Episode 4 – Kim Kelly

In this episode we talk with Kim Kelly who is a medical anthropologist working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Human Ecology. Kim shares her story about her start in medical anthropology and discusses her focus on the animal-human bond. Kim also explains the studies she and others in the field are looking at and what she finds interesting about her research.

Check out this episode!Welcome to the professionals in animal rescue podcast where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue.  This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport.  Now, on with our show! Kim Kelly is the medical anthropologist working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin Madison School. Human Ecology. Her research focuses broadly and animal human interactions in bringing science to bear and how animals in here it’s air deeply important for one another’s health and will be as a scholar activist. She believes that evidence based research is crucial for the work of animal advocates, as it can provide the foundation for best practices and animal welfare and the necessary data to fight for animal rights. At local, state, national and even international mills, came designs and implements research projects aimed at providing translational data that could be used to develop real world interventions and programs to improve interest Easy’s relationships. Hey, Kim, welcome to the program. Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. Yeah. So tell us a little bit about you. I mean, you’ve got quite an interesting story. Well, thank you. Yeah. You know, I am. I’ve come to this work, um, sort of round about, um I did a number of things working in the non profit industry. Global clinical trials for neglected diseases, tropical diseases for a number of years. Became really interested in how we think about, um, operationalized science from a humanistic perspective through doing that and ended up going to graduate school to get my phD and medical anthropology so that I could, um, sort of delve deeper into those sorts of issues and as I was in graduate school, and I think, as happens to, ah, lot of people because you’re really in a very transitory period of your life during graduate school, like many people, I ended up sort of using that background to do something. Almost how is a completely different but but very different from what I had intended to go to go and do. And so I ended up looking at it, sort of how we more about the human animal bond. And I started this through looking at the use of animals and human in clinical trials. Sort of looking at animal bodies, a cz proxies for human bodies in biomedicine on that sort of morphed into much more than her interest in the human animal bond. And so that’s kind of how I then came to do the work that I do, lending my expertise and experience around clinical trials and trying to develop evidence based data from thes sorts of investigations to the animal human bond. So that’s what I’m doing doing nowadays. Wow, that is quite a lot So So let’s break it down a little bit. Medicals, anthropology or a medical anthropologist? What is that? Go. What does that study? What do you do in that so medical anthropology? There’s, you know, anthropology is a very broad in general field, and it’s sort of the study of of humans off human society. On within anthropology, you can study any number of things you can study cultural anthropology. You consider biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology and even archaeology and all of those different branches. Some of them have sub branches on one of the sub branches of biological and cultural anthropology is medical anthropology. And so the study of medical anthropology is really the study of human, medical and health systems, sort of how humans have come thio develop systems and the things that they’ve done over millennia, really to heal themselves. Thio firm from disease and illness but also in terms of keeping keeping themselves healthy. So it’s people who are medical anthropologists study everything from, you know, Ira Vedic Medicine medical systems in India. Thio um, cross border cancer patients in the United States to, um Aural Health and Appalachia thio all kinds of issues. Okay, and sew them from that. And then just your your love of animals. You you kind of took a different track. I did, but not completely divergent from medical anthropology because there is a really strong, burgeoning field developing right now around are sort of understanding of the connections between animals and humans and how animals and humans can heal one another. Yeah, so So talk more about that. Because that’s what’s so fascinating about this is somebody that started out and kind of more of a medical focus. And now you’re really studying the animal human bond Yeah, I really am. I really believe that there’s more to the animal human bond than just the fact that for critters make us feel good that we know there’s evidence and and scientists are starting to put this together more and more when you look at Oxy toast in effect. So when you look at blood pressure and some of these things that are a little bit more that have been a little bit, the evidence is a little stronger around those things. But then there’s those of us who understand the body as more of a whole systems from the whole system’s perspective. And so when you think about the body and nature and our connections with the planet with animals, with ourselves with other species be the humans, be they nonhuman species, Um, you really start to think about connections on a deeper level and really start to understand that this is a complex network. And so, trying to understand where, um, we’re impacting one another’s health that, you know, you could do that with any