Current Research

Exploring Human-Companion Animal Interaction in Families of Children with Autism

The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) occurs in one in 59 children. Companion animals are common in families with children with ASD, with dogs and cats identified most commonly. Parents of children with ASD acquiring a dog have been found to have less stress. Children with ASD living with a CA in the home have been found to have increased prosocial behaviors. Trained dogs, like those used in animal assisted therapy and service dogs, have also been associated with the children’s’ increased social skills and decreased anxiety; however, it is unknown what CAs, other than dogs, may provide benefits. This study seeks to find out more about CA in families of autistic children. This information will help to inform the children’s caregivers if they are seeking to add a CA to their family. As with any pet adoption, it is vital that a sound match be identified between CAs and families. Given the excessive numbers of abandoned pets, homes of an autistic child may provide a beneficial outlet for pets from shelters. This study will use an online survey design through a well-established, national online network of individuals with ASD and their families. We will identify the the roles of CAs in these families, and how pet ownership is beneficial or problematic.

Funded by: Nestlé Purina

Shelter Cat Adoption in Families of Children with Autism: Impact on Children’s Social Skills and Anxiety as well as Cat Stress

Many families in the United States live with cats as companion animals, including families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). One in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD. Symptoms of ASD include a lack of social skills and anxiety. Companion animals have been helpful for children with ASD. However, there is little research on children with autism living with cats and no one has studied stress of cats living in these families. In this study 64 pre-screened shelter cats are being adopted in prescreened homes. Cats ages 10 months to four years that have been selected for calm behavior using a temperament, test are adopted by families in the study. We are examining the social skills and anxiety of the children with ASD, and bonding of the parents and children with their cats. We are also studying stress levels in the cats.

Funded by Winn Feline Foundation and Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI)


Uniting Veterans with Service Dogs

Study of the experience of MU students (ROTC cadets) conducting advanced training of dogs to be placed with veterans having PTSD. All dogs receive basic training in the Missouri Department of Corrections Puppies for Parole program and are selected for advanced training based on their performance at the completion of this basic training.

Funded by Lil’ Red Foundation