The American Humane Association has created an endowed chair at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work to focus on research into the human-animal bond and animal-assisted therapies. The professor who will occupy the position is Dr. Frank Ascione, an international leader in researching the bond between people and animals, and also in preventing cruelty to humans and other animals.
I’m thrilled about the creation of this chair because it has the potential to help bridge the absurd chasm between academics and applied work with animals. There is tremendous need for a greater understanding of the relationships between people and animals, including the way that those relationships can benefit members of the species, but there are few opportunities for research and training in these areas in our colleges and universities. The creation of this position signals the growing trend towards greater respect for the value of work that aims to prevent cruelty and violence to both people and animals and work that involves animals in helping people.
I am equally pleased about the choice of Ascione. His 2005 book Children & Animals: Exploring the Roots of Kindness and Cruelty was great, and it is regrettable that while read by many academics, it did not make as big a splash in the larger world as I would have liked. He has studied the links between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence, and has even written guidelines for creating safe havens for pets of battered women.
Ascione is committed to improving the world for both animals and humans, and has long campaigned for a greater societal effort to halt cruelty to people and members of other species, too. An advocate of increased humane education for kids, he has long expressed the view that we need to actively teach kids HOW to treat animals kindly and to feel compassion towards them, in addition to education that simply addresses the importance of not being cruel. His new position is likely to increase the prominence of his work, to the benefit of our whole society.