Pet therapy; Creature comfort for military clans.

Author:Spencer, Susan
Position:Local
 
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Byline: Susan Spencer

There was one thing Laurie A. Connors wanted before her husband, Steven M. Bonavita, deployed with his Army National Guard unit five-and-a-half years ago for a year in Iraq: a dog.

The couple, who lived in Palmer, had two cats. But Ms. Connors says she is "a dog nut'' at heart, and when her husband's military service called, she felt a canine companion would be a good stand-in.

So for Christmas six years ago, she received Bruno, a short-haired German pointer.

"He was a godsend,'' said Ms. Connors, whose family now lives in Millbury. "It's a very lonely time (during deployment). Especially with the National Guard, there isn't the support network that you have living on a military base.''

Puppy love is evident for Ms. Connors, who also serves as the Millbury town planner and organizer of the Butler Farm Bark Park, a dog park under construction for residents of Millbury and Sutton. The fundraising brick she bought reads: "For the love of Bruno, my baby boy.''

When daughter Alyssa was born a week before Mr. Bonavita's second deployment in 2011, Bruno helped Ms. Connors cope with the double isolation of being a military wife and a new mom.

Megan Mueller, a developmental psychologist and research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Grafton, wouldn't be surprised by the benefits Bruno provided during Mr. Bonavita's deployments.

Ms. Mueller published research on pets' role in helping military-connected youths thrive in the current issue of the journal Applied Developmental Science. The article is co-authored by Kristina Schmid Callina, a research assistant professor at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University.

While the Cummings School research focused on youths in middle and high school and their relationship with companion animals, Ms. Mueller said she'd like to further explore the dynamics of pets and other members of the military family.

"Military service impacts the whole family,'' she said in an interview.

The study on military children came out of an interest in human-animal relationships.

"We had heard a lot about how people's relationship with their pet can help during stressful times, but there was no empirical evidence,'' Ms. Mueller said.

She said the researchers wanted to know whether pets might be a protective factor for children's well-being and promote...

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