Shelby Elaine McDonald, Ph.D.

Headshot of Shelby McDonald

Assistant Professor and Lab Director

Home Department

VCU School of Social Work


Research Projects


Lab Members


I am an assistant professor in the VCU School of Social Work and a research affiliate with the VCU School of Medicine Center for Human-Animal Interaction. My research focuses on the impact of adverse experiences (e.g., violent physical and emotional victimization, exposure to animal maltreatment) on children’s adjustment, and the risk and protective effects of human-animal interaction on problem behaviors and psychopathology. I direct the Children, Families, and Animals Research (CFAR) Group at VCU, an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students dedicated to understanding how interactions with pets impact children’s socioemotional and cognitive development. The CFAR group is particularly dedicated to examining the intersection of child wellbeing and animal welfare to improve coordinated community responses to family violence, including violence against pets. Current investigations include: 1) the impact of human-animal interaction on children exposed to adverse family environments, 2) the impact of animal maltreatment exposure on child and adult survivors of intimate partner violence, and 3) the role of pets in LGBTQ+ youth wellbeing. My research findings have been translated into recommendations for domestic violence shelter and community services, mental health professionals who work with survivors of family violence, and animal rescue organizations. I am passionate about mentoring students in research and welcome undergraduate and graduate student participation in my projects.

Learn more about Dr. McDonald and the CFAR group:  

Google Scholar | ResearchGate