Wildlife and Wellbeing: An Animal-Assisted Intervention for Veterans with PTSD
Wildlife and Wellbeing: An Animal-Assisted Intervention for Veterans with PTSD Abstract Human-animal interactions (HAI) have shown positive health benefits within a variety of populations. One of the promising areas of AAI is for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). U.S. veterans returning from their duties in Iraq and Afghanistan face a high prevalence of this debilitating condition. However, there is need for a stronger evidence base to support this promising modality. The majority of HAI research has been done with domesticated animals. We propose a novel approach using a series of animal-assisted activities with wildlife for veterans who have suffered trauma as part of their military duty. The intervention will be conducted within settings of wildlife rehabilitation and sanctuary. The specific aims are to explore a series of wildlife animal-assisted interventions (observation, wildlife rehabilitation and bird feeding/watching) with 50 veterans who have PTSD/ PTSD symptoms in order to: 1. Determine the feasibility, safety and acceptability of the interventions to ensure adequacy of each intervention for a larger RCT. Outcomes will be measured by recruitment and retention, rate of adverse events, activity surveys and focus groups. 2. Obtain preliminary estimates of the wildlife AAI on physiologic and psychological well- being and assess relative efficacy of the three interventions. Outcomes will be measured by the PCL-5, Warwick-Edinburgh Mental-Well Being Scale, Speilberger State/Trait Anxiety Inventory and Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D-10) scale. Physiologic measures include heart rate variability and salivary cortisol. 3. Obtain preliminary estimates of connectedness to nature and wildlife through the short- form Nature-Relatedness (NR-6) and Human-Wildlife Bridging Feelings Scale. This study will expand the empirical base for AAI through a novel approach using a series of wildlife immersion activities for veterans who have suffered trauma as part of their military duty. Findings from this study will advance scientific knowledge about the acceptability, feasibility, safety and preliminary influence of wildlife-related animal-assisted interventions. Our crossover design will facilitate comparison across the activities. Findings will be instrumental in selecting the most promising wildlife activities for development of a detailed protocol and future testing in a larger RO1 study. A strength of this study is that the intervention activities will occur in settings that are publicly accessible and family-oriented for sustainable low-cost application and potential scalability to other populations including children.