Center for Interaction of Animals & Society

Our society is currently re-examining its entire relationship with animals and the natural world. Until recently, issues such as animal welfare and environmental protection were considered the domain of small idealistic minorities. In the last 20-30 years, they have become matters of widespread public and political concern.

The Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society (CIAS) is a multi-disciplinary research center within the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. It was re-established in 1997 to provide a forum for addressing the many practical and moral issues arising from the interactions of animals and society. The study of human-animal interactions is still a new and developing field that straddles the boundaries between traditional academic disciplines. For this reason, the CIAS strives for an interdisciplinary approach and the involvement of scholars and researchers from a wide variety of different backgrounds and interests.

The broad goal of the CIAS is to promote understanding of human-animal interactions and relationships across a wide range of contexts including companion animals, farm animals, laboratory animals, zoo animals, and free-living wild animals. More specifically, the CIAS aims to:

  1. Study the positive and negative influence of people’s relationships with animals on their physical and mental health and well being.
  2. Investigate the impact of these relationships on the behavior and welfare of the animals involved.
  3. Encourage constructive, balanced, and well-informed debate and discussion on the ethics of animal use.
  4. Use the knowledge and information gained from this work to benefit people, and promote the humane use and treatment of animals.

Behavioral development in guide and service dogs

  • Of the several thousand dogs bred each year by guide and service dog organizations, over half fail to graduate successfully as working dogs. Behavior and temperament problems of one sort or another account for approximately 70% of these failures.

    In collaboration with several national guide and service dog agencies (e.g., The Seeing Eye, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and Canine Companions for Independence), the CIAS is conducting and supervising a number of projects that seek to clarify the developmental and genetic causes of behavioral and temperament problems in these dogs. These projects include (1) the development of reliable, standardized methods (questionnaires and behavior tests) for measuring and quantifying the behavior and temperament of working dogs at different stages of the life cycle; (2) analysis of the heritable genetic components of canine temperament and, ultimately, the identification of genetic markers for these traits; (3) the study of early environmental influences on the development of behavior, and (4) the development of non-invasive methods to investigate the physiological correlates (stress hormones) of poor working performance in guide and service dogs.

    Although aimed at improving the success rates of guide and service dogs, the results of these studies are also likely to be of great benefit to companion dogs, and other categories of working dogs. This work is supported from various sources including individual guide/service dog agencies, and the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

Behavioral development in companion dogs

  • Behavioral problems are the largest single cause of canine abandonment, relinquishment to shelters, and premature euthanasia in the USA. The CIAS is investigating the development of canine behavior problems in pet dogs, focusing particularly on the effects of early experience. This study is following up the results of previous work that demonstrated a relationship between certain distressing events and experiences in early development (6-16 weeks), such as routine veterinary procedures, and the prevalence of adult behavior problems.

    The specific aim will be to improve veterinary care and husbandry procedures for puppies at this vulnerable age and, by doing so, reduce the prevalence of behavior problems in the pet dog population. The work is ongoing, and has been supported by a number of private foundations including: the Arell Foundation, The Pet Care Trust, the Kenneth Scott Trust, the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation, and the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

Monitoring health and behavior in search & rescue dogs deployed at the WTC and Pentagon sites following the 9/11 disasters

  • In collaboration with other University of Pennsylvania faculty and researchers, the CIAS is currently conducting a study of the long-term behavioral effects of deployment at the WTC and Pentagon sites on a population of search & rescue dogs.

    Behavioral effects are being monitored in the context of findings from parallel studies of the medical condition of these dogs, and the physical and emotional well-being of their handlers. This work is supported by a grant from the AKC Canine Health Foundation to Dr. C.M. Otto, the Project Director.

Animals and religion

  • This project focuses on the historical importance of animals in the evolution of religious ideas and ideologies, with particular emphasis on the extraordinary role of animals in medieval and early modern witchcraft beliefs and prosecutions; a topic that has been ignored by historians despite the vast scholarly literature pertaining to other aspects of the European witch hunts. Some of this work was supported by a visiting fellowship award to James Serpell from the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University.

Cultural influences on the treatment of companion animals

  • In many developing countries, the population of unowned and free-roaming companion animals has reached overwhelming proportions. The welfare of these animals is severely at risk, and, generally speaking, little or no established infrastructure exists in situ to tackle the problem in a rational or humane way. As part of a larger program of research into the causes of, and possible solutions to, the welfare problems of companion animals in developing countries, the CIAS recently completed a study of cultural influences on the treatment of stray dogs in Taiwan.

