SCAS Annual Conference

#SCAS2024 Conference – Sunday 22nd September 2024

More information regarding our 2024 Conference will be released soon!

Missed the 2023 SCAS Conference?
If you missed the conference, the recording is now available to purchase at a cost of £60 to non-members and £30 to SCAS members. Email

The annual conference is a highlight of the SCAS year and we hope you can join us for this exciting online event on Sunday 17 September 2023! This year’s SCAS Conference, ‘Are pets really good for us? The role of pets in mental and physical health‘, will focus on the evidence-based research demonstrating how human-animal interactions support our physical and mental health.

Delegates will join like-minded people to hear the latest science and practice on topics that are relevant to human health and wellbeing, especially in an ageing demographic. International speakers at the forefront of research, policy, and education will help us learn about the latest advances in science as well as encouraging collaboration between researchers and practitioners working in health and social care, policymakers and in the third sector.

Grantees will talk about their SCAS funded research at the conference along with other stakeholders, all focused in improving understanding of the effects of human-animal interaction.

International participation and renowned speakers
The SCAS 2023 annual conference will again be a virtual event. This allows us the opportunity to invite people from all over the world to participate in a conference that maybe they couldn’t attend before because of travel time and cost restraints. It also widens the circle of knowledge relating to human-animal interaction benefits to regions where these are currently less well understood, and where there is often a deficit of HAI and AAI programmes.

SCAS conferences are known for their lively discussions and ample time is allowed for live Q&A with the experts, and generous sharing of information, resources, and contacts between delegates. Our speakers at this year’s conference are some of the world’s leading experts on the role of companion animals in supporting human health and wellbeing.  

If you work in human-animal interactions, health or social care, policy making or journalism and are interested in hearing the latest evidence-based research from academics, or if you are passionate about the subject and would like to know more, this conference is for you. And, if you become a member of SCAS (for just £25 a year), you will receive discounted conference registration as well as other benefits such as free access to monthly SCAS webinars throughout the year from expert speakers.

We have two free spaces for students this year! See here for instructions on how to apply.

We hope you will join us at this year’s conference and looking forward to “seeing” you there!

Thank you to our main sponsor, VetSkill, for their generous support of this conference.

About VetSkill:
VetSkill is an Ofqual and CCEA-approved awarding organisation and professional regulatory body. Our aim is to empower learners to achieve their full potential with inspirational qualifications. VetSkill has a growing portfolio of qualifications available for delivery and also offer end-point assessment services. We welcome enquiries from those who are interested in our services and supporting our mission.

Talks and Speakers confirmed so far…

KEYNOTE TALK: Dog Walking and Exercise

Dr Sandra McCune VN, BA (Mod), PhD
Visiting Professor of Human-Animal Interaction, University of Lincoln 

Dogs act as companions who provide us with emotional and physical support but may also play other roles in relationships with the people they live with. They can be our protectors, our confidantes, connect us to other people and bring purpose to our lives. Of increasing interest to public health scientists, given two thirds of the UK adult population are overweight or living with obesity, is the ability of dogs to motivate us to exercise with its links to a healthier lifestyle. This lecture explores the current research into aging in dog owners, and in particular, how the relationship between older adults and dogs impacts healthy, active human aging. Future research directions are outlined to encourage the development of a stronger evidence base for the role of exercising with dogs in healthy aging of older adults. 

Sandra qualified as a registered veterinary nurse before completing a degree in zoology from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. She has a PhD in cat behavior and welfare from the University of Cambridge, U.K.  

While a scientific leader at Mars Petcare, she was instrumental in the establishment of the public-private partnership between the National Institutes of Health and Mars/WALTHAM focused on child development and HAI. 

Sandra is a Visiting Professor of HAI at the School of Life Sciences and the School of Psychology at University of Lincoln, UK. She leads the SCAS communications team and chairs an international steering group, initiated by SCAS, established to improve access to pet-friendly housing. Sandra was lead editor on the Frontiers Research Topic, Our Canine Connection: The History, Benefits and Future of Human-Dog Interactions (2021). 

She currently leads ANIMAL MATTERS Consultancy Ltd providing expert input on a wide range of companion animal issues.  

