Blog: Human-animal bond goes mainstream in the Wall Street Journal

Collaborative investigation a model for future veterinary research.
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Dec 17, 2013

This morning’s Wall Street Journal contained a fascinating article on page 4: “How dogs might protect kids against asthma: gut bacteria.” According to the article, researchers have determined that children in households with dogs exposed to the outdoors may develop a gastrointestinal tract with a more mature immune response to allergens. The consortium of researchers came from the University of Michigan, Henry Ford Health System and Georgia Regents University. It was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

This was not a cute story about rambunctious pets but a cogent summary of a pervasive pediatric condition that’s improved, it appears, by the simple presence of a dog—provided that the dog is exposed to the outdoors. This is human-animal bond research at its finest, with collaborators across state lines and systems. Even better: the nation’s leading business newspaper treated this story like the important news it is, placing it in the main section and not with lifestyle articles. Now we’re getting somewhere.

We need private, nonprofit and educational institutions of all sizes to step up with funding and researchers for these types of projects. For example, why don’t land grant animal science departments treat dogs and cats as animals of didactic and scientific significance? Why aren’t veterinary colleges prodding their animal science sisters and brothers, and while they’re at it reaching across the state to human medical schools and hospital systems like Henry Ford in Detroit to collaborate on these projects? Veterinarians rightly have complained that One Health initiatives too often leave veterinarians on the outside looking in, overlooking the expertise and relevance of DVM training to the research and projects at the heart of One Health work.

The solution is not to complain, particularly in animal health publications or forums, but for academic veterinarians to raise their voices, stand up on podiums with loud microphones, and appear in broader publications with the message that veterinary medicine has a role to play. What better place to start than human-animal bond research.

When this goes mainstream, when the Wall Street Journal regularly reports on such research as we enjoyed in today’s edition, then we will begin to effect the change we seek, and millions more Americans will appreciate the value of a simple, delightful household pet. This will happen only if local, state and national veterinary organizations take up the human-animal bond cause arm in arm with veterinary educators.

What they’ll find is that plenty of private and nonprofit organizations, with some governmental help, are ready to join the brigade.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on dvm360.com helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement.