Human-animal interactions conference comes to U.S.

AVMA convention is first U.S. venue; new award conferred
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For the first time, the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations held its triennial meeting in the United States. The event occurred July 20-22 in conjunction with the AVMA Annual Convention in Chicago. A total of 267 attendees came, 140 of them from 22 foreign countries, from Australia to Turkey to Brazil. Many AVMA convention-goers also visited the conference.

IAHAIO logoThe 2013 conference, themed “Humans and Animals: the Inevitable Bond,” gathered veterinarians, scientists, physicians, and others involved in animal-assisted therapy and human-animal bond studies to discuss the latest research in their respective fields.

IAHAIO President Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, RN, told JAVMA News, “As the global umbrella organization comprising over 50 associations devoted to research, practice, and education in human-animal interaction, IAHAIO plays a leadership role in promoting networking and collaboration across disciplines in the field of HAI.

“Our collaboration with AVMA and the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians is a primary example of our work in promoting the importance of the interrelationship between the health of humans and animals.”

The IAHAIO began in 1990 when representatives from European, American, Australian, and Canadian human-animal interaction organizations turned their longstanding working relationship into an association, with a South African organization also supporting the initiative.

Chicago Declaration

Before each triennial conference, the IAHAIO board develops a declaration that is subsequently voted on during the general membership meeting. Declarations are meant to motivate member organizations to work with their countries’ policymakers to move the field forward.

This year, the member organizations, including the AVMA, adopted the Chicago Declaration, which declares that IAHAIO members “overwhelmingly embrace” the one-health concept and urges adoption and promotion of the following resolution:

“Companion animals play a key role in one health through the documented health and social benefits of the human-animal bond, through the role of service/assistance animals and through exchanging information on the etiology and treatment of naturally occurring disorders in companion animals and humans. Interactions between companion animals and humans can have a positive influence on human and animal health through similar processes.”

The accompanying guidelines for action, in summary, urge international bodies as well as national and local governments to act in four areas: encourage cooperation among various professions in promoting the importance of the human-animal bond to one health, facilitate programs aimed at promoting human and companion animal health and wellness, promote better understanding of naturally occurring diseases and conditions in animals, and promote standards of animal well-being in programs engaging animals and people.

Program highlights

Jaak Panksepp, PhD, a neuroscientist at Washington State University who’s devoted much of his career to researching animal emotions, delivered the conference keynote address July 21. He is chair of animal well-being science and professor of integrative physiology and neuroscience in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Jaak Panksepp, PhD, presents the scientific evidence for animals having emotional behaviors and feelings. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

The consensus within the scientific community, Dr. Panksepp explained, is that subjective phenomena such as feelings cannot be objectively studied in animals. Dr. Panksepp not only believes animals have emotional behaviors and feelings, but also thinks that understanding them will yield deeper insights into such human emotional states as joy and depression.

Dr. Panksepp, famous for demonstrating that rats enjoy being tickled, noted that brain stimulation studies in animals have replicated an array of emotional states, including curiosity, fear, rage, lust, and play.

“Animal emotional states are similar to our own,” he said. “We also know animal pain and human pain are homologous.” These emotional unconscious responses are instinctive, not learned, and a result of the evolutionary process, according to Dr. Panksepp.

Plenary sessions focused on a neural exercise supporting health, dog walking in an era of overweight and obesity, and animal-assisted interventions.

Inaugural award

The IAHAIO, at its opening session July 21, awarded the 2013 Inaugural William F. McCulloch Award for Excellence in Human-Animal Interaction Practice or Education to Dr. Elizabeth Ormerod. The new award acknowledges outstanding achievements of practitioners and educators in the field of human-animal relations. Sponsors are the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation and Zoetis.

Dr. Elizabeth Ormerod (Photo by Neon Creative Studios)

Accepting the award, she said, “We now need our governments and professional bodies to implement the IAHAIO resolutions. We also need to encourage more veterinarians and colleagues from the other health and social care professions to join us in this work by expanding veterinary teaching in the bond and by introducing it to the undergraduate curricula of our sister helping professions.”

Dr. Ormerod is a Scottish veterinarian with 37 years’ experience in companion animal practice. She became attuned to the importance of the human-animal bond in 1975 while managing the University of Glasgow’s inner city charity clinic. In 1984, she and her husband, Dr. Edward Ormerod, purchased their practice and developed it into one that was bond-centered. As a Churchill Fellow and during subsequent study trips, she visited many excellent human-animal bond programs in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

Working with colleagues from the other health and social care professions, Dr. Ormerod has introduced animal-assisted intervention programs to schools, nursing homes, hospitals, psychiatric facilities, and prisons. In the U.K., she is co-founder of Canine Partners, the U.K. assistance-dog program, and a visiting lecturer at veterinary schools. She is a director of the Society for Companion Animal Studies and a trainer for its AAI courses. The SCAS is an interdisciplinary human-animal bond membership organization inaugurated in 1979 and is the largest outside North America.

Dr. Ormerod sold her practice to devote more time to sharing her experiences and findings on the human-animal bond.

She told JAVMA that many veterinary students now receive basic information on the bond but that their training should be expanded. She said veterinarians with this knowledge can develop a bond-centered approach to practice, which benefits all involved.

Harold Herzog, PhD
Harold Herzog, PhD

“With deeper understanding of the bond and through collaborative working with colleagues from the other professions, veterinarians can also engage very effectively with their communities, developing, for example, programs for local schools, nursing homes, hospitals, or prisons.”

Harold Herzog, PhD, professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, received the Distinguished Scholar Award, sponsored by Waltham. His anthrozoological research has included studies of the psychology of animal activism, the moral thinking of cockfighters, gender differences in human-animal relationships, and the cultural dynamics of shifts in the popularity of pets.

The 2016 IAHAIO conference will be held in Paris.

For more on the human-animal bond and animal-assisted intervention programs, visit,, and