    This project represents a pilot investigation of a particularly urgent 'test case' scenario in South East Asia that may serve as a model for future studies and programs in other areas of the world. The research was funded by a grant from the Humane Society of the United States.

    More recently, CIAS was also instrumental in securing funding from Humane Society International for Emily Jones, a 1st year veterinary student, to visit Ecuador and conduct a pilot study of stray dogs and attitudes to stray dogs in an Andean community.

Understanding urban animal cruelty: an ecological model

  • Although it is widely assumed that an association exists between cruelty to animals and other forms of violent or criminal behavior, the supporting evidence is surprisingly limited.

    This study used a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) approach to analyze Pennsylvania SPCA statistics on reported animal cruelty and neglect in the City of Philadelphia between 1996 and 1999. Reported animal abuse cases were mapped according to address, and their frequency and distribution investigated in relation to socioeconomic, demographic, and contextual factors. The links between animal abuse and other forms of criminal behavior were also explored.

    Funding for the initial pilot phase of this project was provided by a Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine Grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to Jennifer Adler, a 2nd year veterinary student. The study would not have been possible without the help of Dr. Dennis Culhane (School of Social Work) and the Cartographic Modeling Lab of the University of Pennsylvania.

Animal-assisted interventions in adolescent mental health

  • The CIAS has compiled a detailed literature review on the theory and practice of animal-assisted interventions in the treatment of mental health problems in older children and adolescents.

    The project was supported by a grant to James Serpell and Symme Trachtenberg from The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. Download the literature review (PDF).

Disclosure of behavioral problems in pet dogs being relinquished to animal shelters

  • The CIAS has embarked on a series of studies that aim to assess the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ) as a behavioral screening tool for use in animal shelters.

    Currently, many shelters assess canine behavior on intake by using observation-based behavioral tests performed by shelter personnel as a means of evaluating dogs’ suitability for adoption. However, this practice raises serious doubts concerning how ‘typical’ a dog’s test responses are likely to be in the highly stressful circumstances surrounding relinquishment.

    The CIAS’s current program of research seeks to evaluate the reliability of canine behavioral information provided by relinquishing owners, as well as the feasibility of using a modified version of the C-BARQ as a shelter intake screening tool.

    These projects have been supported by grants to James Serpell from the Morris Animal Foundation, as well as a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine grant to Laura Gibeon in 2004.


  • About the C-BARQ: http://vetapps.vet.upenn.edu/cbarq/

    The C-BARQ (or Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire) is designed to provide dog owners and professionals with standardized evaluations of canine temperament and behavior.

    The C-BARQ was developed by researchers at the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society of the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently the only behavioral assessment instrument of its kind to be extensively tested for reliability and validity on large samples of dogs of many breeds.

    The current version consists of 101 questions describing the different ways in which dogs typically respond to common events, situations, and stimuli in their environment. The C-BARQ is simple to use, and can be completed by anyone who is reasonably familiar with a dog's typical, day-to-day behavior. On average, it takes from 10-15 minutes to complete.

    The C-BARQ is available to veterinarians, behavioral consultants, researchers, shelters, breeders, and working dog organizations with an interest in screening dogs for the presence and severity of behavioral problems. For a limited period, it is also open to pet-owners interested in comparing their dogs to others in the C-BARQ database.

Animal Art Adventure Camp

  • The CIAS, in partnership with the University City Arts League, created a 10-day summer camp, for children ages 6-10, that featured a new animal-themed topic each day.

    During the course of the camp, participating students learned about animal welfare, careers in veterinary medicine, sea and wildlife, farm animals, insects, birds, reptiles, and dogs with jobs.

    Presentations were delivered by local experts on these topics, and included individuals from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, ASPCA, New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences, Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, The Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Philadelphia Police Department.

    In addition, complementary art projects were completed each day with instruction provided by the faculty of the University City Arts League.

    This program was made possible through funding provided by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Banfield Charitable Trust.

Shelter Animal Medicine Program

  • In April 2006, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine launched its new Shelter Animal Medicine Program in which senior veterinary students will participate for the first time in a surgery rotation on-site at Philadelphia's municipal animal shelter, the Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia (ACCT-Philly).

