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A brief history of human-animal interaction and the use of animals in society!

Updated: Oct 19, 2019

The relationships between humans and animals is both diverse and complex. Animals play a role in modern society in a variety of ways; companion animals in particular with over half of UK families owning a pet. While they appear to have no set purpose in a household, the psychological and physiological effects of having companion animals can be beneficial to the owner. Studies are beginning to emerge that look at the human-animal interaction and directly at the health benefits of companion animal ownership. The prevention of illness, the rehabilitation from illness and the detection of illness with the help of animals are being explored, but not without issues and constraints (Knight and Herzog, 2009).

The Human-animal Interaction (H.A.I.)

A History of animals and medicine

The human animal relationship throughout history has revolved around a view that animals benefit humans psychologically and medically. Serpell, (2010), pointed out that the use of animals in healing and protection has  been valued highly in human populations since ancient history. This suggests that our modern day values of animals in medicine stem from a long background of exploiting animals for the benefits of humans, and that evidence suggests animals can play a part in human recovery, rehabilitation and treatment.

Examples of the human-animal relationship throughout history are listed in table 1 below. It shows that the development of using animals to cure or heal has developed over a long period of time, and that the evolution of the use of animals has resulted in modern humans using them in specific therapies. You will see that dogs (Canis familiaris) are particularly valued.

Human population; Brief description of animal related interaction; Reference

Inuit The spirits of hunted animals can seek vengeance, so all animals both dead and alive must be greatly respected.Wenzel, 1991. Native American Personal guardian spirits for protection and guidance in the form of an animal. Hultzkrantz, 1987. Ojibwa and Algonkian Manito spirits were ancestors in the form of wild animals who were appeased by rituals. Landes 1968. Mayan Chanul spirits are five-digit, non-domesticated animals assigned to each person at birth. The only cure from illness is to heal one’s chanul. Gossen, 1996. Ancient Egyptian Animal formed or headed gods and goddess, responsible for all fortune and misfortune.Schwabe, 1994. Greek Pantheon Human form gods were represented by an animal shaman, to hide their true identities. The ritual site of the god of medicine, Askelpios, has dogs or serpents licking their illness away.Toynbee, 1973.Early Celtic Holy men were distinguished by their relationship with animals and were thought to transform into animal form.Matthews 1991. Early Christians Believed dogs to be healers and many Saints were represented by dogs.Schmitt, 1983. Elizabethan England Lap dogs were used as comforters and used by ladies to cure illness. Another opinion in these times was that a dog carried on the bosom, absorbed the disease.Jesse, 1866

Caius, 1570. Seventeenth century European Early example of humane education. John Locke gave his children dogs, small mammals and birds to encourage them to develop ‘tender feelings’ and responsibility to another.Locke, 1699. Eighteenth Century European Young boys were given animals to teach them about ethics, kindness and gentility.Grier, 1999. Late Eighteenth century English Use of animals in the treatment of the mentally disabled was described where inmates were able to walk freely around courtyards full of small domestic animals. Tuke, 1813. Nineteenth Century British British charity commissioners wanted to stock mental asylums with animals to prevent the prison-like qualities. Allderidge, 1991.

Different Types of H.A.I.

The types of human-animal interactions can vary from recreational, professional and medical. Figure 1, below, shows examples of human-animal interactions. This illustrates the variety of relationships involving human-animal relationships.

The section labelled ‘Medical’ points out some of the Animal Assisted Interventions (A.A.I.) used today for health benefits.

human animal interaction figure.png

Figure 1 A diagram showing categorised examples of human-animal interactions.

Animal Assisted Interventions

Animal assisted interventions (A.A.I.) cover human-animal interactions that intentionally includes animals into any situation designed to better humans, particularly on a health or wellbeing level. A.A.I.s can be divided into two individual categories depending on specific features of the intervention (Kruger and Serpell, 2010).

The first, animal assisted activities (A.A.A.) involve the use of animals in a recreational sense, which is designed to create a positive emotional response for the people or person involved (Kruger and Serpell, 2010). The benefits of A.A.A. can enhance education and motivation, as well as providing therapeutic opportunities. The interactions themselves are often spontaneous and are not necessarily repeated. They do not require professional staff to lead, supervise or record any information during sessions and specifically do not need or have any goals to work towards, as specified by the Delta Society, (2010).

Animal assisted therapies (A.A.T.) however, do require specific treatment goals (Delta Society, 2010). As therapies are specifically designed to treat disease, whether medical or psychiatric (Kruger and Serpell, 2010), A.A.T.s have to follow criteria and follow a treatment process. Patient progress must be monitored by a professional with training, qualifications or specialised expertise to ensure goals and targets are being met (Delta Society, 2010).


