"Honoring the Bond between Clients, Patients and Alabama Veterinarians" (Article)

From Alabama Veterinarian, Winter 2001, vol. 12, no. 1, pages 38-40.

The Way I See It:  
Understanding the Bond between Clients, Patients,
and Alabama Veterinarians

Caroline B. Schaffer, DVM
Director, Center for the Study of Human-Animal Interdependent Relationships
College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health
Tuskegee University
James Herriot, MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon, and his classic All Creatures Great and Small1 did much to show the affectionate and joyous relationship veterinarians have with humans and animals. With his warm writing style, he skillfully elevated the image of veterinarians in the 1970s.  
What are Alabama veterinarians doing to perpetuate this image?  How are we strengthening the human-animal bond that undergirds our profession?
Recognizing the Bond
The importance of the human-animal bond is finally being recognized openly by the  veterinary profession and by schools/colleges of veterinary medicine.  As best I can recall, none of my professors from 1967 to 1971 told my classmates or me to attend to the needs of our clients as well as the needs of our patients.   After graduation, we learned by trial and error that our compassion and empathy for our clients--not just for our patients--determined our success and our professional satisfaction.
Finally, fifteen years later, organized veterinary medicine formally recognized the importance of the bond. The AVMA, Delta Society, and Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc. established the annual Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award in 1986 to honor one veterinarian per year for outstanding, long-term efforts to promote the concept that pets and humans can be emotionally and physically beneficial to each other.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored a landmark technology assessment workshop in 1987.  Six veterinarians, one physician, and one lawyer were among 21 speakers who presented a broad scope of evidence for the health benefits derived from human-animal interactions.  The working group acknowledged the persuasive evidence.  The group recommended that future interdisciplinary collaborative research look critically at the relationships between companion animals, people, and health.  It also recommended that more funding be appropriated for the needed research.  
Veterinary medicine benefitted from the 1987 NIH workshop because experts in various fields agreed that sustained relationships with animals can have human health advantages.  Clearly, these relationships would be impossible if the animals were unhealthy or if veterinarians were insensitive to the needs of their clients.
Almost 20 years after I graduated, veterinary medical students at Tuskegee University asked for and received permission to form the "Human-Animal Bond/Animal Behavior Club" so that they could add the human-animal bond and animal behavior components to their education.
In 1995, the World Animal Care Foundation initiated a recognition program for North American schools/colleges of veterinary medicine.  Each year they present a limited edition print of “The Veterinarian” or “First Examination” to the senior veterinary medical student determined by his/her respective institution to be the leader that year in human-animal bond activities.
Finally in 1999, Tuskegee University added nine hours of contact time on client communication and human-animal interdependent relationships to its required third-year "Medicine 0595: Clinics" course.  
For the first time, Auburn University 's College of Veterinary Medicine is offering an elective during the Spring 2001 semester titled, "The Human-Animal Bond and Animal Welfare."  
A massive, economic study (often referred to as the "Mega Study" or "KPMG Study") commissioned by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) addressed the human-animal bond in depth.
The May 1999 executive summary titled "The Current and Future Market for Veterinarians and Veterinary Medical Service in the United States " said that, "In veterinary practice, recognition of the human-animal bond is an important determinant of a successful practice . . . Those who understand the bond apparently will be more successful in private practice than those who do not."2
What's All the Fuss?
Do all veterinarians really understand what all the fuss is about?  Perhaps some of you think that the human-animal bond is simply about taking puppies and kittens to nursing homes.  This is certainly an area where veterinarians should take a leadership role.  However, the relationship between the human-animal bond and veterinary medicine is much, much more.
Your practice can be enjoyable or frustrating depending on your understanding of the bond between your clients, their animals, and you.  For example, having the ability to euthanize an animal with  compassion can be one of the most stressful parts of your day or it can, believe it or not, be one of the most satisfying parts of private practice.  It depends in great part on how you see your role.  
Do you know that you are entrusted with the unique privilege of relieving the suffering of animals while addressing the emotional pain of their human companions?  Do you see yourself as one of the few who can help people honor their obligation to their pets and their livestock?  Or do you believe you are the executioner charged with severing the relationship between clients and animals?
Defining the Bond
