Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Daniel Lende, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Antoinette Jackson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tara Deubel, Ph.D.


Animal-assisted therapy, Animal healing, holistic treatment, neuroanthropology


This study aims to deconstruct current conceptions about animal-assisted interventions by investigating relationships between human beings and birds of prey. Interactions between birds of prey, or “raptors,” provide novel cases from which to reexamine failed attempts to provide empirical data in support of alternative therapies. Previous research addressing the efficacy of animal-assisted interventions is simply not robust enough to be considered a feasible treatment option by medical professionals. By extension, models of self-regulation in psychology are often presented using reductionist models and oversimplified therapeutic outcomes. Taken together, raptor-human relationships help to highlight the shortcomings of each, as well as potential solutions towards developing comprehensive frameworks for measuring efficacy of multispecies interactions.

This study was conducted at a small nature park in Largo, FL where a number of native raptor species are housed, cared for, and trained each day by volunteers. These volunteers made up the sample size for this study with forty participants (n = 40) between the ages of eighteen and seventy five. Drawing on both my own experiences as a raptor handler, as well as the qualitative data collected from volunteers, I employed a neuroanthropological approach to reveal underlying dynamics of the program via a two-stage research plan. Stage 1 of the study addresses the Raptor Program itself in facilitating human-animal interactions. Stage 2 addresses the mechanisms at play during firsthand encounters with birds of prey. Findings suggest that programmatic and regulatory drivers within the program must operate together, often simultaneously, for an animal-assisted intervention organization to be successful. Further, this study calls for the ongoing development of novel methodological approaches in future research to determine the efficacy of animal-assisted interventions at large.