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Institute for Human-Animal Connection

Institute for Human-Animal Connection


Exploring the Human-Animal Connection

IHAC initiates and seeks research opportunities that impact the overall well-being of humans, animals and the environment.

The faculty, Research Associates, and graduate Research Assistants with the Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC) are dedicated to advancing empirically-based information on the human-animal connection through research.

The overarching conceptual framework for Institute for Human-Animal Connection's (IHAC) research agenda is Humane Communities. Achieving positive and sustained change surrounding many of today's most pressing social issues calls for an increasingly complex understanding of social-ecological systems and the mechanisms that inform the resilience of a community. While concepts such as biophilia and the human-animal bond have laid the groundwork for this research agenda, IHAC is working to advance our understanding of complex social issues through the Humane Community framework. A Humane Community is defined by the presence of leadership, institutions, programs, and/or policies that work collaboratively across systems to create and implement sustainable human, animal, and environmental welfare.

Key components of a Humane Community include:

  • a multi-system approach to addressing social problems
  • education and programming that promote and provide access to humane activities to individuals in their everyday lives
  • a cultural shift that recognizes the ways in which humane policies serve as a foundation upon which other public health and safety concerns can be addressed more holistically

Humane Communities will adapt and expand upon the community's existing programs to address issues of basic needs (e.g., nutrition, housing, medical care, financial security) while also supporting the advancement of higher order needs (e.g., compassion, connection, self-determination, cultural competence, social capital). The Institute's research agenda aims to identify the various components of Humane Communities across human, animal, and environmental health domains in order measure and monitor both the short- and long-term impacts using rigorous research methods. In order to measure these impacts, the research agenda is comprised of three areas: therapeutic human-animal interactions, animals in communities and conservation social work. 

ongoing research affiliations

Therapeutic Human-Animal Interactions

  • Human-Animal-Environment Interaction and Positive Youth Development: To understand the impacts of animal-, horticultural-, and natural environments-based interventions on youths' self-regulation skills and developmental health in complex treatment and special education environments. This portfolio of studies is being done in partnership with Green Chimneys, a residential treatment and special education facility for youth in Brewster, New York.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and clinical engagement: To measure the impacts of including animals in therapy on client engagement in clinical environments.
  • Prison-Based Dog Programs: To identify best practices for implementing prison dog training programs and to measure the impacts of these programs on inmates, staff, and the dogs.

Animals in Communities

  • Pets for Life as One Health: To measure the impacts of an intensive animal welfare intervention on public and environmental health within the One Health framework. This study is being done in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and University of Wisconsin-Madison's Shelter Medicine Program. 
  • Impacts of Animal Welfare Policies: To measure the social, environmental, and economic impacts of animal welfare practices and policies.
  • Best Practices in Animal Sheltering: To identify animal sheltering practices that optimize outcomes for the animals and communities they serve by incorporating social work best practices and concepts.

Conservation Social Work 

  • Humane Education: The Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver, in collaboration with the Humane Education Coalition and Zoology Foundation, is conducting a research project to assess the state of humane education in PreK-12 schools across the United States. Currently, 18 states mandate the teaching of humane education in their schools; however, each of these states has different guiding language for what humane education is and how it is taught, and no defined training for teachers. In other states, humane education occurs in some schools and in free-choice learning environments delivered by committed professionals with varying types of training and diverse backgrounds. This study, when completed, intends to provide a baseline snapshot of the state of humane education in the 2018-2019 school year that will serve as reference into the future about the planned improved status of the incorporation of humane education in educational settings to improve the health of and relationships between humans, other animals, and the planet.

Humane Education Research Team

University of Denver IHAC Team:Julia Senecal, Anna Buckman, Sarah Bexell, PhD, Maggie Lantzy, MSW - Program Director, Zoology Foundation, Hanna Lee 


  • A Human Rights Approach to Family Planning in partnership with Having Kids

  • Addressing Wildlife Trade through Education in China. Promoting wildlife conservation through core identities: Possibilities in China. In collaboration with Susan Clayton (Fellow of IHAC), College of Wooster and Xu Ping, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.