Researchers at the University of Arizona have created the Human-Animal Interaction Research Initiative (HAIRI) in order to study the biological connections between dogs and humans. They are specifically focusing on the health links between the two species.
Netzin Steklis, a co-founder of HAIRI, explained that researchers have noticed the interactions between humans and nonhuman species going on constantly. In fact, Steklis and her husband, Dieter, own an 8-year-old black Labrador retriever who is more like a member of the family than a pet.
The two began to realize that the odd habit of bonding and spending time with animals has been going on for thousands of years, and the reason these relationships work so well is because they are mutual. That’s when they founded HAIRI. Understanding the relationships between humans and animals is the foundation of their studies.
Research on dogs is the first step; particularly research on “Dogs as Probiotics.” The study is loosely based off of information that recently came out of the University of Colorado Boulder that showed married couples actually share more bacteria with their dogs than they do with each other.
HAIRI is testing the theory that bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and on the skin may help prevent inflammation and the reproduction of other disease-causing bacteria. The study showed that people do share this microbiome with each other, but, in fact, they actually share more of it with their dogs than with other humans in the household.
Likewise, links have been made between children who grow up with a dog in the home and lower rates of autoimmune disorders, and the HAIRI program wants to get to the bottom of it. To do this, they are going to partner with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and match older adults with foster dogs. Then they will observe the relationships for three months and track their health. They will test and compare skin, saliva, and fecal samples looking for a connection between bacteria being passed from the dog to the human.
This phase of the study is still in the recruitment stages, but all participants that are chosen will have the opportunity to adopt their dogs at the end of the study. The Steklis’ are hoping to find proof that bacteria passed from dogs to humans has a positive effect on their health. They believe this could lead to a major development in the way researchers view animal-human relationships and that many new opportunities for research will arise as well.