Third African Conference on Human-animal Interactions 1-3 August: Building Compassion – the role of HAI in fostering empathy towards humans and animals

Report from SCAS Chair Dr. Elizabeth Ormerod.

SCAS member Dr Sunday Agbonika, whom I am proud to mentor, is a bond-centred veterinarian working in Nigeria. Sunday organises virtual conferences on AAI, HAI, animal welfare and behaviour. His work is reaching hundreds of colleagues throughout the world, especially in regions where understanding of HAI is less well developed. His AAI programme, DogaLov, helps children with developmental difficulties, including autism.

I gave a keynote, discussing the role of human-animal relationships in the development of human prosocial behaviours. This included the role of family pets, humane education, AAI and offender rehabilitation, diagnosis of family violence and social capital effects. My presentation drew upon my personal experiences of 40 years in veterinary practice, and in delivering humane education for some three decades for all age groups, my work in offender rehabilitation with men serving long prison sentences, and from my visits to overseas programmes.

Lesley Winton gave a most profound and moving presentation about the important work of Fostering

There were also presentations from Prof James Serpell, a past Chair of SCAS, on how pets can help develop empathy for wild animals and the environment; Prof Cynthia Chandler on the role of pets in supporting mental health. Phil Arkow discussed the Links – the interconnectedness of all forms of violence, including domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty. Phil produces a free monthly Link Letter. This contains a wealth of information and is emailed monthly to subscribers. To join the mailing list, write to Phil at

Practitioner programmes presented included the Pet Bereavement Support Service, founded by SCAS in 1994 and which we ran in partnership with Blue Cross until 2012.

Two excellent dog training programmes were presented – both run by charities providing dog training to youth in townships in South Africa. They are doing outstanding work, we have much to learn from them, and I encourage you to visit their websites.  

Funda Nenja – Learning with the dog

The Underdog Project, Cape Town, South Africa

The theme of this conference, on violence prevention, arose from the brutal killing of a dog in Nigeria. Roxie had strayed onto a neighbour’s property and instead of returning him to his family was fatally shot in front of them.

The closing presentation was by eminent Kenyan veterinary public health veterinarian Dr M. Mbaka, a dedicated conservationist and animal welfarist. He has undertaken numerous consultancy services in Kenya and other countries within Africa, in the areas of Veterinary Public Health, Animal Welfare, and the formulation of Animal Resources Sector Policies. I offered to share our AAI resources with him.

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