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

The human-animal bond can be traced back to the earliest days of civilization, but only in the past couple decades have pets become accepted as "companion" animals. The people who raised you probably taught you pet care, the best way they knew how, as learned from their grandparents, who probably had farm dogs and barn cats..... and you have probably said, "I'll never raise kids the way I was raised! Most people have not had comprehensive courses on being stewards of other living entities, whether it be animals or children. It is our job as a veterinary professional to understand the differences and help clients become better stewards of animals. The traditional client/animal owner categories are shown in the table below.


In reality, these traditional categories no longer apply. Since 9-11, the pet's role in the family has been elevated, the non-judgmental love shared is significant, and 85 to 87 percent of the pet owners now consider their pet a member of the family. The challenge lies in practice paradigms, from the habitual word "annual" to the production word "recommend", we have created our own dilemma. The AVMA initiated a direct to client media blitz in 2004, supported it with a web site, and has increased the scope annually; the message has been based on a simple "accepted" fact: one dog year = 5 to 7 people years, so ensure your pet visits the veterinarian at least twice a year. The AAHA Compliance Study (circa 2003) showed that while most practices felt they were communicating effectively with their clients, those same clients stated did not feel a sense of urgency for wellness and preventive care (recommend has no sense of urgency to the average client). While "recommend" was the word we used with producers, who understood wellness and herd health, as well as having an economic yardstick to make healthcare decisions, companion animal owners do not have the herd health savvy, and they have an emotional yardstick for making healthcare decisions. The times have changed, but practice communication habits have not usually kept up.

To begin this text, we need to look at the beginnings of the HAB study process. I started formally studying the human-animal bond in conjunction with the 1980 Delta Society organizational Meeting at Pennsylvania; Leo Bustad's vision has had a lasting impact on me. I informally started studying the Human-Animal Bond when I started to learn how to gentle horses, rather than break them, from an old California horseman who rode with a spade bit and super gentle hands. While studying animal production at Montana State, a real hands on experience, I further realized the most of the 4-H and FFA projects were designed to teach ranch kids that breaking the bond with the critter they had hand raised was how they earned their college money..... early production medicine teaching points for sure. As a strong Scouter and youth oriented, I started to review the HAB-family process by studying family values, and used the transient military communities as a sample base. In August 1982, the military human/companion animal bond survey was developed, focusing on: a cross section of American pet owners, the mobile military family group, the pet's role in the quality of life of service members, and the pet's role in community health. The baseline concepts were developed from Dr. Ann Cain's 1977 62-family survey titled "A Study of Pets in the Family System" (Note 1). The survey questions were developed from the subjective responses to the Cain study, then expanded based on the professional health care experience of the military veterinarians, social workers, and psychiatric officers at the U.S. Army Health Services Command.


D Clients
Do only the "required"

C/B Clients
Preventive Care is Consideration for Owner

A/B Clients
Does Most Anything Needed as Steward of Another

Owner treats pet like

An animal


A child

Human-animal bond

No awareness


Significant importance

Pet's health and wellbeing




Pet's happiness

Not a concept

Concern in general

Important every day

Pet's life expectancy




Rewards owner receives from pet

Low awareness

Moderate Awareness


Clinic's economic return and client-base growth

Volume required

Mid-range productivity

High return rate productivity

Emotional rewards for hospital staff



Peace of Mind

Overall impact on future success of the veterinary profession


Status Quo

Leaders in the community

To properly analyze the mobile population's opinions of human/companion animal bond factors, 1500 copies of a ten-page 32-question survey were distributed to 63 military installations; 961 surveys were returned (64%). The effects of human-animal interaction on community, family, and animal health have an extensive impact upon the military member, the military installation, and the military health care delivery system. Results showed significant sociological and psychological factors that influence the quality of life of the mobile military member and the family. To this date, there have been many subsequent studies, but this one has had the most significant "n", and has been validated at most every opportunity. Family values about companion animals have not changed, they have just been allowed to surface.

Concurrent with the Client Survey, a lateral survey was conducted on the question of "How well can veterinarians predict their client's human-animal bond?", and the results were very revealing.

In the survey of 63 military veterinary facilities, responses from 961 clients were compared with the predictions of the client's response by the 86 servicing U.S. Army Veterinary Corps practitioners. Results revealed both sociologic and psycho-logic factors that influenced the quality of life of mobile military members and their families. The survey also revealed that, whereas the newly graduated veterinarians understood the professional and scientific values of their clients, they often underestimated the social interdependence between client and pet. The military veterinarians considered in this survey were considered representative of the new graduate, and the results were relevant to any civilian practitioner concerned with client relations or hiring new graduates.

The primary goal of the original study compared here was to identify the benefits of companion animals to those that have accepted that stewardship. This comparison was laterally completed by the attending veterinarians in hopes of providing information which may increase the sensitivity of educators and veterinarians to the importance of the human/companion animal bond in client relations.

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

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