    In addition, a Shelter Animal Medicine course has been added to the School’s core curriculum. This cooperative program with ACCT-Philly, the Vet School's Department of Surgery, and the CIAS will ensure that students also experience and learn about other shelter issues and topics, including homeless animal management, the role of the veterinarian in an animal shelter, pet animal overpopulation, infectious disease control, behavior problems and evaluations, and animal cruelty, neglect and hoarding.

Veterinary Grief Counseling

  • The Veterinary Grief Counseling Program at Penn Vet’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital was created to address the emotional needs of pet owners who have lost a companion animal. This was one of the first programs of its kind in a veterinary hospital setting.

    The Veterinary Grief Counseling Program recognizes and embraces the significance and difficulties associated with pet loss. By promoting education about the human-animal bond, grief, and bereavement, the Veterinary Grief Counseling Program strives to improve coping and adjustment for those who have a lost a beloved companion animal.

    The Veterinary Grief Counseling Program also provides support services to those with chronically ill animals, animals with behavior issues, community humane education as well as education within Penn Vet and the surrounding community.

    The Veterinary Grief Counseling Program also engages in scholarly research in conjuction with the CIAS.

Vet Pet Visitation Program at the Ronald McDonald House

  • Coordinated by Michele Pich, Grief Counselor, the student-run Vet Pet Program at the Ronald McDonald House is an animal visitation program designed to lift the spirits of the children and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House.

    One evening per week, Penn Vet students and staff visit with their pets, providing children and their families with an opportunity for fun, laughter, and relaxation at a time when their days are often filled with medical procedures.

Kids Caring for Pets

  • Kids Caring for Pets is an educational program developed by veterinary students and professionals from the fields of veterinary medicine and social work.

    The program teaches children about the responsibilities of adopting and caring for pets. Since its inception in 2002, this program has educated more than 600 children.

Therapy Dog Certification

  • In October 2003, the CIAS initiated a program, whereby, an evaluator from Therapy Dogs International, Inc. (TDI) - a respected organization in the field of therapy dog certification - visits the School of Veterinary Medicine to provide both TDI and AKC Canine Good Citizen certification services to interested parties.

    The CIAS coordinates certification sessions twice per year, to coincide with the start of the fall and spring semesters.

    The aim of the program is to provide certified handler/dog teams that will be able to visit nursing homes, schools, hospital, hospices, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities and organizations that believe in the power of the human/animal bond to educate, lift spirits, and aid in the healing process.

    To date, the program has evaluated and certified more than 100 handler-dog teams.


Manning, A. & Serpell, J.A. (Eds.) Animals and Human Society: Changing Perspectives. New York & London, Routledge, 1994.

Serpell, J.A. (Ed.) The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Serpell, J.A. In the Company of Animals, 2nd (Revised) Edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (Canto), 1996.

Podberscek, A.L, Paul, E.S. & Serpell, J.A. (Eds.) Companion Animals and Us. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

All of these books are available for purchase through Amazon.com. By following this link, you will be taken to Amazon's listings for these books.

Articles & Book Chapters

Serpell, J.A. Pet-keeping and animal domestication: A reappraisal. In Clutton-Brock, J. (Ed.) The Walking Larder: Patterns of Domestication, Pastorialism and Predation. Unwin Hyman: London, pp. 10-21, 1989. (view PDF file, 804k)

Serpell, J.A. Beneficial effects of pet ownership on some aspects of human health and behaviour. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine,84: 717-720, 1991. (view PDF file, 1493k)

Serpell, J.A. Evidence for an association between pet behaviour and owner attachment levels. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 47: 49-69, 1996. (view PDF file, 553k)

Jagoe, J.A. & Serpell, J.A. Owner characteristics and interactions and the prevalence of canine behaviour problems. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 47: 31-42, 1996. (view PDF file, 565k)

Paul, E.S. & Serpell, J.A. Obtaining a new pet dog: effects on middle childhood children and their families. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 47: 17-29, 1996. (view PDF file, 664k)

Podberscek, A.L. & Serpell, J.A. The English Cocker Spaniel: preliminary findings on aggressive behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 47: 75-89, 1996. (view PDF file, 718k)

Podberscek, A.L. & Serpell, J.A. Environmental influences on the expression of aggressive behaviour in English Cocker Spaniels. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52: 215-227, 1997. (view PDF file, 577k)

Podberscek, A.L. & Serpell, J.A. Aggressive behaviour in English Cocker Spaniels and the personality of their owners. Veterinary Record,141: 73-76, 1997. (view PDF file, 1147k)

Serpell, J.A. Pets and companion animals. In Bekoff, M. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Animal Rights & Animal Welfare, Greenwood, Westport, CT, pp. 111-12., 1998.

