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Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVB, a professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, has been named the 2001 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year.
Dr. Beaver also chairs the American Veterinary Medical Association's executive board. The award was presented at the Tufts Animal Expo in Boston last month. The award is sponsored by the AVMA, Delta Society and Hill's Pet Nutrition.
Veterinary Practice News spoke with Beaver a few days before the award. Following are some of her thoughts on Leo K. Bustad, DVM, Ph.D.; leadership; the state of animal behavior medicine; the human-animal bond; and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
VPN: You consider Dr. Bustad as a friend and a mentor. Can you tell us about what he meant to you?
Beaver: Dr. Bustad was a special person for many, many reasons. First of all, as a relatively new veterinarian and a new faculty member, I would idolize those who had succeeded in academics and in our profession, and he certainly was a person who would have to be viewed as a success. But he never felt himself better than anyone else. You were his friend as an equal peer from the very beginning, so it gave me a sense of belonging very early on.
He also personified a person's ability to survive through hardships that would be unimaginable to most people. As I got to know him more, I obviously got to learn more about some of the various types of hardships that he had been through. But in all that time, it was always a wonderful sense of humor, a glowing perspective of what the future can be.
He would often share his vision of the future with the leading comment 'When I become dictator of the world….' In the sharing of his visions, he would often talk about the importance of animals, the strength veterinarians have in being able to work with those wonderful animals and how important our profession is (at that time) and would become. His visions of the future shaped many of my generation into promoting what is good about the human-animal bond.
VPN: You've won several awards, including the AVMA Animal Welfare Award (1996), the Woman Veterinarian of the Year from the Association of Woman Veterinarians (1982) and the American Animal Hospital Association Friskies PetCare Award for contributions in the field of animal behavior (2001). How do those awards rank?
Beaver (laughing): I can't. Every award that I have been fortunate enough to receive is such a wonderful, overpowering, humbling experience because for each one it represents someone, some group, or maybe individuals, that cared enough to sit down, to even consider nominating me and then to follow through with the process of nomination. So truly each and every one has been very special.
VPN: Is there anything about the Bustad Award that's particularly special?
Beaver: Yes. The Bustad Award is uniquely special because it truly is an honor for the philosophy of a good friend. I see it more as an honor toward his legacy than as a recognition of any small contribution that I personally might have made.
VPN: Let me really put you in the hot seat now. Who would you like to see win it next year?
Beaver: Oh, I don't have favorites. There are many wonderful people who have contributed so much in this area, that are so deserving of this award, that to name one would be a very grave injustice to many others.
VPN: If you were to place a bet…
Beaver (laughing): I'm not a betting kind.
VPN: Let's talk a little bit about your work now, specifically can you tell us what you're working on with your research and activities?
Beaver: My activities have changed just a little right now in a temporary basis. I have been extremely active with AVMA, and have recently in July been elected to chair the AVMA executive board. That is my highest priority right now, along with obviously my job and working with the students that I'm privileged to work with.
I have a resident in behavior, Dr. Lore Haug, and helping her complete her residency is my top priority right now.
So working with animals that have problems, the owners, and the students and residents, that's my highest priority. I have not had the time right now to get into new areas of looking at different research opportunities. That will come, but it's going to be a few years from now.
VPN: As the chair of the executive board, is that a position in which you can promote an agenda or is that more of a keep Dr. Brandt in line in more of a checks and balances than an opportunity to promote your own ideas or agenda?
Beaver: The chair of the AVMA's executive board has both opportunities. We can certainly promote an agenda, but to come with something that is out of left field at this time I don't consider appropriate for a chair.
This is my fifth year on the executive board. For many of those projects that I have had an interest in, I've been able to make small contributions over the five-year time I'm been on the board so far and into my sixth year.
A person should never come to an executive board with an agenda to accomplish in one year. I don't think it's good for an organization and I don't think that you can accomplish the best for a goal by doing that. So working toward visions that you have coming onto the board, it's allowing the whole organization to see how well it fits in, or doesn't fit in, and then to start implementing parts, probably in a gradual way rather than a sudden, abrupt change of pace. That would be true to as a person then would go on to, if they choose to, to become an officer: into the president-elect, president, past president office. The incoming president has the opportunity to address the house of delegates and set up a program that they would like to see implemented. Most of the time, if you go back and look at those who have successfully accomplished that, they have been laying out that pathway over a many-year period. That's the best way to do it overall.
