The special connections between humans and animals will be explored at a Virginia Tech conference next month. The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine is sponsoring the one-day symposium, “The Animal Human Experience: Exploring the Bond,” from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center.

The event was originally planned for February but had to be rescheduled due to inclement weather. It will bring together experts from multidisciplinary fields to explore the benefits and challenges of human-animal interactions, services, and therapies. 

Philip Tedeschi, executive director and co-founder of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work, will be the keynote speaker. He is internationally recognized for research, scholarship, training, and community practice focused on the therapeutic potential for animals in human health, as well as public safety and risk factors associated with animal abuse.

“Professor Tedeschi has many years of experience in non-traditional therapeutic approaches with children, adults, and families, as well as program development and intervention in interpersonal violence,” said Dr. Bess Pierce, director of the veterinary college’s Center for Human-Animal Relationships and symposium organizer. “He is well-known for giving practitioners best practices and evidence-based clinical methods for animal-assisted interventions, and we are grateful to have him speak at this year’s symposium.”

An experiential therapy specialist, Tedeschi coordinates the University of Denver’s animal-assisted social work certificate program for master of social work students, as well as the internationally renowned animals and human health online professional development certificate. He is also a certified master therapeutic riding instructor, former course director and instructor with Outward Bound, and a wilderness medical technician. Tedeschi has specialized in assessment and intervention with animal abuse and human cruelty, empathy development and attachment, and trauma remediation with youth and adults.

Other symposium speakers will cover a range of topics. 

  • Dede Beasley, an equine-assisted psychotherapist with the Ranch Treatment Program in Nunnelly, Tennessee, will give a presentation on “Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: Giving Clients a Leg Up.” 
  • Phil Arkow, lecturer, author, and coordinator of the National Link Coalition, will discuss when the human animal bond is broken by focusing on the link between animal abuse and abuse of vulnerable human populations.
  • Members of Warrior Canine Connection, an organization that uses clinically-based canine connection therapy to help wounded warriors reconnect with life, their families, and their communities, will discuss the training and use of service dogs in helping veterans. 
  • Dr. Cindy Otto, associate professor of critical care at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, will give a presentation on “Caring for Canine Heroes.”

The symposium will also include the Booker Willoughby Recognition Ceremony to honor an exemplary organization that trains, utilizes, and cares for service animals. This year, the ceremony will recognize St. Francis Service Dogs of Roanoke, Virginia, for its program to assist children and adults with disabilities to become more independent and self-sufficient through partnership with a professionally trained service dog. Cabell Youell, executive director of St. Francis Service Dogs, will provide an overview of the program during the luncheon.

A panel discussion on an integrated approach to animal-assisted therapy on campus, as well as a visit from therapy dogs in Virginia Tech Helping P.A.W.S. (Pet-Assisted Wellness Service), will conclude the symposium.

Professionals and community members with an interest in the human-animal bond are invited to register by Sept. 18. The registration fee is $45 and includes lunch. This program will not provide continuing education hours.

For more information or to register, visit the symposium website or email Dr. Bess Pierce

If you are a person with a disability and require any auxiliary aids, services, or other accommodations for this program, please discuss your accommodation needs with Leslie Thornton-O'Brien at 540-231-9617 or TDD 1-800-828-1120 by two weeks prior to the conference.

Written by Michael Sutphin.