The Man Behind the Award

Before most people were even thinking about the important role pets play in people’s lives, Dr. Leo K. Bustad, D.V.M., Ph.D. was doing something about it. While dean of the veterinary school at Washington State University, Dr. Bustad and a colleague founded the People-Pet Partnership. The organization was the first university based community service program centering on the human-animal bond. The Partnership teamed with another group in 1981 to form the Delta Society, an international non-profit organization of which Dr. Bustad served as the first president, a post he held until 1990.

The Delta Society, through Dr. Bustad’s guidance, funded the first credible research on animals’ importance to the general public’s health and well-being. And, the organization’s mission continues to be “to promote mutually beneficial relationships with animals to improve people’s health, independence, and quality of life. Up to this day, the Society promotes the healing power of animals through the Pet Partners program that trains animals-and their owners-to make hospital, nursing home and classroom visits.

As veterinarians and other animal professionals gather in Boston for the Tufts Animal EXPO, it is appropriate that the organization he helped found and guide, the Delta Society, along with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc., are recognizing another veterinarian for continuing the work in this important area with an award in Dr. Bustad’s name.

The 2000 recipient of the Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian Award is Dr. Caroline Schaffer, founder and director of the Center for the Study of Human-animal Interdependent Relationships at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Ala. Among her accomplishments, Dr. Schaffer has been instrumental in championing the importance of pet ownership for immunicompromised people including those living with HIV/AIDS. At a ceremony on October 12, Dr. Schaffer will be recognized for her “outstanding work as a veterinarian in promoting the human-animal bond in her profession and her community.”

A lot has been written in recent years about the human-animal bond. However, possibly the best description of its importance comes from Dr. Bustad himself. The following quotes are from an article he authored in 1985 in the American Animal Hospital Association’s publication, “Trends”. The article was a tribute to Dr. Bustad’s friend and Delta Society colleague, Dr. Michael J. McCulloch.

“A decade ago, I wrote an article entitled “Pets-For-People Therapy” in which I discussed the benefits of companion animals. … In the intervening ten years, I have traveled extensively and learned of the experiences and studies of many people reported at a variety of meetings, including three international conferences. I am now even more convinced that animals, properly selected and maintained, can contribute to the health and well-being of many more people-not only psychologically, but physically and socially. More and more health professionals will be recommending that people obtain animals as companions or as helpers.”

In a large part through Bustad’s leadership and dedication, the medical profession as a whole and veterinarians and veterinary programs in particular have come to recognize the many benefits companion animals contribute to their human “families”.

In the same 1985 article he writes,

“On the basis of experiences by many people and institutions in Australia, Europe, New Zealand and North America, companion animals must be recognized as vital to the physical, psychological and social well-being of people and as agents of therapy in a great number of conditions and situations. Almost everyone could benefit by contact with warm “fuzzies” (unless we are allergic), and our companion animals offer us security, succor, esteem, understanding, forgiveness, fun and laughter and, most importantly, abundant and unconditional love. Furthermore, they make no judgments, and we can be ourselves with them. They also need our help and make us feel important.”

As more and more professionals and pet owners alike come to appreciate the special relationship between people and companion animals, the annual Bustad Award provides an opportunity to look back and remember the man who was an integral part of bringing this valuable relationship to the public’s attention in the first place.

Questions/comments, contact Julie Lux at


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