The human-animal bond is a relatively new field of clinical activity and research study. Initial reports of the therapeutic benefits of these interactions were primarily anecdotal, but a growing number of studies are contributing to a body of knowledge supporting the physical and emotional benefits for humans interacting with companion animals in a variety of settings. The strongest support for health benefits is provided by a number of studies associating pet ownership with lower levels on some cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Benefits of pet ownership for children have been described in terms of facilitating psychosocial development, including studies showing greater self-esteem and empathy for pet owning children.
A number of studies have also provided evidence for the positive effects of animal visitation and animal-assisted therapy in healthcare settings with children and adults. Reports of reduced anxiety levels and distress in stressful situations, reduced behavioral problems, and increased socialization and participation are among the many benefits reported. Utilization of pet therapy teams help build the foundation for positive therapeutic outcomes. Such examples include animal assisted activity visits to classrooms and residence halls, animal therapy team inclusion in counseling sessions, canine therapy teams in courtroom settings and canine therapy teams in military combat stress units. Animal assisted therapy teams also provide physical benefits to patients in physical and occupational therapy settings.
The human animal interface is broad and touches most every aspect of life. The connection clearly goes far beyond our interactions with pets - it encompasses the entire natural world. In 1854, Chief Seattle made the stirring speech that still rings true today: "What is man without beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from great loneliness of spirit...All things are connected...Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself."