How the Human-Animal Bond Increases Resilience and Empowers Us to Thrive

Mon, 05/17/2021 – 10:37

By Steven Feldman, President of the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI)

Pets have been a bright spot in people’s lives throughout the pandemic, providing unconditional love and support. Approximately 11 million U.S. households brought home a new pet during the pandemic[1], and pet owners overwhelmingly reported that they could not have made it through the toughest parts of lockdowns and quarantines without them.

Now more than ever, people need resources and support to improve and maintain good mental health. The good news is that the human-animal bond – our mutually beneficial relationship with our pets – can support better mental health for people of all ages, in good times and in bad.  

With Mental Health America’s Tools 2 Thrive topics in mind, the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) compiled scientific research and information on the many ways that pets can help improve mental health, foster resilience, and empower us to thrive.

Adapting after trauma and stress

Research shows that the emotional[2] and social support[3] pets provide helps buffer stress, promote resilience, and recover from adverse circumstances.

Studies have demonstrated that pet owners recover faster from stressful events than non-pet-owners[4] and also that the simple act of petting an animal reduces anxiety[5]. Science has shown that pets activate oxytocin in our bodies’ systems and reduce cortisol levels in our brains, documenting the physiological mechanism behind stress reduction and improved well-being[6] [7].

For those recovering from trauma, regular interaction with animals in a structured intervention has been found to reduce participants’ self-reported fear and anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance[8] [9].

Dealing with anger and frustration

One great tip for coping with anger and frustration is changing one’s surroundings or finding a welcome distraction. Pets are good for both – try playing with your cat or dog!

One study found that pets helped people cope with depression and other mental health issues[10] by serving as a distraction from typical symptoms and encouraging meaningful activity[11].Walking, exercising, or playing with pets is associated with greater happiness and less stress relative to other activities[12]. Science shows that pets can instill feelings of happiness in people and improve mood. Pet owners also laugh more often than non-pet-owners[13].

Research suggests that pet owners often derive the same amount of overall social support from their pets as from their parents or siblings. This support is another contributing factor to the greater levels of well-being and happiness that pet owners tend to experience [14] [15].

Taking time for yourself

Moving your body is a great way to take some time for yourself. Research shows that spending time in nature can be restorative, allowing the brain to rest and process information[16]. A pet can be a great reason to get outside and walk, and research shows that dog owners walk more often than non-owners[17].

Processing big changes

It goes without saying that the pandemic brought unexpected changes to people’s lives. In providing consistency, companionship, and purpose, pets have helped us process the pandemic and feelings of uncertainty[18].

Keeping up with self-care is so important for processing change. When so much can feel overwhelming, it’s easy to stay in bed or on the couch. Keeping up with normal, healthy habits is important. Pets can encourage us to adhere to our routines and add structure to our lives[19].


Taking care of our pets can even positively change the way we think about ourselves.

People recovering from serious mental health conditions have commonly reported feeling a sense of control when they successfully care for a pet, which can increase feelings of self-efficacy[20].

Pets also offer unconditional love for their owners, which can be deeply validating for people facing social stigma for mental health conditions[21] [22]. Pets are non-judgmental, non-evaluative, and accepting[23], which can be particularly beneficial for buffering stress and social anxiety in children[24].


The simple routines associated with pet care can help people stay mindful and in the present. A study of pet owners living with a long-term mental health condition found that pets may disrupt inward attention from harmful symptoms or upsetting thoughts such as suicidal ideation. Pet care, such as regular feeding, walking, and play, can provide people with an opportunity to focus their attention and ground themselves in their day-to-day lives[25].

Resources on the Human-Animal Bond

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is proud to partner with Mental Health America to raise awareness of the mental health benefits of the human-animal bond. For more information about the science of the human-animal bond, please visit


[1] “Pets Remain In High Demand During COVID.” Today’s Veterinary Business, Oct. 2020,

[2] Brooks, Helen Louise, et al. “The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence.” BMC psychiatry 18.1 (2018): 1-12.

[3] Meehan, Michael, Bronwyn Massavelli, and Nancy Pachana. “Using attachment theory and social support theory to examine and measure pets as sources of social support and attachment figures.” anthrozoös 30.2 (2017): 273-289.

[4] Allen, Karen, Jim Blascovich, and Wendy B. Mendes. “Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: The truth about cats and dogs.” Psychosomatic medicine 64.5 (2002): 727-739.

[5] Shiloh, Shoshana, Gal Sorek, and Joseph Terkel. “Reduction of state-anxiety by petting animals in a controlled laboratory experiment.” Anxiety, stress, and coping 16.4 (2003): 387-395.

[6] Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 234.

