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Institute for Human-Animal Connection

Institute for Human-Animal Connection

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Diane Coker Memorial Scholarship Established for Graduate School of Social Work Students in the Equine-Assisted Mental Health Practitioner Certificate Program 

October 15, 2019

The Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC), within the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) at University of Denver, intentionally elevates the value of the living world and the interrelationship and health of people, other animals, and the environment. This is accomplished through natural and social science-informed education, applied knowledge, research and advocacy, with an ethical regard for all species. Focusing on three core areas of Therapeutic Human-Animal Interventions, Animals in Communities and One Health, IHAC operationalizes its mission through innovation in education, research and advocacy.

IHAC's Equine-Assisted Mental Health (EAMH) Practitioner Certificate program has delivered high quality, accessible, globally leading training in the inclusion of equine interactions and the equine environment in psychotherapy and counseling for mental health practitioners and graduate students in mental health related programs since 2015 under the leadership of Nina Ekholm Fry, who directs IHAC's Equine Programs.

In the spring of 2019, Colorado Voters for Animals, a non-partisan, nonprofit advocacy organization established the Diane Coker Memorial Scholarship in memory of Diane Coker, a former board member and long-time supporter. Roland Halpern, executive director of the organization stated that owing to Diane's love of horses the board agreed it would be fitting to honor her memory by annually helping a student who works with horses and chose IHAC's Equine-Assisted Mental Health program as the most worthy recipient. Colorado Voters for Animals seeks to advance animal welfare through public education, supporting animal-friendly legislators, and working at the local, state and federal level to pass laws that protect animals.

The Diane Coker Memorial Scholarship is specific to MSW students in the Graduate School of Social Work at University of Denver who are pursuing the Equine-Assisted Mental Health Practitioner Certificate. Applicants are required to submit two essays on the topics of advocacy and human-horse relations. The scholarship is awarded to one student per year and is directly applied toward the EAMH program fee.

For more information, please contact Nina Ekholm Fry at [email protected] 

Diane Coker and Apple


The late Diane Coker is pictured above with Apple. 

Translation of original article provided by Nancy Parish-Plass, Chairperson - IAAAP - Israeli Association of Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy

We take care of them and they take care of us

Everyone wins: In a new project, inmates adopt abandoned dogs, train them and help them find a home. The inmates themselves receive a certificate in dog training and earn a friend, in a place in which any warm connection has meaning. "The dog calms me," tells an inmate from the Chermon Prison, "and clears me of all my thoughts of home."

Neta Bar Yosef

Januarly 11, 2018.

Israeli Prison Dog Program 1

A hug between an inmate and his dog, and an hour of play in one of the prison yards. In this picture, the project staff (from left to right): Education Officer Chagit Kameralker, trainer Efrat Nofech Keneri, and therapist Gal Bachar. Photographer: Gil Eliahu / GINI


When the inmate S. pets his dog Toby and looks straight into his eyes, there is no mistake. It is all about a love story with added value. "In my phone calls with my mother, the first thing she asks is how is Toby," he says, "Until he came, I felt a distressing heaviness, thoughts and worries about what was happening outside and what will be. Today I feel that I am in another world, a better one. Toby softens the whole feeling of the prison."

S. and Toby are part of a program that began last month and in which two inmates share the care of a dog who had been abandoned and brought to a dog shelter belonging to the "Let Animals Live" foundation. For a few months, the dog lives with the inmates 24 hours a day. During this time the inmates learn to train and educate him, thus raising the chances of finding him a warm home after leaving the inmates (and at the same time they receive great love and true friendship from their new four-legged friend). The inmates themselves will receive a certificate in dog training which will allow them at the end of the sentence to have a profession, and thus all sides are winners.

A few years ago, a philanthropic foundation brought up the idea, based on a similar successful project in the U.S., and presented it to the Minister of Internal Security, Gilad Erdan. He was enthusiastic and decided to initiate the first pilot of the initiative in Israel, accompanied by "Let Animals Live" and the prison services. Minister Erdan, who grew up on a moshav (community farming settlement) and surrounded by animals, throughout his political career has done much to help animals. Professor Philip Tedeschi from Denver University, a researcher in the area of human-animal relationships in many areas and runs the project in the U.S., came specially in order to help establish it here in Israel, which was enough for Erdan to stand up to the challenge and allow for the initiation of the pilot program. "At this point in time, the program is being carried out to a limited extent, but if a success, as far as I'm concerned, the goal could be hundreds of dogs a year", said the Minister. "Today when I am dealing with personal security and with prevention of violence, I can say that those who are capable of cruelty towards helpless animals, can act the same way towards humans, at the moral level and the level of cruelty. A society is measured, as I see it, by the way people relate to those who are helpless, and animals are among them. We must serve as a model and I will fight for this."

