Dr Peter Higgins

Sentient Veterinary Member

Dr Peter Higgins is a lecturer, unit of study coordinator and Director of External Relations at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney. Dr Higgins has had a lifelong passion for animals and improving the understanding and education of the community through public communication of ideas and facts.  Professionally he has worked in many senior roles that have brought improved outcomes for animals.  One of his areas of interest has always been the use of animals in teaching, and he is currently focussing on ‘replacement’ by researching the use of artificial modelling of animals.


His driving tenet is to make a difference.


After graduation from vet school Dr Higgins worked as a practitioner and later became involved in business and gained further qualifications in public affairs, marketing, and communications.  He worked in senior management roles for large international companies and shaped their development through periods of change.  Dr Higgins has extensive experience in business, government, universities, and professional associations.  He originally became involved with teaching Professional Practice at the Sydney University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science in 1998 when Dr Henry Collins and he devised the embryonic nucleus of what is now a recognised discipline.


Dr Higgins worked on many landmark anthrozoological programs which uncovered exciting research findings in the human animal bond.  Honey the Hospital Dog was the first dog placed in a hospital in Caulfield in Victoria.  Many of the initial findings about effects on blood pressure, recovery and morbidly rates in humans, and psychometric analysis, stemmed from the original project done with Honey.


Dr Higgins was also one of the initiators of the Pets as Therapy Program which was the first structured program placing dogs in nursing homes in Australia.  This was under the auspices of the Royal Guide Dogs Association.  He served on the Board of Directors of the Guide Dog Association for 7 years and was a leader on the project control group for Pets As Therapy.  He was also the chair of Outreach (with Mathilde Kibble) which was a joint venture of the AVA and Animal Welfare League.  Rather than placing dogs in facilities, Outreach was a program where dogs and cats visited nursing homes and hospitals.  The visit lasted a couple of hours and occurred weekly.


Dr Higgins did an enormous amount of research into the benefits of animals to humans, both psychologically and physically.  One corollary of this was when he made headline news for advocating that pets being allowed in a working environment to help productivity. Many workplaces welcome the presence of pets.


Dr Higgins also did some early research into pets in prisons here in Australia but was vetoed quite early by prison authorities.


Dr Higgins has written over 1000 media releases on animal related topics, about 500 edited columns in publications for the public (for example, ‘New Idea’), and over 1000 scripts for radio and television shows.  Print, radio, and television journalists have interviewed him several thousand times.  He has also published two books: 'Pet care by Peter Higgins' and 'Pets as Pals', aimed at children and young adults.

 The outcome of Dr Higgins’s prolific output has always been to better educate our society about animals.


Dr Higgins’ current teaching and supervision roles at the University of Sydney include Clinical Consultation Skills Facilitator, Professional Practice Unit of Study Coordinator for Professional Practice 2, Professional Practice 3, and Preparing for Veterinary Practice.  He is also the Preparatory Clinical Placement Programme Coordinator and the academic manager of the Clinical Skills Lab. The latter is newly created role which he pioneered. This lab is an area for students to practise various skills on artificial models of all sorts: everything from suturing and knot tying to the provision of artificial skin to practise incisions. He is even looking at artificial models to auscultate a dog’s thorax and conduct pregnancy testing in cows.


Dr Higgins’ current projects include:

  • Universities Federation for Animal Welfare link for University of Sydney.

  • Animal Welfare Advisory Committee member.

  • University of Sydney Veterinary Alumni Executive member.

  • University of Sydney Mental Wellbeing working group member.

  • Chairman, Mentoring project control group.