One for the dogs and cats: bequest secures La Trobe’s future research into companion animal benefits

From the time she was a kid, Lesley Humphreys knew domestic animals can change life for the better. Discover how La Trobe research has empowered her mission to improve animal welfare and companion animal program funding.

As a Board member with Animal Aid in Victoria, Lesley wanted better outcomes for the animals in shelters. Methods for assessing animals’ temperament on arrival were “very archaic” and their stress in the shelter was impacting the speed of adoption. A chance meeting with a La Trobe researcher gave her the solution to both problems.

As Lesley explains, “This researcher [Linda Marston] did some amazing work in helping us better understand the temperament of dogs. Not only that, she showed us how we could enrich the environments for the dogs”.

Linda’s research “made such a difference in terms of our rehoming of the animals”, Lesley recalls. “They were so much more calm within the shelter. And interestingly that work also transferred to our cattery.”

Lesley smiles, "I just saw the incredible change in the dogs we were working with at the shelter as a result of the university's work and Linda's work".

'A strong reason for living'

Imagine a dog who can wake you from a nightmare, be there with you in the dark, and bring you back to the present when a tough memory takes hold of your attention. That’s the kind of dog La Trobe researchers are training in the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) assistance dogs program.

The assistance dog program, which began at La Trobe as a pilot in 2018, creates new understandings of human-animal interaction. It has immense potential to improve the lives of people living with PTSD.

Lesley sees a benefit to all of us from this research: "It's through this sort of work that I feel that people are able to talk more about animals and the role of animals and express their emotion in relation to animals, when perhaps ten years ago we weren't good at doing that."

Those emotions can have a powerful impact. Lesley recalls a survey question, 'Does your animal give you a strong reason for living?'. “Over 84 per cent of respondents said 'yes' to that.”

Watch Lesley’s video to understand how La Trobe research makes this impact real:

Support for advocacy

As an animal advocate at local government level, Lesley found that data can support better policies and funding for animal programs.

“I have this very first-hand, personal understanding of what animals bring to my life. I was looking for the data, the information that would help me communicate this to local government decision-makers and advocate for animals and pets.”

By creating the data that can influence decisions, La Trobe’s research “gives me that basis to be able to go and advocate for our companion animals and particular programs that focus on specific populations within our community that need that support.”

What does Lesley hope to achieve with her bequest? “A greater understanding and knowledge in the sector of the importance of companion animals”, she says, “and that more people are encouraged to donate to those programs and to sponsor those programs.”

Lesley recently lost a beloved cat. Speaking of him, her other companions, and the hundreds of animals she has worked with in shelters, Lesley says softly, "This is their legacy. They have given me so much, and I know all the other companion animals give their owners so much."

Leaving a gift to La Trobe University in your Will is a way to safeguard the future you most care about. What will you change?

To find out more, visit latrobe.edu.au/bequest, or contact Roni Baird, Development Coordinator Bequests by phone on (03) 9479 6451, email, or online enquiry.