VPN: Of those projects that you've been involved with, what issues are you most interested in?
Beaver: The one that has just recently been completed was the publication of the model for community to work with the dog bite issue. That was published in June. That in reality is the culmination of about 10 years of my work. It started when I was on the human-animal bond committee, evolved into a welfare forum, the welfare forum progressed to the point of developing a task force, I was fortunate enough to be asked to chair that task force, and ultimately was passed through the executive board and the house of delegates and has become a model that literally has been recognized around the world. I was fortunate enough to be at the international human-animal bond meeting in Rio and had the opportunity to talk to several people from literally all over the world who had seen it, who were aware of it and in fact were implementing parts or in a couple cases their national government had set up task forces and they came up with the same answers that we did, which is kind of interesting.
VPN: Can you talk a little about animal behavior in veterinary practice, really looking at general practice. Specifically, are the universities teaching enough behavior to the veterinary students and then are enough practitioners practicing veterinary behavior medicine once they get into practice?
Beaver: The answer to your question isn't a simple one, but in general, are schools teaching enough behavior? If I answer that from a global perspective, a countrywide perspective, overall, the answer is no. There are certainly some schools that are doing an excellent job of it.
Obviously, as a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, I would have to say you can never teach enough behavior. But I know that is not an appropriate comment because that's true for every specialty area. A veterinary education represents a blend, and what we need to determine is a core that a new graduate needs.
Are practitioners using this information? Many of them are and very successfully helping their clients develop better animals. In other words, they're raising puppies and kittens better to become good dogs and cats when they get older. They are adding behavioral consulting to their practice for the problem areas. They are referring those problems which they do not feel comfortable in handling. They're working with other colleagues in their community, some feel more comfortable doing behavior consultations than others do. Then certainly some will refer all the way up to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
The practitioners are better able to understand the importance of veterinary behavior than are the academicians. That's one reason why we find, and have for many years, it is the practitioner who is, in fact, really the driving force behind the development of behavior as a specialty.
VPN: Within the general practice, can behavior be seen or should it be seen as an actual profit center or should it be seen as one necessary component to practicing veterinary medicine?
Beaver: You can look at it either way. Certainly it should be a profit center. We should not be doing things for nothing. Our time is valuable, and there are many wonderful ways that we can make a contribution to our clients and not suffer the consequences of no money.
But in addition it's also a service, because many of the very introductory things such as 'How are you going to housetrain your new puppy?' can easily be talked to, a client can be informed, by a knowledgeable technician that has learned this type of thing or in quick discussions with the veterinarians with handouts that the practice uses.
So it's both. We need to help the client establish a good relationship with that animal so that it will be a long-term relationship. But we also need to be able to offer the services for the abnormal, just as for a medical abnormal problem.
VPN: It seems that behavior is actually becoming a bit more medically oriented with some of the new drugs and some of the diets. Hill's will be launching a diet that has some impact on cognitive function, etc. Has that changed what it is to be a behaviorist?
Beaver: No. For some, perhaps. The thinking that we as a profession as a whole have had about behavior is it's dog trainers. In reality, the behavior problems that I saw early on, because of my medical background, many times were behaviors that were really medically based. As much as 50 percent of the problems that I was initially encountering were really medical problems that were presented as behavior changes. The realization that medicine and behavior are one and the same has been out there for a long time. It's just that many of our colleagues did not necessarily make that connection early on.
VPN: What is the role of the dog trainer?
Beaver: There are a number of things. A trainer basically helps their clients teach dogs basic commands: Teaching the owner how to give the commands and teaching the dog how to obey the commands. That's important in establishing a good relationship between an owner and an animal, but it's only a small part. It's much the same as 'What is the role of nutrition?' Nutrition is important in having a healthy dog, but it isn't the whole part of having a healthy dog. There are a lot of little bits and pieces that make up a good, healthy animal in body and mind. Training is one part.
VPN: What is the next major breakthrough, or area that needs to be broke through to, in the medical side of behavior medicine?
Beaver: We need to have a better understanding of the work of the neurotransmitters and what area they are working in various animals, because it will vary by species, and how those can be regulated by drug therapy–new drugs and existing drugs. That's the hottest area for research right now. It has implications in both human medicine and veterinary medicine.
VPN: Are you concerned at all as drugs are developed, certainly in seems in human medicine, there's a tendency to perhaps overprescribe behavior drugs? 'You're too difficult to deal with, here take this.' Is that a concern in veterinary medicine?