The AVMA defines the human-animal bond as, "a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and other animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well being of both.  This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, other animals, and the environment.  The veterinarian's role in the human-animal bond is to maximize the potentials of this relationship between people and other animals."3
What does that definition mean to you?  It means you can and should honor the human-animal bond in your own practice.
All veterinarians are encouraged to learn more about the human-animal bond.  Unlike the pre-1970's philosophy of veterinary medical education, it is now known that the skills that are required to attend to the bond can be learned.  Granted, some people have an innate ability, but those who don't can learn how to cultivate the bond and, thereby, strengthen the human-animal interdependent relationships between them, their clients, and their patients.
Four Steps to Strengthening the Bond
First, consider joining the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians (AAHABV).  You can learn more about the organization by visiting its web page:
http//members.aol.com/guyh7/aahabv.html.  You can join by sending an application form (available on the web or by calling me, Caroline Schaffer, at 334-727-8122) with your $25 yearly membership fee to  Dr. Sally Walshaw, AAHABV's secretary-treasurer, at 4550 Comanche Drive, Okemos, MI 48864.  Students may join for a $5 annual membership fee.
Second, attend lectures on the human-animal bond.   Tuskegee University 's 36th Annual Veterinary Medical Symposium had five hours of continuing education on March 15-16, 2001.  Lectures included the veterinarian's role in animal abuse, results of pet attachment and dissociaton surveys given to veterinary medical students, and the public and animal health consequences of pet ownership in natural disasters.
The 138th Annual Convention of the AVMA in Boston, MA , will have 1-1/2 full days on the human-animal bond on July 17-18,  2001.  Lectures will include preserving and repairing the human-animal bond, caring for pet owners in a bond-centered practice, identifying and helping at-risk clients, preventing dog bites  and addressing the quality of life of patients, end-of-life issues, and ethical considerations in veterinary medicine.  Two veterinarians will describe their successful human-animal bond outreach programs.
Other veterinary medical and multi-disciplinary meetings are also embracing the bond in their offerings.
If nothing is conveniently accessible to you, now is the time to advocate for adding human-animal bond continuing education to your local, state, or regional meetings.
Third, read all you can.  Nowadays, new books are coming out with greater frequency.  AAHA offers several excellent books.  The Human-Animal Bond and Grief by Laurel Lagoni, Carolyn Butler, and Suzanne Hetts4 should be on every Alabama veterinarian's bookshelf.  It helps veterinarians understand the human-animal bond, develop client communication skills, and assist clients with death, dying, and loss.
Veterinary medical journals and magazines are also running articles in greater frequency than ever before.  Veterinary Economics has a column called "Building the Bond."  The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association runs a feature called, "Exploring the Bond."
Fourth, network with people in other human-animal bond professions and organizations.  The Delta Society5 is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the human-animal health connection.  Learn about the Delta Society and its annual conferences by visiting http://deltasociety.org.  
People, Animals, Nature, Inc. (PAN)6 is another multidisciplinary organization open to veterinarians that celebrates the relationship between people, animals, and the environment.  Learn about PAN and review links to other human-animal bond organizations by visiting http://pan-inc.org.
Share Your Joys
The human-animal bond has many facets.  Whether they realize it or not, many
veterinarians in Alabama have found satisfying ways to strengthen and celebrate the human-animal bond in their practice.  The Alabama Veterinarian and the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Welfare-Human Bond Committee (chairman Dr. Robert Baker at 205-665-538) would love to hear how the human-animal bond has strengthened your relationship with your clients, patients, and staff.  They want to know how the human-animal bond works for you and your practice.  
To share your insights with your colleagues, contact Dr. A. E. Marshall,  editor of the Alabama Veterinarian, or Dr. John T. “Tom” Williamson, president of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association, at their  addresses on the inside front cover of this Alabama Veterinarian.
For more about Auburn University 's elective in the human-animal bond, call Dr. Brenda Griffin (334-844-5936), Dr. Donna Angarano (334-844-2685), or Dr. Elizabeth Welles (334-844-4539).  
For more about Tuskegee University 's Center for the Study of Human-Animal Interdependent Relationships, go to http://hometown.aol.com/sebi2i/myhomepageindex.html or call Caroline Schaffer at 334-727-8122.
Herriot J. All creatures great and small.   New York : St. Martin's Press, 1972.
Brown JP, Silverman JD.  The current and future market for veterinarians and veterinary medical service in the United States.  JAVMA 1999; 215(2):172.
Committee on the Human-Animal Bond, Committee C: Human-animal bond issues. JAVMA 1998;212(11):1975.
Lagoni L, Butler C, Hetts, S. The Human-Animal Bond and Grief , Philadelphia : WB Saunders, 1994.
Delta Society, 289 Perimeter Road East, Renton, WA 98055-1329 , 425-226-7357.
People, Animals, Nature, Inc., 1820 Princeton Circle, Naperville, IL 60565, 630-369-8377.