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Course to cover human−animal interaction

Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 08:11

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Lane Florsheim / Tufts Daily Archives

The Department of Child Development will pilot a course on human-animal interaction in the spring, opening up the possibility for an undergraduate minor or concentration called Integrated Health: Pets and People.

Next semester, the Eliot−Pearson Department of Child Development will offer a new course titled “Special Topics: Human−Animal Interaction (HAI) in Childhood and Adolescents” on a trial basis. The course will explore the nature and potential benefits of human−animal contact by looking at varied research in relevant fields.

The class will be taught by Professor of Child Development and Director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development Richard Lerner with the assistance of Megan Mueller, a fourth−year child development student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

“The course takes a developmental perspective, looking at how human−animal activities such as horseback riding or having a pet or animal−assisted therapy can impact a child and their family and even their community on many different levels,” Mueller said. “The class is being framed as how animals in our lives can benefit students and communities in a positive way.”

Over the course of the semester, students taking the class will develop a project proposal on HAI research, studying animal welfare, HAI as a therapeutic tool and HAI as a context for promoting general health, Mueller said.

“This course is so new and jumps across so many boundaries,” senior Molly Crossman, the teaching assistant for the class, said. “It’s very interdisciplinary in its nature.”

The new class is part of an initiative to increase the study of HAI on campus, and sufficient student interest in the class could lead to the development of an undergraduate minor or concentration in this area called Integrated Health: Pets and People (IHPP), Mueller said.

Dean of the Cummings School Deborah Kochevar and Professor and Director of the Clinical Sciences Department at the Cummings School Nicholas Frank were key in spearheading the initiative and helping move the trial course forward, according to Mueller.

According to Crossman, professors from the Department of Child Development, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Tufts School of Medicine have all been involved in the planning of the course.

Mueller explained that since HAI links research and practice from all four schools, the class will use the different approaches and perspectives from various branches of study.

Guest speakers for the class will include Deborah Linder, research assistant professor at the Cummings School and head of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals, and Saul Tzipori, a distinguished professor of microbiology and infectious diseases in the Cummings School, who will talk about the role of animals in human health, according to Mueller.

Crossman stressed that very little information is known about HAI and the role that it might play in the health and well being of humans and animals worldwide.

“It’s cutting−edge. Human−Animal Interaction is booming right now,” she said. “In fact, it’s more common for a child to grow up with a pet than a grandparent or a sibling.”

Freshman Ashley Medeiros, who plans to take the HAI course, expressed enthusiasm about the opportunity to delve into this new area of study.

“I would love to take more classes in this area,” Medeiros said. “I’ve had pets basically all my life and they’ve been such a huge part of my childhood and my life now. I want to learn the scientific aspect of our interaction, like the health repercussions or benefits.”

Mueller said that the trial course will gauge student interest and determine what students would like to take away from such a class. If enough students are interested in this area, the university would be open to the idea of creating more HAI−related courses for undergraduates, she added.

“Every time I talk to students about this, they’re really excited this is happening,” Crossman said.

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