Bustad winner: Working dogs on center stage

Bustad winner: Working dogs on center stage

Nov 01, 2001

Boston-Working dogs and service animals will take on a much greater role in our society, especially in light of the September 11 attack on the United States.

Bustad Award winner Dr. Bonnie Beaver recently delivered that message in an exclusive interview with DVM Newsmagazine. The national award is given to a veterinarian who has promoted the human-animal bond in exceptional ways. It is named after the late noted human-animal bond pioneer Dr. Leo K. Bustad.

"We are really in the early stages of truly appreciating the capabilities of these animals-all the way to helping the handicapped to detecting drugs and explosives," Beaver continues.

Society, she adds, likely will put more and more dogs to work as service animals, and their importance will be more clearly defined in the years ahead as a result of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Beaver, the new chair of the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) Executive Board, recently accepted the Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award from the Delta Society, AVMA and Hill's Pet Nutrition at Tufts Animal Expo.

Added spice

The laurel adds new spice to a career that has been peppered with accolades since she earned her DVM degree in 1974 from the University of Minnesota.

For Beaver, receiving the award is nothing short of a thrill, an honor and "so overwhelming. Overwhelming is the best word to describe the feeling," she says with a laugh.

As a founding member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Beaver has spent a good deal of her career working on improving the human-animal bond as a teacher and practitioner. But, she adds, veterinary medicine has a lot of work left in this arena, especially with every practitioner's role as an educator and role model in championing the human-animal bond. On this topic, she is quite serious.

Her priority

Beaver, who is professor in the Department of Small Animal Surgery and Medicine at Texas A&M's veterinary college, explains, "My priority is to educate veterinarians and veterinary students about animal behavior and the human animal bond. If I can do that, they can educate others and it turns into a multiplication effect," she says.

"The greatest pride I get is to look at people who I have taught become wonderful, successful practitioners. In a way it is like a parent gloating over the accomplishments of their children," Beaver explains. "The second is to see animals that were at the brink of euthanasia and be able to go on to become wonderful, productive family pets."

Beaver adds that clearly understanding animal behavior and helping clients do the same is a critically important role veterinarians can play.

"It is important because some are truly medical problems that are showing as behavioral problems. Some are behavioral problems presented as if they are medical problems. So, you can't divorce the two."

Mainstream behavior

Beaver adds that diagnosing and treating behavior problems now falls into the realm of veterinary medicine.

"We have to provide this service to clients, and it is becoming much more important as their relationship to their animals changes. We need to educate the new animal owner on what to expect," she says.

Beaver says that while the human-animal bond has made great improvements to the quality of life for many pets, there is still a wide range of how people in our society feel about their animals, from being a utilitarian animal to a family member.

Animals in society

But Beaver also has definite opinions on the status animals play in society.

For example, San Francisco legislation changing the designation of pet owners to guardians is dangerous, she says.

"I have some very deep concerns about that area, and I do not want the human-animal bond driven by attorneys," she explains. "The bond is important, but until an owner is willing to pay an amount equal to what it would cost in human medicine, we should not be trying to make the animal an absolute equivalent to a human. If it doesn't have that value to those who cherish it the most, it shouldn't be considered something we are guardians of," Beaver says.

From the beginning

Beaver grew up on a small farm and had a chance to watch a number of species in their natural environment.

She says of the early days, "A lot of my interest in behavior was just finding out what was normal for the dog, cat or horse or cow."

Professionally, one of the dog groups in Texas wanted someone to discuss behavior, so she volunteered for the job. This presentation set her behavior career in motion.

"When you start putting presentations together, you really start to wonder why such and such was happening. There was no kind of association at the time. It was one of those things that because you work with animals every day, you learn a little about what they are going to do."

Well, over the years, she has learned a lot.

She is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists since its founding in 1993. She has a master's degree in veterinary medicine and surgery and is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist as recognized by the Animal Behavior Society. She has delivered more than 300 presentations, written more than 150 peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters. She wrote another 60 articles for lay publications on the human-animal bond. She is the author of seven textbooks that are used in veterinary schools all over the world. She served on the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources.

And it all added up to one more defining moment in her career, getting word that she just won the 2001 Bustad Award.

A winning moment

Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, director of Professional Affairs for Hill's, was given the honor of informing her long-time friend.

Beaver says, "She and I have been friends for many years, and it made it exciting to hear it from her. She called and said, 'O.K. Sit down. I have something nice to tell you,' " Beaver laughs.

During the nomination, Beaver says she had a chance to read the letters for nomination. "I just sat there practically crying just thinking that people were so nice in what they could say. It's mind boggling to me, but it is also quite a thrill."