The PET@home Toolkit: When the pet owner receives long-term care at home 

Peter Reniers
PhD-student, Open Universiteit

Objective: Considering that over half of families have pets and the increase of older people receiving long-term care at home (LTCH), there will be growing numbers of people in LTCH that own pets. Pets may have positive effects on clients (e.g., less loneliness) but may also lead to concerns in LTCH. Caregivers may not be aware of the benefits of pet ownership for the LTCH-client and clients may need help to care for their pet. The aim of this project was to develop materials to support pet ownership in LTCH. The project was conducted with LTCH-clients, family and professional caregivers.  

Methods: First, a literature review was conducted on the roles of pets for older adults in the general population. Second, these roles were confirmed in LTCH using semi-structured interviews with LTCH-clients, family and professional caregivers. Third, participants co-created supportive materials using a participatory research approach with (mixed) group interviews with LTCH-clients, and family and professional caregivers, and specialists (e.g., a veterinarian). Fourth, the materials were tested regarding usability and implementability. 

Results: The roles of pets in LTCH (e.g., roles related to emotions and physical health) seem similar to those among older adults in general. Various materials were developed, e.g., an information brochure, e-learning module, and an infographic. The materials can be used to educate stakeholders on the roles of pets in LTCH, improve awareness about pet-related benefits, stimulate conversations about pets, anticipate on future events, and make agreements about pets to prevent problems.   

Conclusion: We will present the PET@home Toolkit that provides advice and encourages LTCH-clients, family, and professional caregivers to discuss and make agreements about pet-related issues. More research is needed about whether the Toolkit may help keep LTCH-clients and pets together and may aid in maintaining and improving the quality of life of LTCH-clients, family and professional caregivers, and pets. 

Peter Reniers is a PhD student at the Open University of the Netherlands. At this same university he received his BSc and MSc in Clinical Psychology. Peter is working on the PET@home project which focuses on pets in the long-term care at home setting. The project is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development. Other organisations involved are: the Radboudumc University of the Netherlands, the UKON (Science network elderly care Nijmegen), the Institute of Anthrozoology, and several Dutch community care organisations mainly: ‘de Zorgboog (Bakel)’ and ‘Buurtzorg (Bommelerwaard)  

Living with pets and mild-severe mental health difficulties: drawing from people’s lived experiences   

Dr Roxanne Hawkins  PhD, MRes, BSc
Lecturer in Applied Psychology (Clinical and Health Psychology) The University of Edinburgh

Emerging evidence suggests that the human-animal bond has important psychological implications such as decreasing specific mental health symptoms, and promoting hedonic and eudemonic wellbeing1. However, pets do not ‘fix’ mental health problems, but they may play an important role in mental health self-management and in the prevention or de-escalation of specific symptoms1. Although reporting to still struggle with their mental health despite having a pet, people often report feeling that their mental health would be much worse if they did not have their pet2. Evidence into pets and mental health remains inconclusive, but this could be explained by complex individual variables that could underpin the benefits and risks of pets. These could include symptom severity, pet welfare and perceived behavioural problems, human-pet attachment type, pet type and breed, types of human-pet activities, and perceived psychological and behavioural compatibility. Moreover, few studies have considered the impact of human mental health on the welfare of the animals. For example, many people with mental health difficulties report being satisfied with the happiness and health of their pet, but for a select few, they believe that their mental health has impacted on their ability to care for, and meet their pet’s needs and expectations, increasing negative feelings such as maladaptive guilt and caregiver burden, therefore exacerbating their mental health symptoms1,2. This talk will therefore present existing evidence and emerging novel data from a series of research studies1-3, led by Roxanne and her team, that focus on people’s lived experiences of pets for mild to severe mental health difficulties. Emerging data on the impact of pets for perinatal mental health will also be presented3. This talk will explore some of the aforementioned complex and individual factors that ‘complicate the story’, thus answering the question posed, ‘are pets really good for us?’  

