Justice Heals

Black and white dog

Mission Statement

Justice Heals believes in the capacity for healing: for survivors, animals, and the MSU community, and we strive to engage and support survivors and animals on a mutually beneficial healing journey.

Project Title: A One Welfare approach to animal-assisted interventions for survivors of sexual assault on the campus of Michigan State University: Justice Heals 

Background: While the Michigan State University (MSU) community has been particularly devastated by sexual misconduct and institutional betrayal, U.S. campus statistics reflect a national crisis of sexual assault. One in five women and one in 16 men experience sexual violence during their college career. 

The "Wicked Problem"

  • Sexual violence jeopardizes a Culture of Health on campus
  • Survivors of sexual crimes experience greater risks for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide.
  •  Developing a collaborative effort within our existing survivor community to foster a Culture of Health is necessary.
  • 3.3 million dogs enter U.S. animal shelters each year and 670,000 are euthanized. Problem behavior is the #1 reason for relinquishment of dogs and dogs adopted from shelters have a higher risk of certain anxiety issues.

We wondered...What if we could pair survivors of sexual assault with anxious shelter dogs and improve outcomes for both survivors and the dogs?   

What is AAI?

Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) have been evaluated as therapeutic or supportive modalities for health-related issues, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.  Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) falls under umbrella of AAI but involves a human healthcare provider.




 Proposed Plan: Our team will develop an animal assisted intervention (AAI) program to offer an additional healing modality for the MSU survivor community, while concurrently serving shelter dogs from our greater Ingham County community.

The term One Welfare has emerged to acknowledge the interconnectedness between human and animal wellbeing; this is a novel approach that evaluates outcomes for both human and animal participants.

Our team is developing a One Welfare AAT program Justice Heals to serve both our survivor and shelter dog populations. The animal behavior team has developed a screening protocol intended to identify dogs who may be both capable and comfortable working in AAT, based upon the following candidate attributes:

  • Socially flexible
  • High levels of social cognition
  • Non-impulsive
  • Empathetic

A pilot project is underway:

  • Screened dogs will participate in simulated AAT sessions with undergraduate students.
  • Participating students will complete surveys before and after sessions, including a validated questionnaire (HAIS) about their interactions with the dogs.
  • Evaluation of the dogs’ experiences will be via behavioral and physiologic indicators, including heart rate variability, locomotor activity, and pre- and post-salivary oxytocin levels.

Justice Heals will pair survivors and dogs for 6-week, skills-based AAT programming. Our animal behavior and human mental health teams collaborated to create curricula for both survivors and dogs:

  • Survivors will participate in an intake/screening session with Justice Heals social workers.
  • The trauma-informed content for survivors will include skill building and psychoeducation with the intention of empowering participants. 

  • Dogs will be screened by the animal behavior team for fit in the AAT pilot Group.

Group Topics

  • Engage Stakeholders
  • Funding/Sustainability Strategies
  • Considerations for Replication

Instagram: justiceheals_msu

Twitter: @JusticeHealsMSU

Facebook: @JusticeHeals

    In 2019, Three members of the Michigan State University community — Tana Fedewa, LMSW Director of the MSU Center for Survivors; Marie Hopfensperger, DVM, DACVB from the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Megan Spedoske, LMSW director of Veterinary Social Work Services with the School of Social Work — were selected to join the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Leadership Program.  The Clinical Scholars Program is designed for teams of experienced health care providers from varied disciplines to sharpen their leadership skills and collaborate on a project to address complex health problems. The program also allows them to gain new perspectives and expertise while extending their influence and impact as professionals and as trusted members of their communities.
    Clinical Scholars has given us a unique opportunity to look at the relationships that    develop between sexual assault survivors and shelter animals during the healing process.  This approach allows us to create programming that is mutually beneficial for both populations.
    Clinical Scholars Purple logo
  • The Veterinarian - Dr. Hopfensperger

    Photo of Dr. Hopfensperger

    Dr. Hopfensperger is a board-certified animal behaviorist in the State of Michigan and assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. Her clinical interests and expertise include animal welfare, humane handling of cats and dogs, and management of canine and feline behavioral disorders. Dr. Hopfensperger is active within the Michigan animal sheltering community. She is a consultant for Michigan Humane Society and is vice chairperson of the Ingham County Animal Control Shelter (ICACS) Advisory Board. ICACS is committed to collaborating on this program. Dr. Hopfensperger screens the shelter dogs for appropriateness in the program and studies the emotional, physical, and behavioral outcomes of the dogs’ experiences in the therapy sessions. This is to ensure the program is truly mutually beneficial for both dogs and survivors.

  • The Trauma Therapist - Tana Fedewa

    Photo of Tana Fedewa

    Tana Fedewa is a licensed clinical social worker and the Director of MSU’s Center for Survivors. In addition to her Director duties, she is appointed to the Michigan State University Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup. 

  • The Veterinary Social Worker - Megan Spedoske
    Photo of Megan Spedoske
    Megan Spedoske is a faculty member with the MSU School of Social Work. She is the program coordinator of Veterinary Social Work Services embedded in the MSU Veterinary Medical Center.  She is trained in EMDR and TF-CBT. She has earned a certificate in human-animal interventions from Oakland University to ensure appropriate professional and ethical engagement with animals and their human counterparts in a therapeutic context. Her program development experience in veterinary social work and trauma treatment support the development and implementation of a clinically sound program. Ms. Spedoske and Ms. Fedewa direct and coordinate survivor related programming, as well as data collection for evaluation related to survivor outcomes.
  • The Inspiration - JUSTICE

    Justice Nose

    JUSTICE HEALS was inspired by Justice, the career-change canine advocate with the MSU Center for Survivors, who lives with generalized anxiety. As Justice has learned to navigate her anxiety with a behavioral health plan, the survivors seeking services in the Center were part of her treatment and recognized themselves in her experience.

Opportunities to Get Involved

Survivor Participation

We are finally recruiting survivor participants for the pilot cohort of Justice Heals!
The pilot of Justice Heals begins on Wednesday July 14th at 3pm and continues weekly for 6 weeks. The sessions will take place at the Ingham County Animal Shelter.
The Justice Heals program will pair a small group of survivors and shelter dogs for 6-week, skills-based AAT programming. Our animal behavior and human mental health teams have collaborated to create curricula for both survivors and shelter dogs.  The trauma-informed content for survivors will include skill building and psychoeducation with the intention of empowering participants.  Dogs will be screened by the animal behavior team for fit in the AAT pilot Group.
For survivors who are interested in participating:
Step 1: complete a brief online form via this link:

Financial Contribution

Donate HERE to support JUSTICE HEALS