any drug you always want to understand. Okay, what is a mechanistic system by which this drug is impacting the body that it’s having this in this effect. Well, the same thing is with animals. You want to try and understand a little bit deeper what’s actually going on in this animal human bond. And once you know where that sort of is coming from, you can see how it Inter plays with other systems in the body, how it’s affecting other things that are going on with you, be they biological or more psychological, those kinds of things, and then from there, Once we have this sort of basis, this knowledge, which we’re not there yet, we’re really working on developing much more data, much more evidence based data on this sort of thing. That’s when you can then take it forward and you can say to hospitals, okay, or doctors or insurance companies. You know, we have this evidence now it’s time to actually implement and make policy changes in terms of how we treat humans in terms of how we interact with animals, those sorts of things and what I’m really talking about there is, you know, big dream of mine. I guess if you wanted to call it that, a big picture thinking would be having enough evidence that shows that you know animals going to hospitals or, you know, horses, helping children with autism or, you know, helping kids in other ways. Having enough data that then parents can actually get those therapies for their children. Or you can get some of those things offset by insurance companies because they see the benefit of them. There’s evidence based data, and they’re willing now to pay for that. Yeah, that’s definitely the ultimate. So how it sounds like there’s a lot of studies, a lot of areas going on in this. Maybe you can give people a little bit of perspective as to the number of studies that go on and kind of how that works. Yeah, there’s, You know, it’s a little bit difficult to quantify the number of studies that are going on right now. They’re they’re studies going on all over the country right now. The field of researchers are pretty collegiate people, you know. We’re all sort of at the forefront of trying to understand Ah, little bit about where you know where we are. We have a basis of knowledge and everybody sort of taking it in their own direction into their own niche. For example, there’s people that are working on autism. I’m looking at, you know, small animals versus large animals. So, like farm small animals being journals or, you know, rabbits going all the way up to horses because we know not every animal human diet is going to have the same experience that another animal human diadem. What? It’s just like people. Um, and that’s again. It gets back to that complex network. You know, that’s it’s not just animals are a complex system, and humans are a complex system. So when you put the two together, you can really have a whole number of dynamics. And so, um, sort of digressing a little bit, but so you have people who are studying autism. You have people that are studying injuries, uh, how animals can help us heal. Ah, lot of work right now doing looking at animals and PTSD, especially in veterans coming home from war. And then there’s people looking at sort of this oxytocin effect with animals and dogs, that sort of connection between, you know, humans and dogs and what happens there, and so some of these are more animal assisted therapy is what we call A T and they’re there. There will actually take sort of a riding therapy for horses, for example, or something. You know, different. But they’re actually looking at that animal assisted therapy, whether it be a ah horse or a therapy dog for a veteran, that sort of thing. And they’ll look att that intervention and try and assess the impact of that intervention and the effectiveness. And then there are other people like myself and my colleagues were were really trying to understand more of these biological underpinnings. So we’ve started to look at things like the microbiome like, um, sort of what? What’s happening in your gut with the millions and trillions of bacteria that are on and in your body. And if there’s any connection there, as well as with the H P A access, let’s see an immune system. There’s a lot of sort of thinking right now that animals have a strong impact on our immune system, and it comes from the sort of hygiene hypothesis and the old friends hypothesis, which basically is that you know, we moved away a lot, Um, and modern societies from bugs from from those bacteria, those microbes that we used to have when we were closer living, you know, sort of closer to the environment. And as modern society advances, we have much more hyper clean environments. And so what we’re actually seeing is that being dirty, having exposure to animals, mud and feces and those kinds of things are really good for you in many ways. And so we’re trying to look at whether or not, um, you know, those kinds of things. And the impact of animals on those microbes might actually be a place where we can sort of boost modern humans living in sort of urban environments. We can boost their health and their immune systems. You know, this is also fascinating. So is most of this work thinking being done at the university level? Or how is this house is taking place? Yeah, it’s not. I mean it is, but there’s also a lot that’s not being done at the university level, and I think that’s actually what’s One of the things that’s very exciting about this is that there’s a lot of folks that are doing things, small scale grants that you confine DS, and so people are doing it on their own to try and look at this effectiveness, whether they be sort of little nonprofits or nursing homes that are doing it themselves, whatever it might be. But then there are some some places in the United States where there are some