[7] Odendaal, J. S., & Meintjes, R. A. (2003). Neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs. The Veterinary Journal, 165(3), 296-301.

[8] O’haire, Marguerite Elizabeth, Noémie Adeline Guérin, and Alison Claire Kirkham. “Animal-assisted intervention for trauma: A systematic literature review.” Frontiers in psychology 6 (2015): 1121.

[9] O’Haire, Marguerite E., et al. “The impact of human-animal interaction in trauma recovery.” New directions in the human-animal bond (2019): 15.

[10] Brooks, H., Rushton, K., Walker, S., Lovell, K., & Rogers, A. (2016). Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition. BMC psychiatry, 16(1), 409.

[11] Hayden-Evans, Maya, Ben Milbourn, and Julie Netto. “‘Pets provide meaning and purpose’: a qualitative study of pet ownership from the perspectives of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.” Advances in Mental Health 16.2 (2018): 152-162.

[12] Kalenkoski, Charlene M., and Thomas Korankye. “Enriching Lives: How Spending Time with Pets is Related to the Experiential Well-Being of Older Americans.” Applied Research in Quality of Life (2021): 1-22.

[13] Valeri, R. M. (2006). Tails of laughter: A pilot study examining the relationship between companion animal guardianship (pet ownership) and laughter. Society & Animals, 14(3), 275-293.

[14] McConnell, A. R., Brown, C. M., Shoda, T. M., Stayton, L. E., & Martin, C. E. (2011). Friends with benefits: on the positive consequences of pet ownership. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(6), 1239.

[15] Kurdek, L. A. (2009). Pet dogs as attachment figures for adult owners. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(4), 439–446.

[16] Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of environmental psychology, 15(3), 169-182.

[17] Reeves, M. J., Rafferty, A. P., Miller, C. E., & Lyon-Callo, S. K. (2011). The impact of dog walking on leisure-time physical activity: results from a population-based survey of Michigan adults. Journal of Physical Activity and health, 8(3), 436-444.

[18] Nieforth, Leanne O., and Marguerite E. O’Haire. “The role of pets in managing uncertainty from COVID-19.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy (2020).

[19] Brooks H, et al. Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition. BMC Psychiatry. 2016;16(1):409.

[20] Wisdom, Jennifer P., Goal Auzeen Saedi, and Carla A. Green. “Another breed of “service” animals: STARS study findings about pet ownership and recovery from serious mental illness.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 79.3 (2009): 430-436.

[21] Zimolag, Ulrike, and Terry Krupa. “The occupation of pet ownership as an enabler of community integration in serious mental illness: a single exploratory case study.” Occupational Therapy in Mental Health 26.2 (2010): 176-196.

[22] Brooks, Helen, and Anne Rogers. “The Role of Pets in the Personal Communities of People Living With Long-Term Conditions.” Clinician’s Guide to Treating Companion Animal Issues. Academic Press, 2019. 159-172.

[23] Purewal, R., Christley, R., Kordas, K., Joinson, C., Meints, K., Gee, N., & Westgarth, C. (2017). Companion animals and child/adolescent development: a systematic review of the evidence. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(3), 234.

[24] Kertes DA, Liu J, Hall NJ, Hadad NA, Wynne CDL, Bhatt SS. Effect of Pet Dogs on Children’s Perceived Stress and Cortisol Stress Response. Soc Dev. 2017;26(2):382–401. doi:10.1111/sode.12203

[25] Brooks, H., Rushton, K., Walker, S., Lovell, K., & Rogers, A. (2016). Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition. BMC psychiatry, 16(1), 409.


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The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Child Sex Assault Victim
Domestic Violence Victim
Drug Overdose
Rape/Sex Crime Victim
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Trafficking Victim
Nervous Breakdown
and more…

Mental Health

At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.


Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
  • Credit Counseling
  • Family Court Services
  • Legal Aide

Career Training

  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Computer/Graphics Training
  • Culinary Program  
  • GED Courses
  • Hospitality Training
  • Job Etiquette & Grooming
  • Resume’ Prep
  • Sales Training
  • Software/Technology workshops
  • Small Business Training

Return Citizen
Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
  • Temporary Boarding/Housing
  • Transitional Program Registration

Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
  • Civic Engagement / Volunteer Sign-up
  • Fatherhood Rites of Passage
  • Gun Violence Town Hall Forum
  • Life Coaching & Coping Strategies
  • Marriage Counseling Workshops
  • Medicare Informational Workshops
  • Mentorship Training
  • Parental Classes
  • Support Groups
  • Town Hall Discussions
  • Violence De-Escalation Training
  • Voter Registration

Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Dietary Programs
  • Exercise Classes
  • Recipe Sharing Workshops
  • Meal Prep

Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at: