Web of Life: Human-Animal Interaction and Social Work
Dr. Cassandra Hanrahan is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University with a deep interest in the human-animal bond and the ways in which human and other animal interactions inform our health, mental health and wellbeing. Her inquiries in this area extend to the inter-relatedness of human, other animal, and environmental health and welfare, with a focus on anthropocentrism and social work, human privilege, and post-humanism. Dr. Hanrahan will provide an overview of her research on human-animal interaction and relations, animal-assisted interventions, social work, and spirituality.

May 26, 2021 | ElderDog Canada- Starting a Pawd in NL | A conversation with leaders from ElderDog Canada and members of the Research Exchange Groups on Aging and on Human-Animal Interaction and Wellness to discuss what would be required to start an ElderDog Pawd in NL. |

March 26, 2021 | Canine Nutrition: What Really Constitutes a Species-Appropriate, Balanced, Safe and Healthy Diet? | Dr. Laura Dominguez, DZM, MSc, CVA | A presentation and brief overview of canine nutrition history; Processed vs fresh diets; Commercial vs home-made diets; Age/breed/activity related dietary adjustments; Food availability and budget; The vast world of supplementation. | 

February 26, 2021 | Seniors, Their dogs, and the ElderDog Canada Program | Dr. Ardra Cole, founder of ElderDog Canada, and Professor, Graduate Studies in Lifelong Learning; PhD Coordinator Inter-university Doctoral Program, Mount Saint Vincent University Link to Presentation |

October 23, 2020 | Roundtable Discussion: Humans and Animals in the Time of COVID-19 | The Research Exchange Group on Human Animal Interaction and Wellness held a group discussion to catch up on the work our members have been doing and the impacts of the global pandemic on getting that work done. Some issues included:

  • How has COVID-19 affected the delivery of animal-assisted therapies?
  • How has our increased time at home impacted the health of our pets?
  • What is the status of our members’ in-progress and planned research?
  • What are the health consequences of COVID-19 for animals?
  • Have you read any interesting articles on research or practice that you’d like to share with the group?
  • Are there any researchable questions for our membership to consider pursuing in the coming year? Suggestions for future meeting topics?

November 20, 2020 | Animal-Assisted Interventions to support pro-social behaviours in young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  | Morag Ryan |  The presenter is a Family Medicine resident with a Master's degree in cognitive behavioral psychology who is working on a research project exploring the use of animal-assisted therapies for young people with ASD.  The study included a survey to find out what animal therapies are being used in NL and will include an attempt to quantify perceived benefits of animal therapies by measuring oxytocin levels. In addition, behavioural assessments will be conducted to assess some quantitative measures, pre and post animal interaction. The work is funded by the Janeway Foundation. | Link to Presentation |

February 21, 2020 | Research from Memorial's Canine Research Unit | Dr. Carolyn Walsh | Link to Presentation |

September 20, 2019 | Equine-Assisted Therapies | Dr. Gail Wideman and Rhonda Fiander | Link to Presentation |

October 18, 2019 | Research and Animal-Assisted Therapies: A Roundtable Discussion | Link to Presentation |

November 15, 2019 | Research into Zoonotic Diseases: Rabies, Mosquito-Borne Viruses, Lyme Disease and MRSA/MRSP | Dr. Hugh Whitney | Link to Presentation |