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New Book by CEIS Professor Presents the Value of Animal-Assisted Education

Aubrey Fine

Students are more effective learners when animals are incorporated into the classroom according to a new book co-edited by Professor Aubrey Fine, an expert on human-animal interaction and animal assisted therapy.

“How Animals Help Students Learn,” published by Routledge, offers examples of how animals have been effectively integrated into classroom settings, while also ensuring the health and well-being of the students and animals involved.

Fine has taught courses on educational psychology and the human-animal bond in the College of Education and Integrative Studies for over 30 years.  His research has been featured on national radio and television programs including ABC, Animal Planet, NPR, PBS, Discovery Network, KTLA and CNN. In 2016, he won the William McCulloch Award from the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations for his excellence in human-animal interaction (HAI) education and practice.

“The book summarizes what we know about the impact of animals in education and synthesizes the thinking of prominent leaders in research and practice,” Fine said. “It’s a much-needed resource for mental-health and education professionals interested in incorporating animals in school-based environments.”

The book has received endorsements from the HAI community including faculty from Purdue University, Tufts University and the CEO of Pet Partners, an organization that supports HAI health benefits.

“This well-written volume takes a rigorous, scientifically driven approach to synthesizing research and best practice on the impact of animals in educational settings that is accessible for a wide range of audiences who are interested in cutting-edge, evidence-based programs,” said Megan Mueller, a research assistant professor of HAI at Tufts University.

Fine began studying HAI as a college student when he brought his pet gerbil to a social skill program he directed for children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

“It was amazing to watch how the children calmly held Sasha and interacted with her. It was truly an eye-opening experience,” he said.

The outcome of the experiment spurred his fascination with the therapeutic benefits of animals in a classroom setting.

“Research now points out that when you pet a dog your blood pressure goes down, as well as your cortisol levels and breathing rate,” he said. “Oxytocin, that feel good loving neurotransmitter, rises not only in you, but in the animal as well. The relationship and interactions with therapy animals support pro-social skills and allow the students to feel more relaxed. If you bring animals into your classroom, and do it correctly, you can make a difference in the lives of your students emotionally, cognitively as well as physically.”

Fine became inspired to develop the book after attending a conference on the role of animals in education hosted by the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition, a national research organization focused on improving animal health and well-being.

“I was honored when I was asked to be a co-facilitator of the meeting. All of the contributors were leading experts in their distinctive subjects,” he said. “It was only natural, as an outcome of the meeting, to put together a book that highlighted the numerous ways animals could be safely incorporated in schools.”

Fine has written over 20 books including “The Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy,” a leading textbook now in its fourth edition. Although having written a number of books, becoming a father to his sons, Sean and Corey Fine, is his proudest accomplishment. He also adds that running four marathons is a noteworthy achievement.

For more information about “How Animals Help Students Learn,” email ahfine@cpp.edu.

Student assistant Nicole Valencia contributed to this report.