Canadian researcher Dr. Colleen Dell has spent the last decade studying the human-animal bond alongside her animal partners.

In this 53rd episode of Therapy Dog Talk, I spoke with Dr. Colleen Dell—a Canadian researcher at the University of Saskatchewan who has spent the past decade in the human-animal field publishing over two-dozen peer reviewed articles in addition to speaking engagement including a TEDx Talk on Therapy Dogs and recovering from addiction.

Colleen is the Centennial Enhancement Chair in One Health & Wellness and approaches her work from a background in community-based research and feminist methods which has grounded her in the importance of having everyone’s lived experience and voices and other world views in the work and research that she does. This has led to her seeing her own animal partners as colleagues in her work which shines through in the deep respect she has for them.

As part of her work, Colleen volunteers and works with her own dogs through the Canadian National Therapy Dog program St. John’s Ambulance as well as through the PAWSitive Support Canine Assisted Learning Program.

If you’re ready to learn more about Dr. Colleen Dell’s research, let’s dive in:

In this episode, we discuss …

  • How Colleen partners with her own animals in Therapy Dog initiatives.
  • Why she views her animals as colleagues in her work.
  • What opportunities exist for others to advance the field utilizing their own areas of expertise.

Key moments you won’t want to miss:

  • [01:49] Colleen introduces us to her work at the University of Saskatchewan as well as to her animal partners—past and present: Anna-belle, Kisbey, Subie, E-jay and Molly.
  • [04:00] We dive into how Colleen began researching the human animal bond when she was looking for a new journey after years of studying addiction and mental health, criminalization, and prison systems.
  • [05:47] Colleen describes her background in community-based research and feminist methods and how that informs the way she views aher animal partners as colleagues which involves makingsure their voices are heard as well.
  • [06:25] Colleen spent her sabbatical learning how to share her dog Anna-belle’s voice by working with Behesa Doan at Extreme-K9 dog training which led to her pubishing her next article with Anna-belle as lead author.
  • [08:10] We learn more about the various Therapy Dog programs that Colleen and her team are involved in including St. John’s Ambulance and the PAWSitive Support program at Drumheller Prison in Alberta.
  • [09:52] Colleen hopes that people learn from her research that connection is an important part of health and that animals can play a significant part in our relationships.
  • [11:48] Colleen’s team faciliated therapy dogs in their vaccination clinics and hypothesizes about the reactions people had to their presence.
  • [12:47] I ask Colleen about her  relationship and connection with her own dogs and she talks about how unique each of them are and the gift thei rbond serves in our lives.
  • [14:23] We talk about Pet Remembrance Day and how to manage the loss of an animal who you’ve built a bond with.
  • [15:19] Colleen shares what her process was like when her dog Anna-belle died and how she published her obituary in her newspaper to make a statement on how much she contributed to their community in her Therapy Dog work.
  • [19:01] We discuss how animals help people process their grief and I reference the story Sarah shared about her experience at Camp Widow with her Therapy Dog Cocoa.
  • [19:11] I point out how each of us can use our unique skills and professions to further the field of Animal-Assisted Interventions in the way that Colleen is doing through her research and the Therapy Dog handler Colleen mentioned who works in media and was able to help her publish Anna-belle’s obituary.
  • [20:04] We briefly touch on how dogs can often help us find our purpose.
  • [20:49] Colleen talks about the balance of quantitative and qualitative data in her research on the human-animal bond and how ethics play a role in what she can measure.
  • [21:58] Colleen brings up the naysayers when publishing research on therapy animals and I mention how Boris Levinson was also rejected when he first presented Animal Assisted Therapy.
  • [23:12] Colleen mentions that she is really interested in the impact of the pet therapy team, rather than just focusing on the animal, and is looking into how to pursue this in her research.
  • [24:21] On One Health Day, November 3, 2022, Colleen’s team will be releasing a free training for Therapy Dog handlers that covers four areas including inclusivity, mental health of the handlers, mental health of the clients, and the health and safety of the dog.
  • [26:30] Colleen believes that while you can train for obedience, you can’t train a dog to be a Therapy Dog. For her it’s their personality and they either want to do it or they don’t and she speaks to the importance of knowing your animal’s preferences and respecting who they are rather than forcing them to be someone they aren’t.
  • [27:35] We also discuss that the environment matters for each dog and who they are combined with how they grow up plays a role in where they are able to thrive.
  • [28:29] Colleen mentions the research they did during COVID-19 about the impact of Therapy Dogs online and how they found that those connections were still important.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I do. Give it a watch or a listen and then let me know in the community which part you found the most helpful!

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