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Heart to Heart with Frank Ascione, PhD
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FA: One of the hopes I’ve had in my work is I want to focus on the kind of research that has some socially valuable component to it. There’s a term, “urgent knowing,” which means that there is a need in society and not enough information about it. For example, there was this idea that people in situations of domestic violence delay leaving because they are afraid to leave their pets behind, but until you put a number on it, information that was needed to deal with it or to pass legislation about it was not available.

 

B: What countries do you consider role models for the sort of programs you’d like to see established in this country?

FA: Both the UK and Australia are a bit ahead of us with animal welfare programs and respect for the human-animal bond. The UK, which originated these programs, has one national animal protection agency (the RSPCA), so they have a commonality of laws across the whole country. We have 50 different laws.

 

B: Are you generally encouraged or discouraged with the state of the human-animal bond?

FA: I am encouraged partly because we have programs developing where this is being taken seriously academically and we’re also seeing people seriously evaluating programs in which people are engaged. There are many programs that incorporate interactions with animals, but they are not routinely being evaluated. It is essential that we sift good from bad, and we need studies of what’s working and what’s not so we can focus on the most effective programs.

 

B: How has the economic recession affected the relationship between people and their pets?

FA: I’m not an economist, but I’m aware of the issues. Foreclosures lead to pet abandonment in increased numbers. Financial trouble means that we tend to see more problems with child abuse and domestic violence. In the aftermath of disasters, we do see an increase in violence.

 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 57: Nov/Dec 2009

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

 Photograph from University of Denver/Faculty Page

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