Chermon Prison was chosen to begin the project since there are there many green areas and well-kept gardens, buildings which look like normal buildings, and inmates who are free to go in and out of their rooms as they please. "The preparations for the program were not simple," said Chagit Kamerlaker, Education Officer at the Chermon Prison. She added, "There was some very complicated logistic planning that was made possible through the funding of the foundation and the Prison Authorities. We had to set up a yard with pens for the dogs. In each room of two inmates, there is a large crate in which the dog sleeps at night and we built special gates, and therefore we had to change the structure of the rooms." The ten inmates who took part in the pilot were carefully selected, and they had to meet certain conditions, including a prison sentence of at least eight months and a clean record of abuse towards animals in general and dogs in particular.

In order to educate the dog, the inmates keep a clear daily schedule: At 6:30 AM, after the inmate count, the dogs are taken for a walk in the nearby yard. During breakfast, as in other meals, the dog is waiting with one of the inmates while his friend dines in the dining room, and after he finishes, they will be change places. At 7:30, the professional staff goes from cell to cell and checks how the night went and how the dogs and inmates were doing, while also checking the equipment. Each dog then accompanies the pair of inmates responsible for daily activities - employment or education - and after lunch they study the theoretical and practical aspects of training. Toward the end of the day - during which make sure not to leave the dog alone for even one moment - the inmates and dogs get free time to strengthen their relationship, to practice what they learned, and just to have fun together.

Israeli Prison Dog Program 2

"They take us to a different world."

The magic that the project generates is strongly felt among the inmates. K., who is sentenced to forty months in prison for fraud offenses (for which he is serving a second term), says that living alongside a dog is not foreign to him. At home he has a Pekingese, but he also admits that the connection with the dogs in the project is special: "They teach us a lot, and as I take care of him, he takes care of me. I discovered things about myself that I didn't know - the dog calms me, helps me to communicate with other inmates. We talk about what bothers us, and if we did not have the dog with us, we would never open up about these things. I want to use what I have learned in my life outside, in terms of how I deal with my children, because a dog is just like a child."

K., a single father of an 8.5-year-old boy, says he will want to continue working with dogs even after he is released. "This process has a great effect on me. It is not obvious that an inmate will approach a dog. This is something that will always stay with me and I will remember that since I loved so much and invested and had fun, I will try as hard as I cannot repeat my crimes. I do not say like everyone else that this is my last sentence and I won't come back here. There is no assurance for that, but I will do everything in order not to come back. If I get certificate as a dog trainer, I would very much like to work in this on the outside. The first thing I will do when I get out is to adopt another dog so I will not forget where I came from. He will remind me of where I was."

Inmate S. shares his cell with another inmate and both are going through the process with a little dog, Toby. S.'s friend has already served eight years of a 12-year sentence. He says, "I am very attached to Toby. When I finish my process and leave prison, I very much want to get a dog. I am always with him, prefer to be with him all the time and not to go outside, to look at him, to see him jump and play, to teach him new things. I have been in prison for many years and before the committee meets to discuss my release, I was worried all the time, what would I do outside of the prison after so many years inside. Everything would be new. Thanks to Toby, I am able to prioritize. I hope he will remind me that this is what life is all about and that it's not worth it to get lost again there outside. I have a two-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son. Both of them were born while I was here and I was not able to take part in raising them. For me, Toby is like a son who I never raised. He came to me, frightened with his tail between his legs, startled. Now he doesn't stop running and jumping."

S. agrees and adds, "A dog cleans all my thoughts, whether emotionally or in terms of my thoughts of home, family. He makes my heart feel good. When I see him happy, jumping and doing new things, it amazes me. My family outside talks about him a lot and they want to adopt him. I'm still not sure that it's possible. Every dog here has his story, exactly like people. We are taking care of him and he takes care of us."

Israeli Prison Dog Program 3

Preparing for a painful goodbye

The tremendous progress and added value of the program can be clearly recognized in the dogs as well. "Each one of them has a different story and different difficulties, but all of them, like all animals and people, need warmth and a caress, as well as discipline, someone to take care of them and help them deal with the world,", said the CEO of the "Let Animals Live" foundation, Yael Arkin. I am sorry to say that there are hundreds of abandoned dogs in Israel. We must choose the younger ones among them, so that the training will be more effective and they will be more suited for being raised in prison conditions."

Efrat Nofach Kaneri, the foundation's dog trainer, adds: " I clearly see the influence. The dogs arrive frightened and without a drop of trust in humans, and here they have an opportunity, as opposed to any other place, to build trust day-by-day, hour-by hour, while they are close to a human, and this is exactly what the dog shelters do not have the possibility to offer." Gal Bachar, also a trainer at the "Let Animals Live" foundation, firmly believes in the program. "Before I came to the prison, I was a trainer in a shelter belonging to the foundation. There were three trainers for 200 dogs. The attention that each dog received was very limited as opposed to what the dogs here receive. The atmosphere here is much less tense compared to the shelter. The progress here is much faster. The dogs experience something very close to what they will experience in their permanent home."

