Petting a dog or cat can be soothing, but is it possible that the company of animals can actually contribute to our good health?
School of Public Health (SPH) Professor Pam Schreiner suspects there’s a connection.
“The purr of a cat is at the same frequency as the ultrasound used to heal human bones,“ says Schreiner, a cardiovascular epidemiologist and an avid pet owner.
Schreiner is also the new director of CENSHARE—the Center to Study Human Animal Relationships and Environments—a renowned and recently revived SPH unit with a strong history serving the community and a new added focus on researching the health advantages of being around animals.
“Animal-human interactions have the potential to have a lot of benefits, we just need to understand them by asking the right questions and designing solid research studies,” says Schreiner.
CENSHARE was co-founded in 1981 by dog training expert Ruth Foster and internationally known veterinarian and SPH professor Robert “RK” Anderson. In pet culture, the duo is famous for developing the Gentle Leader dog harness.
Anderson, who died in 2012, was an expert in animal behavior and psychology, infectious disease research and veterinary public health.
During CENSHARE’s first iteration, it focused primarily on helping people understand pet behavior problems and working with local therapy and service animal organizations.
”RK was visionary,” says Schreiner. “After he died, people assumed CENSHARE died too.”
In this new era for CENSHARE, Schreiner hopes to build on the center’s reputation and also expand it.
“I would like to see it be an active research center, with graduate students and scientists, who are all interested in the human-animal bond,” she says.
Schreiner wants to take a truly scientific look at how animal-human interactions influence groups who have regular contact with animals, like farmers and pet owners.
“Companion and agricultural animals are a big part of our environment,” she says. “We need to understand if animals provide a preventive health aspect for people and also determine if we benefit animals.”
Schreiner also imagines CENSHARE offering guidance to others interested in conducting studies of their own. The center could operate as a hub of sorts to connect researchers with resources and bring them together through workshops and conferences.
She’s already made great strides in reestablishing CENSHARE’s presence, first in relaunching its website and in collaborating with the Center for Spirituality and Healing to examine current coursework for training in human-animal interaction research.
Recently, Schreiner received word that CENSHARE’s been funded for its first study under her leadership, one that kicks off the new thrust into research while honoring the center’s long connection to the community. Beginning this August, Schreiner will be collecting data, biological samples and interviews from rural and urban pet owners and farmers at Minnesota’s ultimate nexus of animal and human mingling, the State Fair.
For more information on CENSHARE, please visit censhare.umn.edu
~ Post by Charlie Plain