Academic Pathways Towards HAI

Patricia Pen dry

Patricia Pendry, PhD, is an associate professor of human development and graduate faculty member in the Program of Prevention Science at Washington State University. Born and raised in the Netherlands, Patricia teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in research methods, child development, stress and coping, and human development and social policy. She spends most of her time conducting HAI research with graduate and undergraduate students.

I am an associate professor in human development and graduate faculty in the doctoral program in prevention science at Washington State University' in Pullman, Wash. While one may' not expect an HAI researcher to reside in this discipline, the interdisciplinary nature of prevention science makes it a perfect context in which to study the effects of animal assisted interventions (AAIs) on human and animal participants.

An important theme in my work is that I approach the study' of HAI through a ‘biobehavioral’ lens, which means I examine how biological processes and behavior of humans and animals interact in shaping their functioning and wellbeing during AAIs. I am especially' interested in understanding the effects of university-based AAIs in preventing the negative consequences of social and academic stress in youth and college students and the role biological processes may play' in shaping these effects.

Focusing on equine- and canine-assisted interventions, I conduct randomized controlled trials in real-life settings to examine their effects on activity of the part of the brain active in regulating responses to stress, the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis. I do this by' collecting samples of saliva, which are analyzed for changes in cortisol production to examine whether interaction with animals affects HPA-axis activity' and ultimately', functioning in various developmental domains (e.g., socioemotional, cognitive, physical).

Rather than focusing only on the human side of the HAI equation, I also analyze characteristics and behavior of the animals we work with by video recording AAI sessions and activities. My students and I carefully code the

48 Patricia Pendry

behaviors of all parties involved—animals, handlers and clients—to better understand what constitutes high-quality interaction, and how to promote interactions that are beneficial for humans and animals alike.

As such, my research spans across basic and applied approaches, and draws from literatures of human development; developmental psychoneuroen-docrinology; psychometrics; anthrozoology; animal assisted intervention; animal science and behavior; and program design, implementation and evaluation.

Day-to-Day Rewards

As a faculty member, I divide my time between conducting research on HAI; teaching a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses; mentoring students; and providing service to professional associations, my university, college, and department, and residents of Washington state. Some of the most rewarding parts of my job are that I have the opportunity to interact with animals on a regular basis. This is extremely enjoyable—not just because I like animals, but also because it is so much fun to see the effects of HAI on all parties involved, including AAI facilitators. I feel very fortunate that I get to engage with wonderful people who dedicate themselves to facilitating meaningful and impactful interactions between humans and animals. It is an environment that creates positive feelings, generativity towards others and awareness about our day-to-day presence and opportunity for connection. It is also a nice antidote to the stress, negativity and material tendencies to which so many of us fall victim.

In addition, I thoroughly enjoy working with students in and outside the classroom. In fact, I like nothing more than successfully bringing my students into the field by getting them excited about research and practice of HAI related endeavors. In particular, I love being a mentor to my graduate students with whom I work closely on a daily basis as they move through the phases of graduate study to becoming junior colleagues.


As with any career, being an academic conies with specific challenges, including the pressure to obtain external funding, publish frequently, be a great teacher and mentor, and provide impactful service. The pressure and the desire to succeed result in a substantially greater than 40-hour workweek on a regular basis. That said, as long as you keep juggling—and catching— lots of different balls in the air, this career is extremely rewarding.

Pathway Towards HAI

People are often surprised to find out that the path that led me to my career in HAI and academe was extremely circuitous. I first attended college in

Netherlands where I was raised, ‘dabbling’ in law and public affairs without much conviction or enthusiasm. After moving to the US, I started taking psychology classes, which ignited my passion for understanding links between stress, physiology, behavior and health. This led me to obtain a psychology degree as an adult student, followed by a PhD in human development and social policy, both from Northwestern University, followed by a tenure track appointment at WSU

Although much of my graduate study was focused on examining contributions of stress to dysrégulation of HPA axis activity, I became curious about the possible ways to ‘undo* the negative effects of stress exposure on physiological dysrégulation. It wasn’t until I engaged in a pen-and-pencil brainstorming exercise about possible stress management interventions that I remembered the childhood joys of spending weekends at a local barn where interactions with horses, dogs, cats, goats, chickens and potbelly pigs became the highlight of my week. It was those memories, combined with a passion for research that led me to study the efficacy of AAIs. I am ver}' grateful for receiving generous grants from the National Institutes of Health, Washington State University and MAKS/Waltham that have allowed me to conduct randomized controlled trials on the effects of HAI on humans and animals and establish a record of scholarship.

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