As part of the project, an adoption day is being planned, in which the dogs will be handed over, and will be held within the prison walls. Among other reasons, the hope is to strengthen the relations with the community and to allow people from the outside a view of what is happening here. No one is under the illusion that saying farewell will be easy. The inmate's life is filled with separations – from freedom, from family, from the life they knew before. For this reason, they are prepared for this separation from the first day of the process with the dogs. "Their fear from the first moment comes up in many conversations," says Kamerleker. "I think that this process somewhat reduces the pressure of separation, but I have no doubt that it will be difficult for both sides."

K. agrees with a sad smile. "It's not simple to become attached to a dog that you know that, after four months, will leave. I try all the time to remind myself not to get too attached, but it doesn't work." S. also knows that the farewell will be difficult, but unavoidable. "It hurts me a lot, but I will be happy that Toby will go to a warm home, and I hope that it will be okay for him."

IHAC's Interview with Peter Wolf on Community cats & Social workers in Animal welfare

November 15, 2018

Peter Wolf is a research and policy analyst with Best Friends Animal Society. Best Friends animal society is a nonprofit animal welfare organization that focuses on outreach to promote pet adoption, animal shelters that minimize euthanasia and spay-and-neuter education. Peter, like many we have talked to in the animal welfare field, came to his work with community cats by a somewhat unconventional route. Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, he did not have pets in his home but was always fascinated by and bonded with community cats. 

Peter moved from Michigan to Arizona to pursue a Master's in Engineering and later became a professor. Around 2010, he started a blog, Voxfelina, to explore current research about community cats and began to identify issues with current programs, including Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs. He continues to use the information from his blog to work towards improving programs for community cats. His dedication and keen observations led to his position as research and policy analysist with Best Friends Animal Society. Peter is an advocate for TNR and the Red-flag cat model. The later allows shelters to flag community cats that come in, so workers can discover new colonies for tracking and TNR services.

Peter sees great value in involving social workers within the animal welfare field. There is a strong human element to animal welfare, and social workers are well positioned to engage with others for improving animal, human and community health. Peter discussed the importance of getting out in communities, showing empathy and  building trust with not only individuals who care for these cats, but also those who are seeking solutions. Social workers have the skills needed to build relationships with diverse community members and to lead an integrated approach to community health and well-being.

Peter has also recognized the strong bonds people forge with community cats. We often think of our pets as family members, but may not consider what other animals, such as community cats that do not live in the home, mean to those who care for them. When working with clients, social workers have considerations for everyone  involved in clients' lives. Peter argues that this should also extend to the animals present in people's lives. These relationships can influence the decisions they make.

There are also opportunities for social workers to incorporate community cats into their practices and the spaces in which they work. For example, Peter contemplated how powerful it could be to have colonies of cats present at places such as nursing homes. This could be a mutually beneficial relationship where the cats are looked after, and the residents can build meaningful relationships during a time in life where they may experience loneliness and depression.

Considering social workers' strong interpersonal skills, experience working with communities and commitment to social justice, Peter thinks our profession can make significant contributions to the animal welfare field. Peter encourages social workers to take notice of animals as another part of an individual's social environment and believes that it could lead to positive change for communities as well as the human and non-human community members that live there.

Written By Amanda Olguin, IHAC Intern

Animal-Assisted Therapy and IHAC on cbs news

IHAC's Nina Ekholm Fry talks with about how mental health practitioners are starting to realize the many ways that they can enhance their work with clients through animal-assisted interventions and therapy. 

Ihac joins HEC in New humane education partnership!

The Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC) is partnering with the Humane Education Coalition (HEC) to achieve and promote groundbreaking education initiatives in human rights, environmental preservation and animal protection. IHAC and HEC share many aspects of their core missions in creating a sustainable, just and compassionate future. Specifically, IHAC will be working with HEC to advance and elevate humane education as a critical field of practice and study through humane education efficacy research, development of standards, and policy formation and support. To learn more, please see:

hec partner logo

ihac on colorado and company may 25, 2016

Watch IHAC"s very own Philip Tedeschi and Sarah Bexell talk about IHAC's latest work as Nathaniel steals the show on Colorado and Company.

Press Release: Equine-Assisted Mental Health at University of Denver - New program starts in 2015

“We are thrilled to announce our new clinical offering, designed specifically for practitioners focused on acquiring advanced equine-specific clinical intervention skills”, says the Institute’s Executive Director Philip Tedeschi, who especially wants to highlight the program’s dual focus on clinical skills and equine welfare. “This new clinical intervention program intentionally raises the focus on our relationship with horses and equine wellbeing, and integrates the most current understanding of equitation science into best practice for equine-assisted mental health services. We intentionally recruited Ms. Ekholm Fry, one of the most highly qualified equine practitioners and academic leaders in the field, to lead our equine programs and are excited to have her join our talented faculty.” He continues, “This program is going to change the professional landscape for practitioners wanting to incorporate horses into their clinical and therapeutic activities.”

Download the full press release here.

Making News

The Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC) shares relevant news and updates regarding human-animal interaction practice and research.

IHAC regularly hosts events pertaining to the field of animal-assisted social work, animal welfare and human-animal interactions. IHAC events include:

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