References Allderidge, P. H. (1991). A cat, surpassing in beauty, and other therapeutic animals. Psychiatric Bulletin. Vol. 15.Animal Welfare Act (2006). The Animal Welfare Act 2006. [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/45/contentsAnthrozoology (2012) Researchers, Research centres and professional Associations. [online] Available at: http://www.anthrozoology.org/Bergstram, R., Tarbox, J.. And Gutshall, K. A. (2010) Behavioural intervention for domestic pet mistreatment in a young child with autism: research in autism spectrum disorder, Vol. 5.Burrow, K. E., Adams, C. L. And Millman, S. T. (2008) Factors Affecting Behaviour and Welfare of Service dogs for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of applied animal welfare science. Vol. 11.Caius, J. (1570). De Canibus Britannicis of Englishe Dogges. (translated by Abraham Fleming).Davis, B. W. N., O’Brien, K., Patronek, S. And MacCollins, G. M. (2009) Assistant dog placement in the pediatric population: benefits, risks and recommendations for future application. Anthrozoos, Vol. 16.Delta Society (2012) Pet Partners, touching lives, improving health. [Online] Available at: http://www.deltasociety.orgDogs for the Disabled (2012) What we do. [Online] Available at: http://www.dogsforthedisabled.orgFreidmannm E., Katcher, A. H., Thomas, S. A., Lynch, A. H. And Messent, P. R. (1983) Social interaction and blood pressure: influence of animal companions. Journal of nervous and mental disease.Glilis, J., Callahan, E. H. And Romanczyk, R. G. (2011) Assessment of Social Behaviour in children with autism. The development of the behavioural assessment of social interaction in young children. Research in Autism Spectrum disorders, Elsevier, USA.Gossen, G. H. (1996). Animal Souls, co-essences and human destiny in Mesoamerica. Identities. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA.Gradngeorge, M., Tordjman, S., Lazarhgues, A., Lemonier, E., Deleau, M. And Hausberger, M. (2012) Does pet arrival trigger prosocial behaviours in individuals with autism? [online] Available at: http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0041739Grier K. C. (1999). Childhood socialization and companion animals. Society and animals, Vol. 9. USA.Gullone, E. (2000) The biophilia hypothesis and life in the 21st century: increasing mental health or increasing pathology.Hart, L. A. (2010). Positive Effects of animals for psychosocially vulnerable people: a turning point for delivery. Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy. 3rd Edition. Academic Press, USA.Hultzkrantz, A. (1987). On beliefs in non-shamanic guardian spirits among the Saamis. Saami Religion. Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History. Finland.Knight, S. And Herzog, H. (2009). New Perspectives on Human-animal Interaction: Theory, Policy and Research. A journal of social issues. Vol. 65. Issue 3. Wiley-Blackwell, UK.Kruger, K. A. And Serpell, J. A. (2010). Animal-assisted interventions in mental health: definitions and theoretical foundations. Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy. 3rd Edition. Academic Press, USA.Landes, R. (1968). Ojibwa Religion and the Midéwiwin. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, USA.Lane, D. R., McNicolas, J., and Collis, G. M. (1988) Dogs for the disabled: benefits to recipients and welfare of the dog. Applied animal behaviour science, Vol. 59.Levinson, B. (1969). Pet-orientated Child Psychotherapy. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, USA.Locke, J. (1699). Some thoughts concerning education. (Reprinted by Garforth, F. W. 1964) Heinemann, London, UK.Messent, P. R. (1984) Correlates and effects of pet ownership. The pet connection: its influence on our health and quality of life. University of Minnesota, USA.Paw.dogsforthedisabled.org (2012) Parents autism workshops and support. [online] Available at: paws.dogsforthedisabled.orgR. Viau, G. Arsenault-Lapierre, S. Fecteau, N. Champagne, C. Walker, S. Lupien (2010) Effect of service dogs on salivary cortisol secretion in autistic children. Psychoneuroendocrinology, vol 35.Schmitt, J. C. (1983). The Holy Greyhound: Guineafort, healer of children since the 13th century. Cambridge Univeristy Press. Cambridge, UK.Schwabe, C. W. (1994). Animals in the Ancient World. Animals in Human Society: Changing Perspectives. Routledge, London, UK.Serpell, J. A. (2010). Animal Assisted Interventions in Historical Perspective. Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy. 3rd Edition. Academic Press, USA.Serpell, J. A., Podberscek, A. L. And Paul, E. S. (2000) Companion animals and us. Exploring relationships between people and pets. Cambridge Univeristy Press, UK.Toynbee, J. M. C. (1973)  Animals in Roman life and art. Thames and Hudson, London, UK.Tuke, S. (1813). Description of the Retreat. (Reprinted by Hunter, R. And Macalpine, I. 1964). Dawsons, London, UK.Wenzel, G. (1991). Animal Rights, Human Rights: Ecology, Economy and Ideology in the Canadian Arctic. Belhaven Press, London, UK.Wilson, E. O. (1984) Biophilia; The human bond with other species. Harvard College, USA.

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