Nancy R Gee, PhD, C-AISS
Professor of Psychiatry, Bill Balaban Chair in Human-Animal Interaction, and Director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction
In her role as Director, Dr. Nancy Gee both oversees and actively participates in the three key elements of the Center’s mission: the hospital-focused Dogs on Call therapy dog program; educational activities through the VCU Medical College of Virginia; and research in the field of Human-Animal Interaction (HAI). Considered a leading researcher and key opinion leader, she has placed a special emphasis on HAI as it relates to the physical and mental health of humans across the developmental lifespan.
Dr. Gee has conducted HAI research for over two decades. Her initial academic specialization was in the neuroscience of memory and cognition, but after volunteering with her own therapy dogs, she was inspired to design and conduct a randomized controlled study to evaluate the effect of a therapy dog’s presence on motor tasks performed by preschool children. Having found statistically significant effects in this study, Dr. Gee pivoted her area of focus and has spent the following years examining the impact of therapy dog interventions on memory, object categorization, literacy skills, and other variables such as stress responses in both the human client and the therapy dog during the intervention. She is currently conducting three externally funded randomized controlled trials examining the impact of therapy dog interventions on loneliness, depression, anxiety, and related outcomes in several different vulnerable hospitalized populations.
Dr. Gee’s collaborations with researchers around the world have contributed to her 100+ publications in the field, including peer-reviewed journal articles, edited books, and book chapters. In 2022, Dr. Gee was invited by the American Psychiatric Association to lead an edited HAI volume specifically tailored for psychiatric practitioners. This led to the publication of the landmark book The Role of Companion Animals in the Treatment of Mental Disorders, for which Dr. Gee was both lead editor and author of many chapters.
Dr. Gee’s decades of experience with therapy dogs has proven invaluable not only to CHAI’s research but also to CHAI’s Dogs on Call program. Under her supervision, Dogs on Call survived the challenges of the COVID pandemic, and has expanded into VCU Health’s newest facilities. Dr. Gee, a Certified Animal-Assisted Intervention Specialist (Association of Animal-Assisted Intervention Professionals), regularly volunteers in the program with her current therapy dog, Allie.
CHAI routinely provides educational opportunities to medical students at various stages in their academic careers, and Dr. Gee interacts with each student, developing their skills in practical areas of research, and giving them a view of how animal-assisted therapy or interactions can be incorporated in their chosen areas of practice. She also lectures on the topic of HAI to various groups within the VCU-VCU Health community.
Dr. Gee has been invited to serve on the boards of many animal-focused organizations; she is currently chair of the Human Animal Bond Advisory Board of Pet Partners, Inc., the largest therapy animal registering organization in the world, and President of the International Society for Anthrozoology (an international organization or researchers devoted to the study of HAI).
In addition to her academic work, Dr. Gee also represents the science of HAI to the public. She receives frequent requests for interviews or presentation on the science of therapy dogs or Human-Animal Interaction more broadly. Recently Dr. Gee has been Interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered news program and the BBC’s Happy podcast, as well as for National Geographic’s Science newsletter. Earlier this year she was profiled in Richmond magazine. Dr. Gee regularly delivers guest lectures in the US and abroad, presents to the Boards of animal-focused organizations, and once to a member of the British Royal Family.
Dr. Gee’s connections with the UK are rooted in her association with WALTHAM® Petcare Science Institute, a division of Mars Petcare. Her early empirical HAI research program caught their attention, and she was invited to serve on their External Advisory Board, reviewing the research programs they funded. She subsequently spent five years as their Research Manager. In that role she designed and implemented research programs targeting HAI in the areas of education and older adults, working closely with the National Institutes of Health on jointly funded research projects. It was following her time with Waltham that she resumed her academic career in New York and ultimately at VCU.