  1. Hawkins, R. D., Hawkins, E. L., & Tip, L. (2021). “I can’t give up when I have them to care for”: People’s experiences of pets and their mental health. Anthrozoös, 34(4), 543-562. 
  1. Hawkins, R. D., Robinson, C., Kuo, C. (2023). Lived experiences of the benefits and risks of pets for young adult’s mental health within the UK. [In Preparation].  
  1. Cyr, K., Chen, J. & Hawkins, R.D. (2023). Pets & Prams: The Impact of Pets on Perinatal Mental Health. [In Preparation].  

Roxy is a member of the Human-Animal Interaction Network, and the Children, Adolescents, and Animals Research Group. Her research programme lies within the following key research themes: 1) Mental health implications of human-animal interactions, 2) The role of animals within adversity, risk, and resilience, and 3) Child development and the human-animal bond. Key topics include the impact of animals on psychological health for those with mild-severe mental health difficulties, the conceptualization and impact of pet attachment on psychological health and pet welfare, pets’ ‘protective’ role in adverse childhood experiences, and the impact of witnessing and engaging in animal cruelty on development. Roxy works with animal welfare charities, has developed and evaluated animal cruelty prevention programmes, and has experience working hands-on with animals in zoos and rescue centres. Roxy leads Science of Pets, a social media platform to bring anthrozoology research to the public and increase public engagement.  

2000 families supported by the Family Dog service. A History of the service, what we do, who does the service benefit and what does the future hold?

Hannah Beal and Cari Miles
Family Dog Service Instructors, Dogs for Good

Dogs for Good provides a range of services across the UK including assistance dogs, community dogs and our family dog service.

The Family Dog service provides virtual workshops to parents and carers who have autistic children and want to explore the benefits a pet dog can bring to not only the autistic child or children, but also the Family as a whole.

The workshops cover topics from how to select the right dog for the family, taking into consideration the family’s lifestyle and any sensory needs of the autistic child, to basic care of the dog and interventions and specific training. There is ongoing support for the families from the instructors following the workshops via email and telephone and opportunities for parents to reconnect in a more informal setting via in-person social events run throughout the year.

In April 2023 Family Dog reached the milestone of supporting their 2000th family. The service started as a research project in collaboration with the University of Lincoln and soon became a permanent service running workshops up and down the country. When covid hit, the service had to adapt to survive and support those families who were feeling isolated and facing a very different world to the one they were used to.

Fast forward a few years and the service is reaching those who were previously unable to access it and are looking at ways to further develop and expand how the service is used.

Hannah and Cari will discuss how the service started, what the workshops cover and how families are supported. Also looking at how introducing a dog to their family home has impacted not only the autistic person, but the whole family, both in their day- to- day life, but also on their mental health.

Hannah Beal joined Dogs for Good in 2014 as a Family Dog Instructor. Hannah’s background is primarily in Education, studying a joint honours in Education and Early Childhood studies at university. This is where she first became interested in Autism and other Special Educational Needs. She then worked for 4 years as a secondary school teaching assistant, working closely with supporting the autistic students and for the last 5 years of her educational career she worked in a specialist Communication and Interaction base which was based within a mainstream secondary school, supporting autistic students in both mainstream integration and one to one life skills. Having supported students at a working care farm, Hannah became aware of the benefits AAI could have on people and having grown up around pet dogs, has now combined her two passions in life working in the Family Dog service.

Cari Miles joined the Family Dog Service and Dogs for Good in 2019. Having worked in canine rescue with a personal focus on behavioural assessments and support, Cari began her qualifications in Canine Training, Instructing, and Behaviour. Within the rescue environment she also helped run education days on animal husbandry and care for children, as well as The Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme training classes. From here her passion grew, and Cari became a Pets As Therapy Volunteer alongside her pet dog, visiting a Neurological Care home supporting the residents weekly. Having decided upon the career path of Animal Assisted Intervention and Therapy, and with existing personal experience of Autism and a deep interest in psychology, Cari furthered her academic knowledge, and is delighted to be part of the Family Dog Service.

Effects of University-Based AAIs: Conceptual Models Guiding Research on Active Treatment Components of AAIs on Stress-Related Outcomes in Typical and At-Risk Populations.

