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

The proximity of the Animal Disease Prevention and Control Facility enhances the choice of military clients to use the military veterinarian. Although the client pays for all goods received, there is a perception of true value, because high profit should not be a motive of the military facility operations. The facility operates to protect the health of the soldier and public health of federal community surrounding the military working/training environment; the clients accept the restricted (by appointment only, refer if chronic) veterinary medical service support program as necessary for typical military readiness and mobilization necessities.


Conversely, a newly graduated military veterinarian and a newly graduated civilian-salaried veterinarian are expected to have similar value profiles. A new graduate brings only knowledge learned in school and a small amount of personal experience learned from another veterinarian. A new veterinarian enters an established practice with established rules, procedures, and client handling techniques; the new practitioner must comply with the practice standards already established. A recent graduate generally requires close supervision and development in areas of client relations.

The differences in veterinarian prediction and client response shown in Table 1 were attributed to the youth of the military veterinarians, especially in reference to their family experiences. It was expected that Table 2 would show better predictions, but the great less than expected response by owners surprised the surveyors also.

The veterinarian was pessimistic about responses of pets to family interactions, generally predicting significant negative responses that were not reported by clients. The clients reported that less than 1% of the pets never showed a quick positive response, and the veterinarians predicted this inherent belief, that all animals have some good in them.

The responses in Table 7 attack the disposable pet concepts so common in low income clientele. The figures reflected a responsible pet ownership being supported by disbelieving veterinarians.

There are emotional stresses that occur when a pet becomes lost, dies or is killed, and Table 8 was designed to compare client values to common practice methods. In theory, clients and veterinarians were equally sensitive to the need for burial, but we need to question then why cremation is so often recommended.

Results of the survey implied military pet owners have more intense human-animal bond feelings than other groups in similar surveys. It appeared that the economic, educational, and social structure of the military respondent were the key factors affecting results of the survey. In this survey population, 54% were mothers, less than 34% had a college education, and most earned less than $20,000 per year. In all comparable studies, the respondents were better educated, included more females, or had a higher economic status in the surveyed population. Also, by identifying the center 60% of the response line as neutral, the intensity of the clients' emotions could be better identified; this also caused the responding veterinarians to appear less perceptive. The veterinarian estimated the client effectively in matters of professional or scientific judgment, but appeared to be underestimating the intensity of the social interdependence between animal and man. If the negative responses were evaluated for the same answer line, it would be noted that the veterinarians generally overestimated the response, that is, they could not imagine clients that couldn't see the value of a companion animal. Veterinarians' responses often were on the center 60% of the answer line, thereby masking their mediated response. When the educational trends toward teaching ethics and values are observed (7)(8), it can be seen that the universities are well aware of the needs, as is the American Veterinary Medical Association. But when these ethics are applied, the new graduate appears to mediate his response from his personal intense belief. From management experiences, this response could be credited to a new employee syndrome, common to the military or civilian practice; that is, what will the boss tolerate?

Whereas the family importance of the companion animal appeared substantially greater in this survey population, compared with populations considered in other surveys, the responses concerning companion animals in family situations were similar in most populations. The low estimate by the veterinarians might be indicative of a lack of experience or of memories of a few bad experiences in the first few years of practice. Regardless of cause, the importance of the human/companion animal bond in client relations must be realized and sensitivities should be increased in both academic and practice environments.

The perceptions reflected in the above study have been indicative of most veterinary practices visited during the delivery of our veterinary consulting services (over 1400 in the past 14 years). The 25 practice program appendices offered here cannot all be implemented at once; the practice leadership needs to select and implement one at a time. The Delta Society (800-869-6898) has provided many of the pictures for this text, and as the international clearing house for human-animal bond studies and information, has more program resources than any practice could ever hope to implement; this is an important group to join and utilize in the fast changing world of community-based veterinary practice.

It is my sincere hope that the veterinary reader will embrace the simple fact that the human-animal bond is why we are here, that our veterinary healthcare delivery programs must be founded in solid patient advocacy, and that the values that bring clients and staff into our sphere of influence provide a charter of delivery excellence that must be caring, compassionate, and nurturing. This profession is more of a "calling" than any other healthcare profession, and our patients must trust us more than any other patient in any other healthcare field. The trust of a patient, and their steward, cannot be violated with discounts, bait-and-switch programs, or a "buyer beware" mentality. We each must hold ourselves to a higher authority, and to a higher standard; we must speak for the animal's well being and protect the covenant which goes back to the beginning of civilization. Our profession must stand tall and be counted when issues of animal welfare are being discussed. We must be leaders in the human-animal bond awareness efforts of our society.


1.  Catanzaro, T.E. A Study of the Human/Companion Animal Bond in Mobile Military Families in the United states, The Pet Connection, CENSHARE, University of Minnesota 55455.

2.  Cain, Ann Ottney, RN, Ph.D., A Study of Pets in the Family System. Paper presented at the first International Conference on the Human/Companion Animal Bond, Philadelphia, PA, October, 1981.

3.  Charles, Charles & Associates: The Veterinary Services Market: Study Summary and Report on Promoting Veterinary Services. Overland Park, KS. 1983.

4.  Horn, Jack C. and Meer, Jeff, "The Pleasure of Their Company", Psychology Today, August, 1984, pp. 52-58.

5.  Anderson, R.K. (ed), "The Pet Connection", Center to Study Human-Animal/Relationships and Environments, (CENSHARE), Box 197, Mayo Building, 420 Delaware Street, S.E., University of Minnesota, Minnesota 55455, January, 1984.

6.  Hopkins, A.F., "Ethical Implications in Issues and Decisions in Companion Animal Medicine", Implications of History and Ethics to Medicine-Veterinary and Human, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX, McCulloch & Morris(Ed), 1978.

7.  Talbot, R.B., "Exploring Ethical and Value Issues in Veterinary Medicine", Journal of Veterinary Medicine Education, 8th Symposium, Vol. 9, No. 3, College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Polytechnic, Blacksburg, VA 24061 (Spr. 83).

8.  McCulloch, W.F., Heidelbaugh, N.D., Hines, L.M., and Bustad, L.K., "The Human-animal bond in the public health curriculum," JAVMA, Vol. 183, No. 12, Dec., 1983.

9.  McCulloch, William F., "The Veterinarian's Education about the Human-Animal bond and Animal-Facilitated Therapy", in The Veterinary Clinics of North America, Small Animal Practice, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, PA. Vol. 15, No. 2, Mar., 1985.

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

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