College of Veterinary Medicine

The People-Pet Partnership

The Study of the Human Animal interaction (HAI)

Leo K. Bustad Symposium October 18-20, 2013  

The first celebration of the legacy of Dr. Leo K. Bustad to the field of human-animal interaction was held on the WSU campus, October 18-20, 2013. This event was sponsored by the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Education.

Bustad Symposium


It has long been known that the interaction between humans and animals is powerful, and the bond between them can have positive impacts on both humans and animals. The term "human animal interaction" (HAI) is an umbrella term for the study of this dynamic relationship, but is a fairly recent term and applies to all areas of practice and research that include some kind of interaction (i.e., therapy, intervention, assistance) between humans and animals. This includes work that may be identified under more familiar terms, such as animal-assisted therapy, animal assisted activities, or human/animal bond. Fine (2010) refers to human animal interaction as being in the early stages of development, and only recently gaining credibility within national funding agencies. We believe it is a field that is growing and providing new and exciting possibilities for research and practice. For further information on how to become involved in this work at WSU, see below for related links, areas of foci, and faculty affiliated with various aspects of the study of human animal interaction.

Community Outreach - We offer several different programs throughout the community

Path to Success: An Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Program (Fall and Spring semesters)

PATH to Success is an equine assisted growth and learning program that is directed at healthy youth development. It was developed at Washington State University (WSU) by Sue Jacobson (Director of the People Pet Partner-ship program in the College of Veterinary Medicine) and Phyllis Erdman (Associate Dean in the College of Education) in the fall of 2008. It began as an extension of the Palouse Area Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) program at WSU, which is a Premier Accredited Center of the the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl) (previously North American Riding for the Handicapped Association [NARHA]). PATH was established in 1979 to provide recreational, therapeutic horseback riding lessons for youth and adults with disabilities.

The goal of PATH to Success is to enhance children's social competency and well-being and consists of weekly after-school sessions. We work with PATH horses to help children develop better communication and leadership skills, greater self-awareness and esteem, and positive approaches to cope with life stress.

Path to Success: A Shared Journey (Summer program)

In the summer of 2011, we offered our first summer program, entitled Path to Success: A Shared Journey. This is a two-week program designed to work with parent/child teams to help them work on shared goals, including better communication, conflict resolution, problem solving, and responding to stress. Each team will work closely with one of our four gentle equine partners that are part of our WSU PATH/Path to Success programs. Activities will include primarily ground work with the horses, such as observing and learning about herd dynamics, learning how to walk together and lead the horse through obstacle courses, and working together with their horse to understand horse and human communication. Additionally, there will be non-equine activities, such as relationship building, communication exercises, self-awareness activities, and group processing.

Path to Success Web page
Meet Our Equine Partners

Academic Coursework

We currently have two courses that cover topics relevant to human-animal interaction (HAI), which is an area of study that cuts across many disciplines, including Veterinary Medicine, Counseling, and Animal Science. Our goal, in the near future, is to create a group of related courses that will count toward a cognate or certificate in HAI. These two courses are the first to be offered toward that goal. There are also opportunities for independent study and thesis/dissertation work for graduate students on various topics of animal assisted therapy, as well as opportunities for students to complete service learning requirements, usually as part of their undergraduate work. See examples of graduate student work below with an asterisk.

Graduate Posters Graduate Posters

Pet Loss Hotline and Human Bereavement - VetMed 596/CoPsy 596 - This is a 1-credit class, offered every fall and spring, for graduate students and serves as a practicum for veterinary students. The course is based on the premise that companion animals are often seen as family members and their loss is a major life event. Students learn about the issues surrounding euthanasia of a pet, and how to help people make end of life decisions in ways to mitigate guilt and regret. Veterinary students are paired with second year counseling students, who work together as a team in helping clients process grief and loss issues. In addition to the didactic training, students work together on the Pet Loss Hotline, taking calls from clients around the country. Students put their training into practice to strengthen and solidify understanding of the process of healing from loss. Pet Loss Hotline Website

Reverence for Life - VetMed 505/CoPsy 523 - This is a 1-credit research seminar, offered in the spring, where various topics on the interactions between living beings, especially between humans and animals, and the use of animals in Western societies are discussed from an interdisciplinary perspective (veterinarian, animal science, counseling, animal ethics, human development, etc). The course is also designed to develop and enhance the students' ability to lead and be involved in discussions and answer questions using scientific information, educate colleagues, research the scientific literature, and do professional presentations. Students will develop a poster to be presented at a WSU symposium.


We were involved in a collaborative experimental study funded by NIH with Patricia Pendry, Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development (, the College of Education, and the People/Pet Partnership Program in the College of Veterinary Medicine ( to measure the effects of PATH to Success, a 12-week, equine-assisted growth and learning program, on the physical and mental health of 5-8th grade children and the physiological pathways underlying these effects. Some of the results of that study are listed below, and more are forthcoming.

Students and faculty presenting HAI research at the WSU Academic Showcase, 2014  

Showcase 2014   Showcase 2014

Showcase 2014   Showcase 2014

Research and Grants

Ruby, K., Erdman, P., Bayly, D., Gotch, C. , The impact of interdisciplinary instruction in mindfulness on clinical communication empathy scores in student health professionals. WSU, College of Veterinary Medicine Educational Research Grant, 2013.

Pendry, P.
N5R03 HD066590-02/$100,000.00)IR R03/Human-animal Interaction and Child Development
5R03 HD066590-02/$100,000.00
Efficacy Trial of Equine Assisted Counseling on Child Competence and Stress

Graduate Student Grant, Washington State University Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program, 05/16/12-12/31/12.Newberry, R.C. (PI), Madden, L. (Graduate Student, co-PI), Tragesser, S. (co-PI). Effects of human-animal interactions on affect and empathy of adolescents in substance abuse treatment.

Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust, 2008-2011.Slinker, B., Newberry, R., Mills, P., Newman, J. Development of a national animal-assisted education curriculum.

WSU Faculty affiliated with the study of HAI

Phyllis Erdman
Sue Jacobson
Patricia Pendry
A.G. Rud
Jaak Panskepp
Ruth Newberry
Sylvie Cloutier
Bryan Slinker
Darcy Miller
Pauline Mills
Samantha Swindell
Tracy Skaer

Non-WSU faculty affiliated with the study of HAI

Alan Beck
   Purdue University
Dr. Nancy Gee

   SUNY Fredonia
Tia Hansen
   Aalborg University
Brinda Jegatheesan
   University of Washington
Lori Kogan
   Colorado State University
Philip Tedeschi
   University of Denver


Links on HAI

Last Edited: Aug 22, 2014 8:44 AM   

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