Community Health Through Shelter Pets Initiative
“Putting the ‘Human’ in Humane Society”
In 2018, Roice-Hurst Humane Society launched the innovative Community Health Through Shelter Pets Initiative (CHTSP), which focuses on connecting shelter animals to people in our community, especially vulnerable or at-risk populations, through structured animal-assisted activities.
Our mission is to reduce the risk factors in our community that lead to diminished mental health by creating opportunities for human-animal interactions and preserving and enhancing existing human-animal bonds. We utilize an empathy-based humane education curriculum as the backbone of these interactions to promote empathy, compassion, and social/emotional learning for the individuals we work with.
This programs takes place at the shelter or off-site, and includes working with both cats and dogs. Most of our off-site animal-assisted activities are conducted using a diamond model, in which we have a therapist/mentor/counselor/advocate, an animal handler (typically our Community Health Liaison, Ashley), one or more animals, and the participant(s). This model ensures the safety and welfare of all involved and animals and participants are carefully screened before any interaction takes place.
Each structured interaction is guided by a humane education curriculum that is tailored to each group’s needs and programming. While the program is incredibly beneficial to our human participants, our animals benefit just as much. They receive much needed socialization and enrichment, and by teaching people to be kind to animals, we help reduce incidents of animal cruelty and animal surrenders to the shelter in the long term.
The human-animal bond is a mutually-beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that positively influences the health and well-being of both. Here are some of the amazing benefits that our bonds with animals bring to our lives:
- Decrease in loneliness and isolation. Having a furry companion can increase feelings of connectedness and belonging. For many people, pets can oftentimes be someone’s only source of social support.
- Increase in the “feel good” chemicals in the brain, such as Oxytocin (aka the love hormone) and endorphins. In one study, these hormones not only increased in the human participant, but in the animal participants as well.
- Decrease in blood pressure and stress. Spending time with pets can make one feel relaxed, especially when stroking or grooming the animal. The purring sound of a cat has also been demonstrated to promote theta brain waves which is a state associated with relaxation.
- Promotes exercise. This is especially true for dog owners who take their canines out for walks. (However, more people are teaching their cats to also walk on leash and harness!)
Ashley DiGrado – Community Health Liaison
Ashley has worked for Roice-Hurst Humane Society for a cumulative of six years doing various roles from adoption counselor, receptionist, to administrative assistant. Her most recent position is the role of a community health liaison, and she directly oversees the Community Health Through Shelter Pets Initiative. She earned her Animals and Human Health Health certificate from the University of Denver’s Institute for the Human-Animal Connection to assist her in developing the initiative. Ashley not only has experience in the animal world, but has a background in social work. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work from Colorado Mesa University in 2016, and after graduation was employed at a local community mental health center working with a variety of populations as a case manager. She has always had a desire to combine her love of social work with her second passion, animal welfare, and was beyond thankful for the opportunity to head this new program; she considers this her “dream job” and enjoys connecting people and animals, and promoting the human-animal bond.
“I learned of the empathetic connection between humans and animals and how our energy feeds off each other. The groups helped me be mindful of the ways I’m treating others”. -DYS Youth .
“This makes me look at the brighter side of things while I”m here and what to look forward to when I’m out” – DYS Youth