Breaking boundaries

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Nov 01, 2006



COLUMBIA, MO.— The human-animal bond has no economic boundaries.

Fused in idealism and bonded by a simple anthropomorphic premise, this concept is a destination for all healthy relationships — unconditional caring.

"They don't judge you; they just love you. It's unconditional. It runs deep and broad" from the very rich to the homeless, says Dr. Richard Meadows, clinical associate professor of veterinary medicine and surgery at the University of Missouri (MU).

If he is preaching, he found converts.

Winner of the 2006 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year award, Meadows tells DVM Newsmagazine the human-animal bond should be celebrated. Sponsored by the Delta Society, American Veterinary Medical Association and Hill's Pet Nutrition, the internationally recognized award honors the work of veterinarians in protecting and promoting this bond.

In the last decade, the human-animal bond's status has been catapult forward since its evolution as a theory just 30 years ago. It is the reason veterinary medicine exists outside of its agrarian roots. Even there, it's very much alive.

"I clearly remember putting down a cow and seeing a dairy farmer sob in the corner of the stall. Why wouldn't he? He was with her every morning at 4 a.m. It's why every cow on a farm has a name.

"I think as social animals, we have this need. You see it in the elderly. I remember this older woman who used to come in to the hospital," he recounts. "Society doesn't want her. But her poodle needs her. They are deeply attached."


Named after his daughter, Project HOPE is the offspring of Dr. Richard Meadows' professional mission to help veterinary students gain valuable experience and educate inner-city pet owners about overpopulation.
More evidence mounts that owning a pet has health benefits — a leap from decades past where pets were widely considered disposable luxuries. Even an American Animal Hospital Association survey of pet owners documented 93 percent would risk their own lives to save their pets. This emotional attachment is the greatest driver for the economic future of veterinary medicine, but the challenges society will place on it are just as foreboding.

While tales of five-figure surgeries are recounted as the economic exploratory to the limits of this human-animal bond, the other side is decidedly malignant and some fear terminal.

An estimated 4 million animals are euthanized by humane organizations each year, palpating a throbbing overpopulation problem that seems omnipresent.

The human-animal bond can't be measured by a person's economic lot in life, Meadows adds. But there is inner-city education that is imperative to reverse this overpopulation bloat. And, then, like human medicine, there is the question of access to veterinary care.

"No one would disagree this isn't a horrendous problem. I don't think we can spay/neuter our way out of this problem. You have to educate people holding the pursestrings."

He's doing just that.

This year, Meadows founded a group called Project HOPE (Helping Overpopulation through Education). The inspiration came from his roots; another chance to give back to his community and offer a way to help veterinary students improve their skills as budding surgeons.

One weekend a month, members of Project HOPE travel to low-income areas of Kansas City and spay/neuter about 100 dogs and cats during each visit. The program, Meadows explains, was born from two needs: give veterinary students clinical experience with common medical procedures and serve an important medical and educational mission to underserved, economically impoverished areas.

"It's hard work, but all the volunteers get warm and fuzzies by helping fill such an important need."