The Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) announced a record-breaking attendance at its virtual meeting, held online on Sunday 19 September.
Attendees from twelve countries including the UK, USA, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Estonia, the Philippines, India, Mexico, Mauritius, Nigeria and Ghana participated in the virtual event, learning about new research and programmatic advances in key areas of animal-assisted interventions (AAI).
Throughout the one-day event, attendees viewed three on-demand and broadcast sessions which each featured three oral presentations, plus opening and plenary sessions with a final panel to discuss the conference theme, the integration of research and practice in AAI.
SCAS Chair, Dr Ormerod, explains: “Although the pandemic prevented us from gathering face to face in the UK, the usual location for this annual Conference, it didn’t stop us from fulfilling our mission of sharing knowledge to accelerate progress for millions of people worldwide who currently benefit from AAI. It was inspiring to see the veterinarians, mental health professionals and other specialists united and engaged with practitioners from the patient community during this pandemic and beyond.”
Professor Emeritus Marie Jose Enders-Slegers, president of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organisations (IAHAIO), gave a highly motivating keynote address stating the need for standards in AAI, stressing that a global consensus must be reached on terminology. Encouragement was given for closer collaboration between practitioners and researchers working in this rapidly expanding area of One Health. One Health is a multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach working at local, regional, national and global levels with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.
Key highlights of the 2021 conference also included a presentation from Lesley Winton of Fostering Compassion who, shared moving examples of the positive and significant impact of AAI on vulnerable children and received a swell of positive responses and comments from participants afterwards.
Conference guest speaker, psychiatrist Professor Nancy R. Gee, PhD, from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Human-Animal Interaction in the USA shared a bird’s eye view of the evidence for the positive impact of owning or interacting with a companion animal on human health including reducing risks of cardiovascular disease, depression, loneliness and social isolation among older adults.
In addition, Tracie Faa-Thompson, co-founder of the International Institute of Animal Assisted Play Therapy shone a light on the field of Animal-Assisted Play Therapy (AAPT) and how animal ethology, animal welfare, sentience and freedom of choice are fundamental to the approach. In many approaches there is often a slant towards what the animal can do for the human, how they made the human feel and far less on what the animal is getting out of the interaction. For the full list of all the speakers and presenters, please visit the SCAS website, here.
Through the virtual meeting platform, participants had the opportunity to network with their peers via a chat function.
“With over half of attendees joining from outside UK, this was truly an international meeting of the minds,” said Ormerod. “It is exciting to think how many new connections were made and collaborations were sparked. The next big AAI breakthrough could very well come from one of the virtual conversations that began at this virtual Conference.”
The SCAS 2022 Annual Conference will take place on Sunday 18 September.