Dear Supporters of New Life K9s,
This month I'll begin a series of columns which I hope will bring you some nuggets of information about the wondrous nature of our dogs, ourselves, and the relationship between us. I'll try not to drag you too far into my nerdy love of research but instead, bridge the mission of New Life K9s (of saving lives through the healing power of the human-canine bond), with information that further deepens our appreciation of our canine companions and service dogs.
Having worked as a psychologist with veterans for over 30 years and having a beloved-by-all canine companion, Koki, participating in that work for nearly 7 of those years, I can personally attest to the impact of Koki’s relationship with my clients. More so, I can share the mounting research support for the benefits of relationships with animals and nature throughout the life span. So I begin, this month, with an introduction to:
"The Value of the Animal-Human Bond"
As dog lovers, it will come as no surprise that evidence is mounting on the mutually beneficial value of the dynamic relationship between humans and animals. Indeed, the 2017 survey of the American Pet Products Association* found 68% of American households have at least one companion animal, with the largest percentage (48%) having one or more dogs. This percentage has grown more than 20% over the last 30 years. What is referred to as the Animal-Human Bond, or Human-Animal Interaction (HAL) is a relatively young area of research though it has grown tremendously in the past 10 years, with a focus largely on the canine-human bond. Numerous studies have explored and discovered, for example, the effects of therapy dogs on decreased pain, improved social behaviors in children on the autism spectrum, and improved motivation and program adherence in hospital patients. Other studies on pet ownership have discovered links to decreased blood pressure, higher one-year survival rates following heart attacks, and reduced health care costs. Currently, studies are showing great promise in establishing the benefits of service dogs for veterans with PTSD.*
Researchers have identified how animals may improve the "social capital" *of human beings. What that means is that a significant part of our well-being is related to our relationships and connections. It is part of our biology, our psychology and our culture to form relationships. Our relationships with animals and nature have significant implications for the well-being of all of life. Along these lines, research has identified risks associated with limited attachments to nature/animals, referring to it as a "Nature Deficit” with links to how this may negatively affect us physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. The quality of our attachment with others, including other people, animals, nature and our environment has been shown to be a better predictor of success in life than our "IQ."* Along these lines, studying the healing and growth potential of the human-canine bond links us to the mission and passion of New Life K9s.
In terms of the New Life K9s goal of providing veterans with PTSD with a service dog at no cost to the veteran, the bond established between a veteran with PTSD and his or her service dog is seen as the foundation for a healing and supportive relationship together. In recognition of the critical value of this bond, the New Life K9 Educators (Director Nicole and Educators Rosa and Courtney) have gained education and adopted the "Bond-Based Choice Teaching" model* in preparing service dogs for their partnership with a veteran. This approach was developed by Jennifer Arnold, through her many years of preparing service dogs for people with disabilities. We'll be sharing more with you about this philosophy of learning as it relates to the work of New Life K9s and our relationships with our dogs...and theirs with us.
In the meantime, wishing you and yours, both human and canine, a joyous holiday season!
Robin Lewis, Ph.D.
Co-Chair, New Life K9s Advisory Board
*For space and interest considerations, if you would like a list of the references linked to this column, please email me at