The human-animal bond can occur between people and domestic or wild animals; be it a cat as a pet or birds outside one's window. The phrase "Human-Animal Bond" also known as HAB began to emerge as terminology in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Research into the nature and merit of the human-animal bond began in the late 18th century when, in York, England, the Society of Friends established The Retreat to provide humane treatment for the mentally ill. By having patients care for the many farm animals on the estate, society officials theorized that the combination of animal contact plus productive work would facilitate the patients' rehabilitation.
In the 1870s in Paris, a French surgeon had patients with neurological disorders ride horses. The patients were found to have improved their motor control and balance and were less likely to suffer bouts of depression. During the 1820-1870s, America's Victorian middle class used the human-animal bond to aid in children's socialization. This was an entirely gendered process, as parents and society believed only boys had an innate tendency towards violence and needed to be socialized towards kindness and empathy through companion animals.
Over time pet keeping to socialize children became more gender-neutral, but even into the 1980s and 90s there remained a belief that boys especially benefited from pet keeping due to the fact that it was one of the only ways they could practice nurturing given the limiting gender norms. An example of the Human-Animal Bond can be seen during World War I on the Western Front with horses.
The use of this animal was widespread as over 24,000 horses and mules were used in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I.
The horse connection can be seen as horses were used to pull wagons for their drivers, as individual transport mounts for officers, and patients for veterinarians. When researching the human-animal bond there is a danger of anthropomorphism and projections of human qualities. In the 19th century, in Bielefeld, Germany, epileptic patients were given the prescription to spend time each day taking care of cats and dogs.
The contact with the animals was found to reduce the occurrence of seizures. As early as the 1920s people were starting to utilize the human-animal bond not just for healing, but also for granting independence through service animals.
In 1929 The Seeing Eye Inc. school formed to train guide dogs for the blind in the United States, inspired by dogs being trained to guide World War I veterans in Europe.
Furthermore, the idea is that the human-animal bond can provide health benefits to humans as the animals "appeal to fundamental human needs for companionship, comfort, and security..." In 1980, a team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania found that human to animal contact was found to reduce the physiological characteristics of stress; specifically, lowered levels of blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, anxiety, and tension were all found to correlate positively with human-pet bonding.
In some cases, despite its benefits, the human-animal bond can be used for harmful purposes. The 1990s saw an increase in social and scientific awareness of the use of companion animals as a tool for domestic violence.
A 1997 study found that 80% of shelters reported women staying with them had experienced their abuser threatening or harming companion animals as a form of abuse. A study in 2003, by the U.S. Department of Defense, based on human-animal bonding determined that there was an improvement and enrichment of life when animals were closely involved with humans.
The study tested blood levels and noticed a rise in Oxytocin in humans and animals which participated in; Oxytocin has the ability to lower stress, heart rate, and fear levels in humans and animals.
Historically, animals were domesticated for functional use; for example, dogs for herding and tracking, and cats for killing mice or rats. Today, in Western societies, their function is primarily bonding. For example, current studies show that 60–80% of dogs sleep with their owners at night in the bedroom, either in or on the bed.
Moreover, in the past, the majority of cats were kept outside (barn cats) whereas today most cats are kept indoors (housecats) and considered part of the family. Currently, in the US, for example, 1.2 billion animals are kept as pets, primarily for bonding purposes. In addition, as of 1995, there were over 30 research institutions looking into the potential benefits of the human-animal bond.