A real mouthful to say, Anthrozoology is a relatively new field, studying the human benefit of human-animal interactions. Dr Sandy Hume, Inner South Vet Centre’s bird vet and exotic animal vet, has been finding out what this is all about.

Dr Hume says “Anthrozoology scientifically analyses the positive effects human-animal relationships.  We know instinctively that animals and people can provide each other with many benefits,  Anthrozoology measures these benefits and sorts out the myths from reality”.

 The Australian Anthrozoology Research Foundation (AARF) was founded in May 2011 and raises money for research in the role of companion animals in preventing and managing human disease.

The AARF website says “our modern lifestyle presents humans with unprecedented health challenges, requiring innovative approaches to disease prevention, treatment and management. Although modern medicine has cured numerous diseases, millions of Australians continue to suffer with chronic physical illnesses, mental distress and age-related diseases. Millions more are physically and mentally well, but fail to truly flourish due to stress, anxiety, loneliness and other problems associated with modern living conditions.”

Interactions with companion animals can profoundly enhance the health and wellbeing of humans. Dogs have been used for decades to assist the blind and are increasingly being trained to provide additional specialist services.

These include

  • assisting children with autism spectrum disorder as they struggle to master basic communication and social skills
  • monitoring blood sugar levels for those with diabetes
  • detecting certain cancers
  • and helping those with social phobia leave the confines of their home, sometimes for the first time in many years
  • volunteers visit nursing homes and hospitals with their pets each week, reporting miraculous effects on some of those who interact with the visiting animals. These include the very young and the very old, some of our most vulnerable and underserviced community members.
  • in dementia sufferers pets had a positive effect on communication and coping skills.
  • Feelings of loneliness in old age are decreased by pets, and this even included robotic pets

Mojo, a Gambian Pouch Rat who has been trained to detect landmines by smell, is an example of Anthrozoology at work. The Inner South Veterinary Centre sponsors Mojo (see blog from November 2012). APOPO, the organisation that trains the mine detecting rats, has also trained rats to detect TB from sputum samples. The average human pathologist can examine 40 samples per day, a HeroRAT can do 40 samples in 7 minutes!  For more information and some amazing videos, visit APOPO.

We all know that life without pets would be miserable!