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$400,000 Gift Will Support MU Programs on the
Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interaction

$400,000 Gift Will Support MU Programs on the Health Benefits of Human-Animal InteractionA $400,000 gift to the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine may give man and man's best friend a boost. The gift from The Roetheli Lil' Red Foundation, headed by Dr. Joe Roetheli and his wife, Judy, of Kansas City, Mo., will support the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI).

ReCHAI, founded in 2005 in a partnership between the Sinclair School of Nursing and the College of Veterinary Medicine, explores the benefits of human-animal interaction. "We are one of several centers in the United States dedicated to human-animal issues. Many of the centers focus on teaching, animal welfare, and animal advocacy. ReCHAI is focused on conducting programs and research implementing human-animal interaction to facilitate health,” said Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of ReCHAI and Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing and Public Policy at the Sinclair School of Nursing.

"We are grateful for the Roethelis' generosity and dedication to this cause," MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said. "Their gift will help improve the quality of life for humans and animals and will provide new opportunities to research this fascinating link."

The Roethelis, creators of Greenies® dog biscuits, hope the gift will lead to a better quality of life for the elderly and sick, as well as for dogs and other companion animals. Dr. Roetheli, who received his doctorate in agricultural economics from Mizzou, said he recognized the importance of human-animal interaction when his father was in a nursing home. When he brought the family's dog, company mascot Max, for visits with his father, Roetheli noticed that not only did his father enjoy seeing Max, but so did many of the other nursing home residents. "Their eyes just lit up," said Dr. Roetheli.

Through The Lil' Red Foundation gift, a new program will make it possible for older adults in nursing homes, retirement facilities and their own homes across Missouri to be visited by animals and their handlers. Such visits have been found to ease loneliness, provide social support and unconditional love, particularly when family members do not live nearby. These results are documented through research at MU.

"With the Baby Boomers soon getting to the age, in general, where they will be needing elder care, I believe a huge opportunity exists for therapy dogs and other pets to play a larger role in their lives and happiness," Roetheli said. "Today, families are much smaller and more geographically dispersed leaving few local relatives to visit those in elder care facilities. Many residents of elder care facilities have been pet owners. Not only were these residents uprooted from their homes when placed in elder care facilities, but they also were separated from their pet.

"The Roetheli Lil' Red Foundation's extraordinary generosity will enable MU's Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) to develop a number of important initiatives. A central focus will be a program facilitating animal assisted therapy with older adults across the state of Missouri. We are deeply grateful for the Roethelis' foresight and commitment to human-companion animal interaction," said Rebecca Johnson.

Dr. Roetheli has worked for universities and the federal government, and Judy Roetheli has been a school teacher and stay-at-home mom to their sons, Steffan and Michael.

In 1996, the Roethelis had a dog named Ivan, which Roetheli described as "a beautiful Samoyed with horrible breath." At Judy Roetheli's urging, Joe Roetheli tried to develop a cure in the family's basement. Drawing on his 22-year research career, he "whipped up" a green resin made from wheat gluten, chlorophyll and other ingredients. The resin was irresistible to Ivan and improved his breath.

Two years later, after a veterinary nutritionist tweaked the recipe and the Roethelis shaped the product like a toothbrush, they began selling the resin, which they called Greenies®. They created the company S&M NuTec, LLC, and between their first sales in 1998 and May 2006, they sold more then 750 million Greenies®. The company had sales in every state and accounts in more than 60 countries worldwide. In May 2006, the company was purchased by Mars, Incorporated.

The Roethelis have been honored with many major awards, including the Mr. K Award as top small business in Kansas City in 2005, a Stevie Award as Best Company in America with Under 100 Employees by the American Business Association, Exporter of the Year in 2004 by the National District Export Council and Entrepreneur of the Year in Manufacturing for Western Missouri and Kansas by Ernst & Young in 2002.

For more information about ReCHAI, see http://rechai.missouri.edu/main.htm.

Inquiries regarding prospective gifts for ReCHAI or other College of Veterinary Medicine programs may be sent to directly to Greg Jones, CVM Director of Development.

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Last Update: February 24, 2012