Press release from Office of Public Relations, SUNY Fredonia

SUNY Fredonia to welcome human-animal interaction researcher from England’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition Feb. 8

Human Animal Interaction

FREDONIA, N.Y. — Jan. 30, 2013 — SUNY Fredonia will welcome Dr Sandra McCune to campus on February 8. She is currently head of Human-Animal Interaction Research at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England. She will speak in Room 204 of the Williams Center at 2 pm, giving a presentation titled, “Pet ownership and its impact on health, development and well-being.”

As the Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) Scientific Leader at WALTHAM, Dr McCune manages a large portfolio of research projects across many aspects of HAI globally. She is also the scientific lead on the public-private partnership Mars-WALTHAM has formed with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, one of the National Institutes of Health in the US.

WALTHAM focuses on the nutrition and well being of dogs, cats, horses, birds and fish, and the benefits of their relationship with humans.

Dr Nancy Gee, a psychology professor at SUNY Fredonia, is a colleague of Dr McCune. Both share the research interest of human interaction with animals. Dr Gee’s research has primarily focused on how dogs affect the cognitive and motor skills of pre-school children.

“My research with children has shown that the presence of a well-trained therapy dog has a number of positive effects on children while they are performing cognitive (eg, memory or categorisation) or motor skills (eg, running an obstacle course) tasks,” Gee explained. “Preschoolers require fewer instructional prompts, have better memory and make fewer task-related errors. These findings combine to indicate that when a well-trained dog is properly incorporated into these types of tasks, children show improved focus and motivation.”

Gee and McCune plan to explore the possibility of a future collaboration. McCune has been part of varied human-interaction research projects throughout her career. Most recent collaborations have revealed that the presence of a pet at home resulted in lower blood pressure in elderly adults. Other work has shown that an animal-assisted classroom intervention with autistic children and their typically developing peers showed improvements in social functioning, including increases in social approach behaviors, decreases in social withdrawal behaviors, and increases in social skills for all children.

Having earned a PhD from Cambridge University, McCune has worked for WALTHAM since 1993. Her primary areas of study include cat behavior and welfare. In addition, McCune has studied zoology with an emphasis on physiology at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Contact: Office of Public Relations, SUNY Fredonia. (716) 673-3323.