Bustad winner: Working dogs on center stage


New awareness of search dogs' importance likely following Sept. 11 attacks

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

Bustad Award winner Dr. Bonnie Beaver recently delivered that messagein an exclusive interview with DVM Newsmagazine. The national awardis given to a veterinarian who has promoted the human-animal bond in exceptionalways. It is named after the late noted human-animal bond pioneer Dr. LeoK. Bustad.

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

Society, she adds, likely will put more and more dogs to work as serviceanimals, and their importance will be more clearly defined in the yearsahead 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 Veterinarianof the Year Award from the Delta Society, AVMA and Hill's Pet Nutritionat Tufts Animal Expo.

Added spice

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

For Beaver, receiving the award is nothing short of a thrill, an honorand "so overwhelming. Overwhelming is the best word to describe thefeeling," 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-animalbond as a teacher and practitioner. But, she adds, veterinary medicine hasa lot of work left in this arena, especially with every practitioner's roleas an educator and role model in championing the human-animal bond. On thistopic, she is quite serious.

Her priority

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

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

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

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

Mainstream behavior

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

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

Beaver says that while the human-animal bond has made great improvementsto the quality of life for many pets, there is still a wide range of howpeople in our society feel about their animals, from being a utilitariananimal 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 petowners to guardians is dangerous, she says.

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

From the beginning

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

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

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

"When you start putting presentations together, you really startto wonder why such and such was happening. There was no kind of associationat the time. It was one of those things that because you work with animalsevery 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 Behavioristssince its founding in 1993. She has a master's degree in veterinary medicineand surgery and is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist as recognizedby the Animal Behavior Society. She has delivered more than 300 presentations,written more than 150 peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters. Shewrote another 60 articles for lay publications on the human-animal bond.She is the author of seven textbooks that are used in veterinary schoolsall over the world. She served on the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committeeto the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the Instituteof Laboratory Animal Resources.

And it all added up to one more defining moment in her career, gettingword 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 itmade 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 lettersfor nomination. "I just sat there practically crying just thinkingthat people were so nice in what they could say. It's mind boggling to me,but it is also quite a thrill."

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