really interesting things going on in terms of academia, in sort of the university environment and their places like that, or, like a Tufts University, has a center. Denver University, on their social work system, has a really interesting program. There may be a hair out of, I think she’s in produce. Do she might be in Indiana University. Actually, I can’t remember, but they’re doing really interesting things. And then also my colleagues down at the University of Arizona, where I got my phD. They’re doing some really interesting things down there on dog cognition, as is Duke University. So there’s a lot of different things going on and ways that people are looking at this. It’s such a broad and open open fields. It’s very, very exciting. Yeah, that’s really cool. I mean, I know myself in for others that are listening. You know the positive effect that our animals have on us. But even just to know that somebody is actually studying. That’s scientifically. So it’s not just me thinking my dog makes me feel better. Somebody’s actually looking into the positive effects it has on unhealthy, right? Exactly. Yeah. And they’re you know, part of it is that they’re there. Um, there there’s a lot of criticism. I mean, you can go on the on the Internet right now, and you could you could just type in. Um, you know, benefits of animals in the house and in health and you’ll you’ll find people very, very educated, very smart, very articulate people who have spent lifetimes looking at this data, who are not sure that this benefit of animals to humans is really there. Uhm, and who have really said, You know, there’s problems with this research there, the designs of these research studies. There’s a lot of things that need to be done better in order for me to be convinced on this. And I think those voices are very important to have in this feels because they they, um they push us to do better Science. Yeah, that’s a really good point. Is that you always seem to see you know kind of point and counterpoint. You hear about these studies, and then someone also come up with an alternative study. So how does that? I mean, that must be sometimes frustrating to how does that help motivate you to to keep doing what you’re doing? Yeah, I would say, You know, for me, it’s beyond frustrating. I know it’s very hard sometimes Thio see those kinds of critiques. And yet, you know, it’s like that old Chinese proverb. You have to fall down eight times and get up nine. Um, and if you just give up because you somebody says that this isn’t this isn’t going to happen or, you know your data’s flawed in this way. I think you have to remember why you’re doing this. And then this is a point I actually want to make very crystal clear to your listeners is that I don’t know how other people feel about this, but for myself going into this field and the work that I d’oh even though I’m an anthropologist, it’s not necessarily for me all about the people. I think that it’s a very critical to think about the animal on this. I mean, this is this is not a pill. This is not a device. You’re taking another cent into being on, put it putting it into a therapy program or is expected to help a human where you’re looking for it to help that human. And at the end of the day, what I’m really trying to do with my work is show that animals are beneficial to humans so that we can start to treat animals better in our society. And so I keep that at the forefront when I see all of this sort of thing that’s always at the forefront of my mind. Is that you know, for me, this is who I’m doing this work for. Yeah. No, that’s really cool. What s so so tell us some stories or tell us some things that have really just fascinated you. That you, while you’ve been researching this may be something that stood out. I think one of the things that has really stood out to me is that I guess there’s two things. But the one that I would say the most is that there’s a lot of thinking right now that, um, older individuals as and I think This is an important point to make because as America moves into baby boomers, more more baby boomers getting to the age of, you know late sixties early seventies, empty nesting and not having animals and children and grandchildren may be moving away. Um, there’s a lot of doctors now. There’s a lot of medical personnel that are telling people, you know, animals could be dangerous. They can be great, but they can also be dangerous for you. You could fall. Um, you know, you could you could trip over that animal. You could hurt yourself there in expense. They could actually make you sick, you know, if you have sort of some sort of immune compromised system. Um, and I think that there’s a lot of people in the geriatric feel too. Are you know, geriatricians or what not believe have bought into this notion that people who are older don’t want animals. And I could not have been more surprised because, you know, being an anthropologist, when we did our study in Arizona, I went around thio many people and ask them what did they think we’re gonna be them and challenges us for us to enroll in our study of older people, and they all said that anybody who is off this age frame, who wants a dog already has a dog, and most people in this age range don’t want a dog. So I’m never gonna be ableto find the people who to be in the study, and they couldn’t that couldn’t have been more untrue. Actually, we enrolled in the study, and in a week people just called me left and right. I was turning people down because I feel the study so so quickly, and what I found is that older people actually really do want animals in their lives, especially dogs, some and cats. But what they’re afraid of is not knowing how to take care of that animal. I’m not having the support, and so are you Think one of the greatest things that