Serpell, J.A. Domestication. In Bekoff, M. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Animal Rights & Animal Welfare, Greenwood, Westport, CT, pp. 136-8, 1998.

Serpell, J.A. Attitudes toward animals: Pre-Christian Attitudes. In Bekoff, M. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Animal Rights & Animal Welfare, Greenwood, Westport, CT, pp. 76-8, 1998.

Serpell, J.A. Working out the beast: An alternative history of western humaneness. (Chapter 3) In Ascione, F. & Arkow, P. (Eds.) Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention. Purdue, IN, Purdue University Press, 1999. (view PDF file, 800k)

Serpell, J.A. Sheep in wolves' clothing? Attitudes to animals among farmers and scientists. In Dolins, F. (Ed.) Animal Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 26-33, 1999. (view PDF file, 506k)

Serpell, J.A. Animal companions and human well-being: an historical exploration of the value of human-animal relationships (Chapter 1) in Fine, A.H. (Ed.) Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice. New York: Academic Press, 3-19, 1999. (view PDF file, 1136k)

Serpell, J.A., Coppinger, R. & Fine, A. The welfare of assistance and therapy animals: an ethical comment. (Chapter 18) in Fine, A.H. (Ed.)Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice. New York: Academic Press, 415-431,1999. (view PDF file, 1036k)

Podberscek, A.L., Hsu, Y. & Serpell, J.A. Evaluation of clomipramine as an adjunct to behavioural therapy in the treatment of separation-related problems in dogs. Veterinary Record, 145, 365-369, 1999. (view PDF file, 2309k)

Serpell, J.A. Creatures of the unconscious: companion animals as mediators. In Podberscek, A.L, Paul, E.S. & Serpell, J.A. (Eds.)Companion Animals and Us. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp.108-121, 2000. (view PDF file, 696k)

Serpell, J.A. The domestication and history of the cat (Chapter 10) in Turner, D., Bateson, P.P.G. (Eds.) The Domestic Cat: the Biology of its Behaviour, 2nd (Revised) Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000. (view PDF file, 1605k)

Serpell, J.A. Guardian spirits or demonic pets: The concept of the witch's familiar in early modern England, 1530-1712. In Creager, A.N.H. & Jordan, W.C. (Eds.) The Human/Animal Boundary, pp. 157-190. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2002. (view PDF file, 1860k)

Serpell, J.A. & Hsu, Y. Development and validation of a novel method for evaluating temperament and behavior in guide dogs. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 74: 347-364, 2001 (view PDF file, 115k)

Serpell, J.A. Anthropomorphism and anthropomorphic selection - beyond the "cute response." Society & Animals, 11(1): 83-100, 2003. (view PDF file, 153k)

Hsu, Y., Severinghaus, L.L. & Serpell, J.A. Dog keeping in Taiwan: Its contribution to the problem of free-roaming dogs. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 6(1): 1-23, 2003. (view PDF file, 94k)

Hsu, Y. & Serpell, J.A. Development and validation of a questionnaire for measuring behavior and temperament traits in pet dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 223(9): 1293-1300, 2003. (view PDF file, 299k)

Kruger, K., Trachtenberg, S. & Serpell, J.A. Can animals help humans heal? Animal-assisted interventions in adolescent mental health.Available on-line, 2004. (view PDF file, 415k)

Serpell, J.A. Factors influencing human attitudes to animals and their welfare. Animal Welfare, 13: S145-151, 2004. (view PDF file, 653k)

Otto, C.M., Downend, A.B., Serpell, J.A., Ziemer, L.S. & Saunders, H.M. Medical and behavioral surveillance of dogs deployed to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon from October 2001 to June 2002. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 225(6): 861-867, 2004. (view PDF file, 118k)

Segurson, S., Serpell, J.A. & Hart, B.L. Evaluation of a behavioral assessment questionnaire for use in the characterization of behavioral problems in dogs relinquished to animal shelters, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 227(11):1755-1761, 2005. (view PDF file, 124k)

