NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center


Search News Center Articles


Related Articles




NMSU offers minor in human-animal interaction

Dogs may be used to assist law enforcement personnel or diabetic patients, and horses may be used for therapeutic riding programs. But humans are needed to train and work with such animals. Obtaining a career that involves companion animals may have just become more attainable for New Mexico State University students.


Boy reading book with dog on lap
Conner Turner reads a book while TheraPaw dog Score rests on his lap. (Courtesy photo)
Young girl riding a horse
A young rider in the NMSU Therapeutic Riding program appears on horseback. (Photo by Sarah Veeder)
Tall dog standing among group of people
TheraPaw dog Dancer visits with NMSU students at Corbett Center Student Union. The TheraPaw dogs are available for students, faculty and staff to visit with during midterms and finals. (Courtesy photo)

Beginning this summer, NMSU undergraduate students have the option of choosing human-animal interaction (HAI) as their minor area of study. The NMSU Department of Animal and Range Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is offering the minor for the first time.

Gaylene Fasenko, associate professor of companion animals, said the addition of the HAI minor is important because companion animals ? especially dogs ? are seen more and more in modern jobs.

?In the past, dogs were used for hunting, herding, pulling carts, guarding and those sort of things,? Fasenko said. ?They?re still used somewhat in that aspect, but more so they?re being used in what I call modern white collar jobs ? as service animals, as visitation animals, in hospitals and as therapy animals that are involved with psychologists and sociologists who will work with a professional health care provider as a co-therapist.?

Fasenko also said there are not very many companion animal programs available at universities, much less the option to minor in HAI.

Students who select HAI as their minor may choose to focus on either canine/feline species or equine species. The minor is intended to augment the academic path for students who plan to pursue a career in fields such as criminal justice, early childhood education, special education, occupational therapy, psychology, social work or family and consumer sciences.

?Just about any major you can think of that is offered at NMSU could potentially incorporate companion animals into that career,? Fasenko said. ?These people have the foundation, obviously, for their core career; but if they want to incorporate using companion animals in their profession, this would give them an advantage over someone else who doesn?t have that background.?

The career possibilities seem endless. Dogs are used in schools, especially with helping students who have difficulty with reading. A program called Courthouse Dogs allows specially trained service dogs to accompany children during testimony in a courtroom. Dogs in the United States Department of Agriculture?s Beagle Brigade search luggage at airports for the presence of raw food and plants that may be brought into the U.S. from other countries.

Another opportunity is the hotel industry. The Fairmont Hotels & Resorts chain is now providing resident canine ambassadors that guests can walk or jog with or simply just pet. For that reason, Fasenko believes the HAI minor will be a great match for the NMSU School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, especially with future plans for a hotel to be built on campus.

Another career opportunity is working with a therapeutic equine program. Perhaps an occupational therapist may want to incorporate horses into his or her practice. ?We have the well-established therapeutic riding program here on campus, too, so we?re hoping to partner with that program as well,? Fasenko said.

Laura White, assistant professor of equine science, expects to see an increased amount of interest in the therapeutic riding program.

?There is already a decent amount of interest in the therapeutic riding program,? White said. ?And any time we give students options, such as the new minor, I think that?s a good thing.?

Students interested in obtaining academic advisement relating to the HAI minor should call the Department of Animal and Range Sciences at 575-646-2514 to schedule an appointment.

Fasenko, who earned a master?s degree in animal reproduction from the University of Alberta and a doctorate in physiology from North Carolina State University, is the academic adviser for NMSU Aggie P.A.W. (Partners for Assistance through Work) Club. NMSU Aggie P.A.W. is a student organization that provides a community for individuals who have an interest in the companion animal industry. More information may be found on the organization?s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NmsuAggiePaw .

Anyone interested in donating to the companion animal program should make checks payable to NMSU Foundation and indicate the Companion Animal Fund in the memo line. Checks may be mailed to P.O. Box 3590, Las Cruces, NM 88003. For more information, contact the NMSU Foundation office at 575-646-1613.