History of the Center for the Study of Animal Well-Being

The Center for the Study of Animal Well-Being began as a cooperative effort between the College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences’ Department of Animal Sciences in 1993. The People-Pet Partnership, founded by the late College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Leo K. Bustad in 1979, was integrated into the center in 1999.

The center was formed with the objectives of generating and disseminating new knowledge aimed at understanding and enhancing the well-being of animals and the mutual benefits of human-animal interaction, in addition to providing educational programs and public services emphasizing animal well-being and mutually beneficial human-animal interactions. The university recognized that, although domestic and wild animals provide important emotional, economic, ecological, and health benefits to humanity, their use for human benefit raises complex ethical and philosophical challenges.

Animal use in education, research, food production, entertainment, health care, and as companions and assistants is attracting increasingly intense public scrutiny and concern for animal rights and well-being. Yet, there is little sound scientific information upon which to base policy on behalf of animals.

The center aims to provide scientific knowledge on animal well-being by:

  • Developing and accessing indicators of animal well-being
    • animal behavior
    • clinical health
    • preferences and motivations
    • cognition

    • emotions
    • neurobiology
    • stress physiology
    • immune function

  • Investigating the impact of various human influences on animal well-being
    • methods of housing
    • handling
    • feeding

    • breeding
    • training
    • transport

  • Evaluating effects of emotional attachments between humans and animals on both human and animal well-being

The center also brings visibility to this area of scholarship and provides a focal point for organizing research and outreach activities that pertain to the well-being of domestic animals and human well-being in relation to animal well-being.

Influential center leaders

Dr. Phyllis Erdman

Dr. Phyllis Erdman sitting outside on the concrete bench.

Dr. Phyllis Erdman is a professor in the Counseling Psychology program and executive associate dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Education. Dr. Erdman has conducted research in parent/child relationships and human-animal interaction, specifically looking at the effectiveness of equine facilitated activities. She is past chair of the Section on Human-Animal Interaction, Society of Counseling Psychology, American Psychological Association. She served as a consultant on a $ 100,000 NIH Grant in 2010-2012 to measure the impact of an equine facilitated program on children’s stress levels and social competence development.

She also completed studies on the impact of equine programs on social skills development for children on the autism spectrum. She worked with the PATH Therapeutic Riding Program at WSU and provided programs in equine activities directed with youth, parent-child teams, and veterans. She also works closely with colleagues in the College of Veterinary Medicine, particularly focused on pet loss/grief and infusing the human-animal bond into veterinary practice. She has created an online non-credit course at WSU titled “Human-Animal Interaction: What We Know and What We Don’t Know.” Her goal is to promote the field of human-interaction within a multidisciplinary framework.

Jaak Panksepp (1943-2017)

Professional photo of Dr. Jaak Panksepp in a photo studio with a simple grey backdrop.

Dr. Jaak Panksepp is known worldwide as the father of “affective neuroscience,” a field of study that examines the neurobiological basis of emotions. His early work was performed at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, but in 2006 he moved to WSU to accept the Bernice and Joseph Baily Chair in Animal Well-Being in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Panksepp’s internationally recognized work focused on the nature of the basic emotional systems of the mammalian brain, with the most recent work devoted to analyzing the brain mechanisms that mediate separation distress and social bonding. His discovery of the nature of social joy by studying the psychobiological controls of juvenile playfulness and the accompanying laughter-type sounds has redefined many of the current models of animal emotion understanding. Dr. Panksepp’s later work was aimed at deepening and broadening our understanding of these systems biologically as well as exploring the consequences of this knowledge for understanding animal and human mental health issues.

Leo Bustad (1920-1998)

Dr. Leo Bustad outside the college with a autumn leaves as the backdrop.

The legacy of Dr. Leo Bustad can be found within the walls of WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, permeating the academic programs offered today. An outstanding educator, scientist, and humanitarian, Bustad was instrumental in the creation of human-animal interaction programs at the national and international levels. He was also instrumental in the creation of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (1990). Leo Bustad taught a Reverence for Life course for more than 25 years.

Dr. Bustad was also a founding member of the Delta Society. Bustad’s work significantly contributed to the understanding of the changing role of companion animals in Western societies and its impact on veterinary education, veterinary medicine, and society in general. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Delta Society recognize Bustad’s legacy by annually presenting the Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian Award to a veterinarian who has made special achievement in human-animal interactions.