What's In Front of the Lens is More Than Fur or Feathers

June 13, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

What inspires me as a wildlife photographer is knowing that the animal in front of the lens is much more than just fur or feathers, but often a companion and healer. Wildlife rehabilitators, animal rescuers, and everyday pet owners and animal caretakers know the impact that an animal in need, or even a healthy, strong, and loving animal can have on our human hearts and spirits. Its powerful and its real. More and more, the human-animal bond is a recommended prescription for reducing stress, depression, and anxiety.


There’s science and very compelling personal accounts that show animals may provide unique elements to address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  PTSD is a mental health problem that may develop after a person has been exposed to one or more traumatic events. Traumatic events that may cause PTSD include physical or sexual assault, war-related combat stress, terrorism, natural or man-made disasters, and other threats on a person’s life. Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some experiences, like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, can also cause PTSD https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml). We often associate PTSD with war veterans, but it’s not isolated to them. PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.


It’s natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re not in danger.


Animal assisted interventions (AAI) is a broad term that’s now commonly used to describe the use of various species of animals in diverse manners beneficial to humans. Animal assisted therapy, education, and activities are examples of types of animal assisted intervention. (https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Animal-Assisted-Interventions-Definitions.aspx).


For military members and veterans, the National Institutes of Health has reported that the addition of trained service dogs to usual care may result in meaningful improvements in PTSD symptoms. In research, military members and veterans with service dogs, compared to those on a waitlist, had lower depression, higher quality of life, and higher social functioning. There was lower absenteeism among those with a service dog who were employed.


Other research has shown that the presence of an animal:

  • Acts as a comforting reminder that danger is no longer present
  • Acts as a secure base for mindful experiences in the present
  • Elicits positive emotions and warmth, which may reduce the emotional numbing that individuals with PTSD often experience.
  • Can be a social facilitator that connects people and reduces loneliness which may assist individuals with PTSD to break out of isolation and connect to the humans around them.
  • Has been linked to secretion of oxytocin (often called the “love hormone”) and reductions in anxious arousal which may be a particularly important feature for individuals who have experienced trauma.


Species other than dogs are used in AAI, including horses, different bird species, and wolves. An exceptionally powerful account of the healing power of birds (parrots) with military veterans suffering from PTSD is written by Dr. Lorin Lindner (https://www.lorinlindnerphd.com/), and just released in May 2018. This magical book (“Birds of a Feather: The True Story of Hope and the Healing Power of Animals”) beautifully and clearly describes not only how the course of Dr. Lindner’s life was changed by rescuing abused and neglected parrots, but how her course then changed, and saved, the lives of in-need military veterans. The traumatized and neglected birds elicited compassion and understanding from the traumatized and neglected veterans that took them into their care. Dr. Lindner’s book describes not only how animals impacted and changed the trajectory of her life but how the birds and the veterans’ lives were changed and saved through the human-animal bond. Among many accomplishments, Dr. Lindner is president of the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center (https://lockwoodarc.org/).


In addition to its use with military members and veterans, AAI has been related to increased social interaction among children with autism spectrum disorder, increased social behaviors and reduced agitation and aggression among persons with dementia, reduction in symptoms among patients with depression, and increased emotional well-being.


As we make medical advances, it’s necessary to remain vigilant in knowing that healing often comes from unexpected places. What inspires me as a wildlife photographer is knowing that the animal in front of the lens is much more than just fur or feathers, but often a companion and healer.

That Face - Barred OwlThat Face - Barred Owl



American Veterinary Medical Association: https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Animal-Assisted-Interventions-Guidelines.aspx

Animals & Society Institute: http://www.animalsandsociety.org/   

US Veterans Affairs: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/dogs_and_ptsd.asp

National Animal Service Registry: https://www.nsarco.com/ptsd-service-dog-tasks.html



National Institutes of Health:




Psychology Today :



Mayo Clinic :





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