Animals and social work: An emerging field of practice for Aotearoa New Zealand

Peter Walker, Jenny Aimers, Claire Perry


Social work is traditionally human-centered in practice, even though for many the bond between humans and animals is the most fundamental of daily-lived experiences. The intent of this paper is to reflect on the predominant humanistic basis of social work and to consider the growing evidence for developing a wider perspective to incorporate the human-animal connection into social work practice. 

Joanne Emmens (2007:9) observes that the human-animal bond is considered by some as ‘…too mainstream (in the sense of being lightweight, cliché or sentimental), or as not mainstream enough…as substantial material worthy of study.’ 

In this article we argue that the human-animal bond is neither sentimental nor fringe and that our attitudes toward this relationship is based on a construction of western thought. To support this we offer a review of literature that provides evidence of good practice that can move social work beyond a purely humanistic approach to a more holistic view resulting in a more comprehensive toolkit for practice. 

We explore the literature and practice surrounding the place of animals in social work, both in New Zealand and internationally. In addition, we identify some of the ways the human-animal bond is currently utilised in rehabilitation, therapy, as animal assistants and as an indicator of domestic violence within New Zealand. We argue that this area of research and practice is highly relevant for social work as evidence-based practice. The paper con- cludes by offering some suggestions for discussion within the social work profession, and considerations for social work educators, researchers and theorists. 

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