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Richard Drew / AP

The efficacy of therapy animals — a mental health trend seen everywhere from airplanes to college campuses — isn't totally backed up by scientific research, per The Washington Post.

The problem: The research around the topic is relatively scarce and prone to cherry-picking, thanks to small sample sizes or poor, if any, control groups. It's particularly difficult to isolate if a person's lower anxiety levels are due to proximity to an animal or any number of other reasons associated with caring for it.

An explanation: The biophilia hypothesis states that humans evolved a need to enjoy the company of other creatures. That might be difficult to quantify with scientific research but that may not matter:

"Throughout history, animals gave us some comfort. So if it works for you and me in a relatively normal environment, maybe it has a special role for someone who has a depression and stress disorder — that just makes sense," Purdue's Alan Beck said. "The literature does show it's not bad. And that's just as important."

Why the science matters: Medical applications. WaPo cites the VA refusing to fund service dogs for veterans with PTSD in 2012, which led the department to embark on a multiyear study to determine the efficacy of therapy dogs.

Go deeper

Inflation threatens Latinos' buying power

Expand chart
Data: Hispanic Index of Consumer Sentiment; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Latinos in the U.S. are less optimistic about the economy than they were a year ago as inflation threatens to cut into their buying power.

Why it matters: Latinos have been economic growth drivers for the past decade, opening new businesses at faster rates than other groups and increasing their homeownership rates. The group's overall output would make them the seventh-largest GDP in the world if they were a country.

First look: Frontline Dems seek cover with bipartisan police bill

Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Moderate Frontline Democrats facing tough reelection fights are teaming up with House Republicans on a bill that would effectively help fund the police, according to a copy of the bill text obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: One of Republicans' core and most effective campaign attacks to date is their messaging around progressive rhetoric to "defund the police." Moderate Democrats have long tried to dodge that narrative, acknowledging its political peril despite their support for broader police reform.

Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The U.S. Omicron wave may be peaking, but now COVID deaths are climbing as cases continue to soar in most of the country.

The big picture: Omicron's stranglehold in the U.S. started about a month ago. Its death toll — while almost certain to be smaller than previous waves of the pandemic — is only now starting to take hold, and deaths will likely continue to rise for several weeks.