Professor of human-animal studies

The Open University in Heerlen, the Netherlands, has appointed its first professor in the field of human-animal interactions. Investigations by professor Marie-José Enders-Slegers will include whether, and to what extent, using animals for human care can lower healthcare costs.
The foundation called Animal Assisted Interventions in Care, Research and Education (AAIZOO) has made the special university chair possible. In the Netherlands, there has been an explosive increase in animal use for healthcare. Therapies involve horses and donkeys, epilepsy dogs, and care-farm animals. These forms of assistance offer benefits to various groups of such vulnerable citizens as seniors suffering from old age and/or dementia, traumatised war veterans, children with behavioural problems, and psychiatric patients. Animal use has also increased in the fields of coaching and education. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that, on average, pet owners are healthier and feel better than people with no pets.

And yet not all care providers are convinced of the use of animals in healthcare, and ‘therapies with animals’ are growing like weeds. With the help of academic research, Professor Enders would like to professionalise the field. She wants to investigate how the relationship between animal and human is formed. In addition, she would like to implement well-designed studies on this form of mental and physical healthcare. The results of these studies will bring to light which interventions are – or aren’t – effective.