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The science of the human-animal connection: how it improves your health

Robin Russell, volunteer writer

On April 18, as part of National Volunteer Week, Phillip Tedeschi spoke to a very engaged audience of Dumb Friends League volunteers and staff. He was accompanied by his sweet Labrador, Samarra, who had no problem engaging us herself. This is an overview of his presentation.

Philip Tedeschi, clinical professor, coordinates the Animal-Assisted Social Work Certificate at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. He is also Executive Director of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection there. The institute offers an animal-assisted social work certificate to students in the master’s degree program and an animals-and-human health certificate to distance learners around the world.
Philip began his presentation by telling the group when he and his wife go on vacation, she goes to art museums, and he goes to watch people and animals interact. While this might seem unusual to us, it bespeaks his passion and profession, as the audience soon learned.

The main focus of the presentation was on the many health (especially, mental health) benefits of domestic animals in human healthcare environments across the whole human lifespan. This includes survivors of school shootings, children in forensic interviews, self-destructive people in prison, children with autism and seniors with depression. On a more general note, most of us have experienced the psychological benefits of our connections with our pets: 1) they can give us opportunities for social interactions; 2) they provide emotional support and can sense when we’re down; 3) they make us laugh; and 4) they provide us with nurturing opportunities. Philip summed it up with this quote, “For some, pets increase the opportunity to meet people, while for others; pets permit them to be alone without being lonely. Pets are some of the most important relationships we have.”

In the minds of many (perhaps most) of us, there is no doubt that pets are beneficial to our wellbeing. A main focus of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection is to quantify what has historically been only observational. He raised two thought-provoking questions: “Will there someday be ‘pet prescriptions’, and if so, what is the ‘dose’ of a dog?”

To learn more about Philip and the Institute for Human-Animal Connection, see

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