The Effect of Animal Handling Sessions on Student Wellbeing in a Further and Higher Education Establishment

Jennifer Howse, Alex Badman-King, Jane Williams, Lucy Bearman-Brown

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Introduction: Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) look to create opportunities for human and non-human animal species to interact, largely for human benefit (Bert et al, 2016). Many interventions focus on the use of domestic species within prearranged specific environments with individuals experiencing mental health disorders. However, few consider human benefits obtained as a result of multispecies interactions or within non-formalised settings.

Methodology: ‘Animals on Prescription’ (AoP) was targeted at students with poor wellbeing at an educational establishment. The scheme provided opportunities for participants to interact with a variety of animal species during voluntary bi-weekly sessions. Self-referred students attended sessions where they interacted with an animal species of their choice. Each participant completed a pre-handling questionnaire rating their wellbeing, then a second survey post-intervention, focused on the impact of that session on their wellbeing. Over the course of 36 sessions, 39 different individuals attended, completing 162 questionnaires in total. Frequency analysis identified trends within the data, whilst grounded theory derived emergent themes from open questions.

Main Results: The majority of attendees (73% n=118) rated their wellbeing as negative prior to AoP sessions. Improved emotional states were evident in 85.35% (n=134) of questionnaires after the AoP session. Thematic analysis of students who felt AoP sessions improved their wellbeing, identified five key reasons for this; 1) more relaxed, 2) less stressed, 3) happier, 4) calmer and 5) felt better [in-self]. These feelings were related to the presence of animals: “nice to be alone with animals and not feel judged”. In contrast, those who did not rate any improvement in wellbeing identified the ability to talk (“to moan”) as the key benefit of the sessions. Interspecific interactions included both physical and non-physical contact (watching) and occurred during 95.06% (n= 154) of AoP sessions (with 142 multispecies interactions). Students migrated towards small mammal species (during 39% of interactions n=64), despite the availability of larger animal species.

Principle Conclusions and Implications for the Field: With predicted increases in the number of students requiring wellbeing support in future years and waiting lists for formalised support, interventions such as AoP could be beneficial for student wellbeing.

1. References: Bert, F. Rosaria, M. R. Camussi, E. Pieve, G. Voglino, G. Siliquini, R. (2016) Animal Assisted Intervention: A Systematic Review of Benefits and Risks. European Journal of Integrative Medicine. 8. Pp. 695-706

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018
EventInternational Society for Anthrozoology Conference 2018: Animals in Our Lives: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Human–Animal Interactions - University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 2 Jul 20185 Jul 2018


ConferenceInternational Society for Anthrozoology Conference 2018
Abbreviated titleISAZ 2018
Internet address


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