we can do is a society, as as our society Ages is to develop programs that humane societies and another animal organizations, where there’s a support system in place to help older people become animal animal stewards or, you know, competitive to adopt animal companions. There’s any number of way that the ways that that can be done You know, another critical piece of that is that older people understand how important it is to be loved and to have connections with others. And they’re more likely I don’t have any data on this, But this is just my own experiential, um, evidence. They’re more likely to adopt those harder to adopt animals, those older animals that were always trying to find homes for So I think this is a real opportunity. It is something that surprised me in my work, and I think it’s a real opportunity for the the animal welfare community. Yeah, very interesting. So if somebody wanted to get into this field, I mean, where do they even begin? How do you go about doing this? Ah, that’s a great question. I mean, and medical anthropology probably isn’t where I wouldn’t tell people the start. I don’t know what you did. Okay, it’s a little bit harder. Psychology is actually a place where a lot of this work is being done. Um, I think for natural reasons, I also think that we do need more medical doctors that are willing to sort of look at these things. So I think kids, you young folks who are looking at medical school as an option. Thio There’s a lot. There’s different places that are sort of taking this tracked a little bit more as well as nurses. But you know, So I think for the younger groups, those those would be the places that I might suggest that people start. I would encourage anybody that has an interest in this Thio you really start volunteering. Um, there’s almost always programs at hospitals. There’s humane societies, air looking at these kinds of things, connecting animals and humans and then this sort of thing. And I think just start looking around in your community of places because there is most likely there. Is something going on near near you that sort of, um, isn’t this in this arena? That’s really cool. I I feel like we could talk about this stuff for our skim. It’s such a vast field, and there’s so much yet to be discovered. What’s next for you? Um, what’s sex for me is this summer we actually here at the University of Wisconsin. We are enrolling in a study called Farm. It’s F A A, R M, and its farms, animals and adolescence reinforcing the microbiome, and we’re working with Heartland Farm Sanctuary, which is in Verona. And I were enrolling 40 children who are coming out to their camp during the summer. And we’re going to be looking at their microbiome after they have been at the camp for a period of time. And we’re gonna be looking at their psycho social well, being as well to sort of look at, um, whether or not there’s any changes in their microbiome, which might be suggestive, that the farm is playing a role and sort of increasing those beneficial bacteria that we know have a really strong impact on immune function on a psycho social well being, um, on a number of factors that are really important for development and then also just sort of looking at whether or not their attitudes towards the farm animals change and if so, how they change. Interesting. How are you selecting for the kids to participate in this? Well, they’ll be self selected. They have to be already enrolled at the camp on, and they have to be there for 12 or three weeks during a four week period. And, you know well, we’ve sent out information to all the kids that are participating in the campus summer, and we’re in the process of contacting them and seeing if they’re interested in being in the study. That’s really cool. Well, we’ll have to have you back after after you complete the study just to hear about the stories and some of the things you might have learned. Yeah, I would love that. I would love that. Is there anything else you wanted to share with us today? You know, I think the only thing and I probably came across, But I think the only thing that’s really important for me to say is that, um, first and forthright, I see myself as an activist, and activists come in all different shapes and sizes, and this is something that I’m really starting to hone in on for myself. But I just want to point out that, um, everyone who’s in this field of animal human interaction and I consider you a part of that as well as your listeners is to some degree an activist. And for me, my activism comes through my research. I sort of view myself as a scholar activist, and I think whatever role you play in this fields in general toe. Always sort of keep that in mind of, Of who you’re doing it for sort of helps us to be able thio to do those the the difficult work along with the really exciting work. So I think that’s just the main thing that I wanted to point out, that maybe I wasn’t able to say Yeah, yeah, well, thank you for sharing. And it’s like I said, It’s so fascinating. I feel like we could talk about this stuff for hours and, you know, I’m sure people, if they want to reach out to you, be more than happy to help provide them more information. So says Thank you. Thank you very much for talking with us today. And we look forward to tucking her again after after the summer study and see how that turned out. Thank you. Me too. I’m and I’m really excited to see what happens. And I’ll be more than happy to share that with your listeners. Thanks. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast.  If you’re not already a member, join the ARPA to take advantage of all of the resources we have to offer.  And don’t forget to sign-up with Doobert.com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.

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