Dr Patricia Pendry
Professor of Human Development, Graduate Faculty in Prevention Science at Washington State University

This presentation will share selective results of two efficacy trials examining effects of Animal Assisted Interventions (AAIs) conducted in a university setting. Dr Patricia Pendry will share results from two multi-year studies examining effects of 1) a 10-minute animal visitation program (AVP) and 2) comparing effects of a 4-week evidenced-based stress prevention programs featuring varying levels of human animal interaction (HAI) with registered canine therapy teams.

Both studies focus on campus-based AAIs aimed at preventing or alleviating university student stress to mitigate the development of mental health disorders and academic failure in typical and at-risk university students. We will examine main effects on socioemotional, physiological, cognitive and behavioral outcomes as well as the moderating role of student risk factors associated with the development of stress-related psychopathology. Implications for theory and practice will also be discussed.


Dr. Patricia Pendry is a Professor of Human Development and Graduate Faculty in Prevention Science at Washington State University. She earned her PhD in Human Development and Social Policy with a specialization in Child Development from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL where she also completed her undergraduate degree in psychology. Her research takes a biobehavioral approach towards examining the effects of animal assisted interventions with various species in reducing the physiological ramifications of human stress, with an emphasis on strengthening adaptive functioning of the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) activity in children, adolescents and college students. She is the recipient of several grants including from the National Institutes of Health for the PATH to Success Study, an efficacy trial on equine assisted intervention, and funding from the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, which funded the PETPALS study, a 3-year RCT examining effects of university-based AAIs with therapy dogs on human and animal participants.

Veterans and their dogs: A digital storytelling intervention to promote social engagement

1Beth A. Pratt, PhD, RN, Assistant Professor; Florida Atlantic University

2Joy Sessa, PhD, RN, Postdoctoral researcher, Florida Atlantic University

3Cheryl A. Krause-Parello, PhD, RN, FAAN, Associate Vice President for the Division of Research, Florida Atlantic University

 Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and its untoward consequences (e.g., social isolation, loneliness, aloneness) posed significant threats to mental health. Military veterans are particularly vulnerable to negative effects of COVID-19 due to a higher incidence of posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), depression, and anxiety compared to the general population. Evidence supports that dog ownership provides veterans with a sense of purpose and form of social support, and reduces stress. A digital storytelling intervention focusing on the veteran/dog relationship was developed to promote a sense of community during the pandemic.

Eight veterans were paired with university students and grouped in sets of four to create digital stories focused on their military career and relationship with their dog. The intervention consisted of eight guided one-hour weekly virtual sessions. Demographic and pre-post survey data were collected.

Through digital storytelling, veterans provided unique insight into the importance of their dogs, particularly the unconditional love dogs showed for their owners. Dogs reportedly provided and restored a sense of purpose, giving veterans responsibility for a life other than their own.  Veterans also reported increased ability to create and adhere to daily schedules, improved sleep, and increased exercise. Veterans described more frequent and higher quality human interactions due to dog ownership. Engagement in activities with their dogs often provided opportunities to interact with others, while the dog’s presence relaxed them and provided a topic for conversation.  Veterans characterized storytelling as “an amazing journey” that enhanced connection with other veterans. Participants whose dog had passed reported that creating a digital story centered around their former dog brought up old feelings, yet offered closure as they remembered their strong bond. Overall, veterans reported benefits from sharing their experiences of the human-animal bond through digital storytelling.


1Dr. Beth Pratt is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University and an Associate Director at Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors, a health research initiative. Her areas of expertise include veteran and military family mental health, the human-animal bond, and genomics. Her current research focuses on the effects of Human-Animal Interaction and alternative therapies on mental health and well-being, social isolation, and loneliness of veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and other service-related injuries through evaluation of inflammatory markers and RNA gene expression.

2Dr. Joy Sessa has worked in nursing for twenty-four years in a variety of clinical and leadership roles within the acute care setting.  She currently serves as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing within Florida Atlantic University within the research initiative: Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors. Her research interests include military veteran health and wellness, as well as primary and secondary stroke prevention and stroke systems of care. She also serves as a reviewer for stroke program certifications within The Joint Commission, a position that allows her to take an active role in improving stroke care within communities across the United States.

