Promoting the Human-animal Bond in Veterinary Practice
Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives

While I am a Charter member of the Delta Society (circa 1980), a charter member of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians (circa 1990), and a board member of Vet-One (circa 1999), the original book was pending for over two decades. My initial human-animal bond family research was published in the Pet Connection, the CENSHARE (Center to Study Human-Animal Relationships and Environments, University of Minnesota) proceedings from early Delta Society meetings (circa 1983) in Minnesota and California. In 1982, following some preliminary Delta Society studies, I had developed a 32-question family survey to be distributed at 63 military veterinary facilities across the United States, and had 961 of 1500 completed surveys returned (64% response rate). Concurrently I had surveyed the veterinarians in those facilities and asked them to predict their client’s responses; there were 86 veterinarians who responded (50.2 percent response rate). The responses of those veterinarians were published in JAVMA in 1988 (Vol 192, No. 12, June 15, 1988), and while they understood the professional and scientific values of their clients, they often underestimated the social interdependence between client and pet. This bias has remained unchanged in many practices during the subsequent decade, and in 2003, the AAHA Compliance Study showed most veterinarians still did not understand the bond and the Pet parent concerns.

Dr. Leo Bustad committed his life and his golden years promoting the importance of the human-animal bond, supported since the beginning by Linda Hines, the current president/CEO of the Delta Society. Many caring individuals have spent over two decades promoting the bond; healthcare professionals like Tom Lane, Bill and Michael McCulloch, John Neu, Earl Strimple, Lynn Anderson, Hiram Kitchin, Bill Kay, Lynnette and Ben Hart, James Harris, Erwin Small, R. K. Anderson, Marv Samuelson, and many more that space prohibits listing. In more recent years, younger, compassionate professionals like Marty Becker, Greg Ogilvie, Kathy Mitchner, Chuck Wayner, and others in “Vet One” and AAHABV have taken up the challenge to establish the human-animal bond as part of every veterinary healthcare delivery program.

The concurrent over-production of attorneys has also hit this profession in this new century, and many of those are warning against promoting the human animal bond. This is typical legal misdirection. Almost every member of every practice entered this profession because their love animals, and some have even learned to like the clients. Clients define our work place, and after 9-11, the pets role in the family was elevated significantly due to the non-judgmental love people felt when hey were “hibernating”in fear of the next terrorist attack. Most every practice that we were supporting, which had been using the term “need”, had the best last quarter of their practice history, while the practices which had been “recommending” considerations and offering options had the worst quarter of their history. Stress people do NOT want tough options, they want clear statements of need, and as Americans, they prefer to think they are in control, so we give them “two yes options”, as in “We can do it now or do it next week, which do you prefer?”

This work is designed to put the compassionate aspects of the human-animal bond into practical implementation terms for the veterinary practice team to embrace and healthcare professionals to pursue with commitment. The human-animal bond is so obvious to most all veterinary practice team members, that it often escapes the importance of being an integral program to routinely assess and improve. It is hoped that this thesis will assist practices in committing the attention and resources needed to ensure the client bond, and thereby establishing a greater patient return rate, which translates into “good business” in this new millennium of veterinary healthcare delivery.

Thomas E. Catanzaro (aka, Dr. Tom Cat), DVM, MHA, FACHE
Diplomate, American College of Healthcare Executives

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Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives