Mental health, animal interactions, and social work: Q&A with Kerri Rodriguez

kerri rodriguez sitting together with a yellow labrador service dog and smilingKerri Rodriguez is a new postdoctoral fellow with the Human-Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC) center in Colorado State University’s School of Social Work. Learn more about why she came to CSU, her interests in how dogs can improve the lives of individuals with mental disorders or physical disabilities, and her passion for scientific research.

What brought you to the Human-Animal Bond in Colorado center in the School of Social Work?

What brought me to HABIC was an alignment of my research interests with the goal and vision of HABIC, the School of Social Work, and Colorado State University. The center provides a great opportunity to conduct interdisciplinary and innovative research on the power that animals have in our lives.

What are your research interests, and how did you get into that topic?

My research focuses on understanding how and in what ways animals enhance the health and well being of humans. My Ph.D. research focused on how dogs in particular may improve the lives of individuals with mental disorders or physical disabilities. I got in this field as an animal and dog lover (of course!) with a passion for scientific research.

My first experience conducting research was as a freshman at Duke University, where I was lucky enough to join the lab of Dr. Brian Hare. He conducts research on how primates and dogs think and make decisions. I worked as an undergraduate research assistant for all four years of college where I discovered a real passion for academic research, collaboration, and outreach.

My Ph.D. research has focused on understanding how psychiatric service dogs may help military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their families. My research shows that compared to veterans on the wait list, veterans with a PTSD service dog not only report fewer PTSD symptoms, but also report less depression and anxiety; higher life satisfaction and wellbeing; and a better ability to reintegrate into the community and participate in social activities. We also found that veterans with PTSD service dogs have different physiological stress profiles of the hormone cortisol than veterans on the wait list.

What’s your teaching philosophy?

Connecting with students is one of my biggest passions and priorities. When I was an undergrad, I was continually inspired and motivated by my professors, mentors, and TAs to follow the path that I’ve taken. Being a role model and source of inspiration for other young females and underrepresented minorities is very important to me.

What’s your favorite thing about CSU so far?

My favorite thing about CSU is the sense of community and connectedness. I’m excited to be able to collaborate across different departments, schools, and colleges to conduct human-animal bond research. I’m also a big fan of the mountains, of course! I’m an avid mountain biker and hoping to conquer a lot of front range trails.

About Human-Animal Bond in Colorado

habic logoFounded in 1993, Human-Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC) is a center in the School of Social Work, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. HABIC’S mission is to improve the quality of life for people of all ages through the therapeutic use of companion animals, with particular focus in the areas of community outreach, teaching, and research.

The School of Social Work is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.