The Humane Society of the United States has partnered with the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver and the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Shelter Medicine program to conduct a four-year study on the health impacts of HSUS’s Pets for Life program. Researchers will be using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s One Health approach to overall societal health as its standard for outcome measurement. This study will assess how the program’s efforts to address critical community need for affordable and accessible pet care services influence health outcomes across the three sectors of One Health – animal health, human health and environmental health.

The future of companion animal welfare is increasingly contingent upon the ability of organizations to serve as a resource for all pets in the community, not just those who are homeless and in shelters. To achieve transformational change, the field of animal welfare must adapt to work effectively at the community level by recognizing that the health of humans, animals and the environment are intimately interconnected. The Pets for Life program’s innovative person-centered approach to companion animal welfare focuses on increasing equity in access to resources for people and pets in underserved areas.

The “Pets for Life as One Health” study is a rigorous and innovative project with the intention of expanding the scope and impact of One Health research. The primary data source, the One Health Community Assessment, was designed and validated by the University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection research team and will measure impacts at the individual household level; secondary open-source data at the ZIP code level will be used to verify results found on the community level. These methods will provide a comprehensive understanding of positive changes occurring in the community as a result of the program’s implementation.

Four U.S. communities (two urban and two rural) are participating in the study over a four-year period. The study has been designed to maximize the potential for detecting changes in animal, human and environmental health caused by Pets for Life and to ensure that any findings are generalizable to other communities. Examples of data to be collected include: quality of the human-animal bond, emotional health of pet owners, community members’ sense of safety in their neighborhood, utilization of human social services, and environmental stewardship attitudes. The variety of data collected will also ensure that the research team can account for any outside factors that may inform the changes observed in the study communities.

Upon its completion, this study will provide data that documents the ways in which advancing animal welfare in communities can contribute to the health of humans and the environment. Its findings have the potential to promote collaboration across human, animal and environmental welfare groups, and to influence how policymakers and individuals assess the health of their communities.

For more information regarding this study, please contact the principal investigator, Kevin Morris, research associate professor at the University of Denver. This study has been made possible by grants from Maddie's Fund and Watershed Animal Fund.

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