Serpell, J.A. Animals and religion: Towards a unifying theory. In: de Jong, F. & van den Bos, R. (Eds.) The Human-Animal Relationship, pp. 9-22. Assen, Netherlands: Royal Van Gorcum, 2005. (view PDF file, 821k)

Serpell, J.A. & Hsu, Y. Effects of breed, sex, and neuter status on trainability in dogs, Anthrozoös, 18(3):196-207, 2005. (view PDF file, 89k)

Serpell, J.A. Factors influencing veterinary students' career choices and attitudes to animals, Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 32(4):491-496, 2005. (view PDF file, 82k)

Kruger, K.A. & Serpell, J.A. Animal-assisted interventions in mental health: Definitions and theoretical foundations. In: Fine, A.H. (Ed.)Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice, 2nd Edition, pp. 21-38. New York: Academic Press, 2006. (view PDF file, 1,806k)

  Name Title Contact Info
  James Serpell, PhD Director, Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society
Marie A. Moore Professor of Humane Ethics & Animal Welfare
BSc (Zoology): University College, University of London, 1974
PhD: University of Liverpool, Liverpool, 1980
Dr. Serpell's areas of research include behavior and welfare of companion animals; development of human attitudes to animals; history of human-animal interactions; measurement of behavioral phenotypes in dogs and cats; ontogenesis of behavioral problems in companion and working dogs; animal-assisted therapeutic interventions.
  Deborah L. Duffy, PhD Research Specialist  
PhD in psychology: Johns Hopkins University (2001) 
Post-doctoral research fellow at Indiana University and the University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Duffy is an animal behavior research specialist at the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society (CIAS) in the School of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. Her past and current research has investigated environmental and physiological regulation of behavior in non-human animals. She joined the CIAS in 2005 where she has been investigating behavioral development in guide and service dogs and working to validate standardized measures of dog behavior and temperament.
  Jodi Levinthal, MSW, PhD, University of Pennsylvania    
  Katherine A. Kruger, MSW Assistant Director, Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society
Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
3900 Delancey Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6010
E-mail: cias@vet.upenn.edu


Inquiries Concerning Your Pet's Behavior:

If you have concerns about your pet's behavior and would like to speak with someone in Penn's Behavior Clinic, please call 215-898-3347, or e-mail: behaviorclinic@vet.upenn.edu.

To locate a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist in your area, a directory can be found on the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists web site.

To locate a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist in your area, a directory can found on the Animal Behavior Society web site.

Inquiries Concerning Educational or Career Opportunities:

The University of Pennsylvania does not currently offer any graduate or undergraduate programs specifically focused on Animal Welfare or Human-Animal Interactions. The most relevant programs offered by the University are:

For general questions about educational and career opportunities in the field of Animal Behavior, please visit the educational guides available on the Animal Behavior Society web site. This web site also contains information on becoming a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.

For links to other research centers that focus on the study of human-animal interactions, please visit the listings on PsyETA's web site.

General Inquiries for the CIAS:

The CIAS receives a large number of inquires from individuals seeking information on a wide variety of topics, including advice on career and educational opportunities in the field of human-animal interactions. Unfortunately, we are a small group, and cannot keep up with the volume of requests that we receive, so please be aware that you may not receive a response if your inquiry is unrelated to the work of the Center.

Katherine A. Kruger, MSW
Assistant Director, Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society
Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
3900 Delancey Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6010
E-mail: cias@vet.upenn.edu

How to Support the Center

The Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society (CIAS) derives all of its project funds from grants and donations, and could not exist without these crucial forms of support.

If you would like to assist the Center in carrying out its missions of promoting an understanding of human-animal interactions and relationships; investigating the impact of human-animal relationships on the behavior and welfare of the animals involved; and using the knowledge and information gained from this work to promote the humane use and treatment of animals, then please consider making a gift to support our programs.

Gifts can be made in memory or honor of a special pet or person. Notification of these special gifts will be published in Bellwether, the newsmagazine of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Contributions to the work of the Center can be made using our on-line gifts page, or by filling-out our gift form (DOC), and including it with your check made payable to: Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.

Please note on your check that the gift is to support the 
Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society (CIAS)

Mail to:
Office of Advancement & Alumni Relations
University of Pennsylvania
School of Veterinary Medicine
3800 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6047