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Expert in animal assisted therapy focusing on the role of animals in rehabilitation, education
Regina Abel, PhD, lecturer in occupational therapy and medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died on June 15, 2021 in St. Louis of complications from a heart attack. She was 70.
Abel was fascinated by the interaction between animals and humans and how it enabled rehabilitation and education. She was often seen on the Medical Campus with Dolly and Wally, the therapy dogs she trained, en route to sessions where students learned how to help pediatric patients maximize their recovery.
Her research focused on how therapy dogs could help children during recovery and the impact of dog training programs in prisons. She was also interested in how human-animal interaction could help children with chronic diseases.
From 2007 she worked in the Child and Health Education Laboratory under the direction of Allison King, MD, PhD, Professor of Occupational Therapy, Medicine and Pediatrics. Abel’s research in the laboratory focused on how best to help children with sickle cell anemia and brain tumors attend school and learn. Abel previously completed a postdoctoral fellowship and worked as a research assistant in the laboratory for developmental neuropsychology of C. Robert Almli, PhD, now retired associate professor for occupational therapy.
Regina Abel with Dolly, one of the therapy dogs she has trained. She often took Dolly to sessions on the Medical Campus where students learned how to help pediatric patients maximize their recovery.
“Regina was the kindest soul and loved animals, especially dogs,” said Lisa Tabor Connor, PhD, assistant dean and director of the occupational therapy program. “She was significantly involved in the development of an animal-assisted therapy program and has supervised many of our students in projects on this topic. We will miss her very much, both as a loved one and as a valuable member of our OT team. “
Abel, who grew up on a farm in Bolivar, Missouri, received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Missouri State University in 1992. She received her PhD in developmental psychology from Indiana University, Bloomington in 2000, where she soon and soon studied baby development after birth.
In 1999 she joined Washington University’s occupational therapy program as a postdoctoral fellow. She then worked as a lecturer, research assistant and coordinator for research patients before joining the faculty as a lecturer in 2017.
Abel spent much of her free time visiting patients at local hospitals with her therapy dogs and volunteering in a network that rescues dogs from animal shelters with high death rates and moves them to new homes. Her other passions included baseball, classic cars, and her family.
She leaves behind two sons, Travis Abel and Bryan Hobbs; her sister Trudy Stewart; and 12 grandchildren. Her daughter Sheila King preceded her in death in 2016.
The occupational therapy course will hold a commemoration at a later date in coordination with Abel’s family. More details will be announced as they become available.
To support a scholarship fund on behalf of Abel, reminder contributions can be made to the occupational therapy program.