Academics and Research

Humane Association gift establishes social work chair

The University of Denver and the American Humane Association have established the American Humane Endowed Chair in DU’s Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW). The $2 million endowed chair is the first for GSSW and one of the first in the nation created to explore the expanding field of animal-assisted social work and research the bond between humans and animals.

“This is a truly wonderful program that will allow us to explore those relationships,” Chancellor Robert Coombe said at a Feb. 1 event announcing the new chair. “Animals deepen our own humanity.”

American Humane and the Animal Assistance Foundation provided seed money to establish DU’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection, whose mission is to conduct research, training and education from a human-service and animal-welfare perspective. American Humane’s resources on animal cruelty and violence in society are hosted by DU’s Penrose Library.

The newly endowed chair perpetuates the partnership between American Humane and DU by focusing research on the therapeutic benefits of animal interaction as well as the connection between animal abuse and violence toward humans.

A national search is under way for an academic professional to fill the newly endowed chair. The chair will lead the institute’s research efforts and assist GSSW’s animal-related academic programs, which include a certificate program in animal-assisted social work and an online professional development program, “Animals and Human Health.”

Research also will focus on the link between animal abuse and violence toward humans. American Humane first identified that link in 1894 and is the only animal welfare organization in the country whose mission includes child welfare.

“Over the years, our organization has continued to examine this subject and inform educators, social workers and others about that important connection in our effort to help break the cycle of violence,” says Marie Belew Wheatley, president and chief executive officer of American Humane. “This chair and our partnership with DU will be instrumental in advancing the scholarly study of all aspects of the human-animal connection.”

As relationships between humans and animals become more important and more complex, there is growing evidence of the effectiveness of therapy involving humans and animals, GSSW Dean James Herbert Williams says. Interaction with animals has been shown to increase trust, improve communication and enhance sensory-motor skills in social work clients. The new chair, in conjunction with the institute, will try to confirm the effectiveness of such treatment through research.

“The field has gained momentum,” Williams says. “This is a perfect time to inform the profession through the kind of rigorous research this endowment will allow.”

Read about Alison Levy, a GSSW alumna who treats foster children with the help of a dog.

Comments are closed.