3Dr. Cheryl Krause-Parello is the Associate Vice President for Research (Interim), Associate Executive Director & Faculty Fellow, Institute for Human Health and Disease Intervention, Director, C-P.A.W.W. Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors® Health Research Initiative for Veterans, Professor (Secondary), Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton, Florida, USA. Krause-Parello is the founding director of a university-based health research initiative for veterans, C- P.A.W.W.® Her program of research examines the relationship between human-animal interaction and stress biomarkers in active-duty military, veterans, and their families. Dr. Krause-Parello’s funded program of research, journal publications, and professional presentations at numerous conferences has garnered national and international accolades and media attention. Dr. Krause-Parello was inducted as a Fellow in International Society of Anthrozoology in 2020. Dr. Krause-Parello and her husband, a marine veteran are the proud parents of rescue dachshunds Daisy and Heidi.

Pawsitive Impacts: The Feline Factor in Human Happiness

Elle Boden
Regional Behaviour Officer, Cats Protection

Cat’s have long made great companions for people, young and old. However, it’s important we do not assume that all cats can adapt to living in any home. We must recognise cats as sentient beings, ensuring that each individual cat is placed in the right home, thinking about not only the social aspect, such as their owners but also the environment.

We will then look at the many health benefits that cats provide to humans and whilst delving into this we look at whether we take into consideration the cat’s wellbeing when using them for HAI programmes.

Lastly, as the rise in popularity of owning ‘designer’ breeds takes off and the ever-increasing numbers of cats who are bred with extreme characteristics, its important that we recognise both the health and behavioural issues which surround them and whether ownership of hybrid cats including Bengals and Savannahs are suitable to live in our homes.


After completing her nursing studies, she went on to complete her Graduate Diploma in Applied Animal Behaviour. From there Elle went on to set up her own behaviour business called ‘The Behaviour Nurse’ and exclusively saw cats for behavioural consultations. Elle now works as the Regional Behaviour Officer for London and the South-East at Cats Protection, where she is involved in working with cats both in care and post adoption, developing behaviour learning materials and generally promoting cat behaviour and welfare at every opportunity. Alongside this she is undertaking her MSc in Human Animal Interactions and Wellbeing and is very interested in the cat human bond.

Support from dogs in daily life and times of crisis.

Jon Bowen MRCVS, The Royal Veterinary College

Social support involves network of family, friends, neighbours, community members and pets that are available in times of need. This network improves coping during crises & times of vulnerability. It also provides resilience so that daily life feels better and people are better prepared when a crisis occurs.

Social support can be practical or emotional. Practical support includes giving financial support or advice. Emotional support includes listening, acceptance and providing comfort (e.g. physical contact). Uncontrollable events demand more emotional support, whereas controllable events require more instrumental and informational kinds of support focused on evaluation and problem solving. Dogs are unable to offer practical support, but they can offer emotional support.

In this talk Jon will cover some of his studies looking at social support from dogs during the COVID pandemic, in homeless dog owners and in children. He will also briefly talk about an ongoing project to develop a scale to measure multiple aspects of the social support people get from their dogs.


Jon Bowen runs the behavioural medicine referral service at the Royal Veterinary College. He is also a member of the scientific board for the Affinity Chair for Animals & Health at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where his research is focussed on human-animal interactions. His recent, and forthcoming, book chapters are on stress in therapy animals, support from companion animals in times of crisis, repetitive behaviour disorders in dogs and a new framework for assessing behaviour problems in companion animals. His recent peer-reviewed articles cover a wide range of subjects, including the value of companion dogs as a source of social support for their owners, the effects of the pandemic lockdown on people, their pets and the human-animal bond, the characteristics of animal hoarders, measurement of the human-animal bond, the use of novel drug therapies for behavioural problems and the connection between joint hypermobility and temperament in dogs. Jon is a regular invited speaker at international conferences.

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Missed the 2022 SCAS Conference ‘Pet Friendly Housing: How can we keep people and pets together?’
Thank you to everyone who attended, and to our speakers and chair for making the event such a success.
If you missed the conference, the recording is now available to purchase at a cost of £60 to non members and £30 to SCAS members. Email