Editor's note: The Human-Animal Bond Symposium scheduled for Friday, March 6, has been canceled due to impending winter weather affecting speaker travel plans. Virginia Tech News will post information about rescheduling the symposium or hosting the speakers through a lecture series at a later date.

Veterinary college to host human-animal bond symposium next month

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 17, 2015 – The special connections between humans and animals will be explored at a Virginia Tech conference next month. The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech is sponsoring the one-day symposium, “The Animal Human Experience: Exploring the Bond,” from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 6 at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center.

The event will bring together experts from multidisciplinary fields to explore the benefits and challenges of human-animal interactions, services, and therapies. 

Dr. Marie Suthers, professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, will be the keynote speaker. Suthers served as the founding director of the veterinary college’s Center for Human-Animal Relationships between 1999 and 2006.

“Dr. Suthers has more than 25 years of experience in veterinary practice, academic and community education, and the study of human-animal interaction,” said Dr. Bess Peirce, the current director of the Center for Human-Animal Relationships and symposium organizer. “She is a well-known national and international speaker on the relationship between people and animals, including the impact of human-animal interaction on specific human populations and the well-being of animals employed in therapeutic interventions for humans.”

Before joining the Carroll College faculty, Suthers held positions as vice president of human-animal interactions for the American Humane Association and director of community education for Heifer International. She is a past president of the American Association of Human Animal Bond Veterinarians and served on the board of directors of the International Society for Anthrozoology, the Association for Veterinary Family Practice, and the Animal Related Careers Consortium. Following the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, she was a veterinary medical officer with a disaster response team at the World Trade Center.

The symposium will also include a presentation from Lt. Col. Kent Vince, who has completed more than 12 years of active and reserve duty service as a veterinary corps officer in the United States Army, on “Caring for Canine Heroes.” After completing his veterinary education, Vince entered active duty military service and was deployed to the Middle East in 2003.

In addition to stints at North Carolina State University and Fort Hood, Vince was the chief of veterinary services in Okinawa, Japan, and director of Dog Center Europe, the U.S. Army’s premier veterinary referral hospital in Germany, which supports military working dogs throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He was part of the care team that performed surgery on and treated Layka, a decorated U.S. military combat dog featured on the cover of the June 2014 issue of National Geographic.

Other symposium speakers will cover a range of topics. Phil Arkow, lecturer and 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. 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.” A member 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.

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.

All professionals and community members interested in the many facets of the human-animal bond are invited to register by Feb. 27. Continuing education hours are provided as part of the registration package. Special pricing is available for students, government employees, and K-12 teachers.

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

Written by Michael Sutphin.
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