Beaver: Yes, and it's a concern now, it's not just a future concern. The tendency is if you have something that you don't understand in any great depth is you want a quick, easy way to manage it. And if you can do it as a pill or an ointment or something like that, so much the better.
Many times with behavior we also need to modify environment and we need some behavior modification or relearning about things. We find, in both regular veterinary medicine and the behavioral component of it, the tendency for clients to want a quick and easy fix. They don't want to have to invest time and effort in anything.
We talk about it, even from the standpoint of 'If I have a drug I can give twice a day instead of three times or four times a day, I will have better owner compliance,' whether it's an antibiotic or anything else. That same philosophy carries over with the behavior. 'Solve it with a quick pill, I don't have time, or I don't want to take time to work with the animal, too.'
VPN: Is there an easy, quick fix to that tendency?
Beaver: No. If you have one, please tell us all.
VPN: As part of the award, you receive $5,000, half of which goes to the university of your choice. Have you selected the university you'll be giving that money to?
Beaver: Oh yes, let me give you one big guess: Texas A&M University. There are two reasons for that. One is that Texas A&M University and through its administrators has allowed me to pursue this area of research and interest in teaching.
The second is that Texas A&M University has a dean who is very interested in the human-animal bond area and promoting it not only within our college of veterinary medicine but also throughout the community and the country. Dr. Adams is well respected in his interest in the human-animal bond and it's very appropriate that Texas A&M University be the recipient of that award.
VPN: Is there any particular use you'd like that money put to?
Beaver: It's something that Dr. Adams and several of the others in the administration and I will be talking about. It's certainly to promote, in a number of ways and there are a number of options that are available, but it is to promote the human-animal bond. It's important that it go to that and that it be used as effectively as it can toward that goal.
VPN: You'll be receiving the award exactly a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the city where two of the hijacked planes took off from. Have you reflected at all on what the attacks have meant to the human-animal bond?
Beaver: Oh yes. In fact, in my acceptance comments I will be talking about that. In addition, Tufts is dedicating the meeting to the service dogs and in lieu of a couple of their banquets or social functions, they will be using the money that would have gone to those toward the purchase of some service dogs, which I thought was a wonderful, wonderful thing to do.
To me, in reflecting back on September 11 and the following events that happened, the impact of the human-animal bond was shown in probably one of the greatest ways that it could, and that was through these service dogs—both the rescue dogs and the cadaver dogs. The information that came out about how these animals worked tirelessly, how they became depressed and needed reinforcement of finding somebody, how veterinarians, technicians and other humane groups worked to make sure these animals were hydrated, that they were kept healthy—it just is absolutely touching and shows the importance of these animals in our lives.
We also heard comments about people who had to abandon their pets and how they worked as quickly as they could to be able to get in and rescue those animals from nearby apartments. The horrors that those people were suffering until they were able to get those animals out safely. Those all brought to the forefront the impact of the human-animal bond.
VPN: One thing we had learned was that pet stores in the area that sold puppies sold puppies at record levels.
Beaver: I hadn't heard that. Interesting.
VPN: Is there anything else you'd like to speak of?
Beaver: I had the privilege of being at the international human-animal bond conference in Rio de Janeiro as I mentioned. I was at the previous one, which they're held every three years, the one previously had been in Prague, the Czech Republic. The information that came out of this year's meeting was really, it impacted me from the standpoint it was so positive in the amount of research that has gone into the human-animal bond in showing the benefits of this bond. It wasn't just dogs are nice and they lick your face and they wag their tail, which is nice because I like my dog to lick my face and wag his tail, but it is also nice to understand that there truly is a scientific basis for the human-animal bond. We are learning more about it and it's not just a warm fuzzy. It's a real scientific based fact that animals are good for us. We like to think it, now we know it.
VPN: Anything else interesting about the meeting?
Beaver: The meeting was interesting from the standpoint that it actually started on September 10th. We were down, well the meeting actually started on the 12th, so we were down there facing all the things that were going on in New York and Washington, D.C., and literally not knowing whether we were going to get home or when we were going to get home, and getting conflicting information until we could get back to the hotel to get on CNN and find out what the heck was going on, so it was a very interesting perspective being out of the country, being with people who were dedicated to the human-animal bond and watching what the heck was going on in your own country while in a foreign country.
There was a tension at that meeting that normally would not exist. We didn't have the fun, bantering interactions that we normally would have because of that. It was interesting to observe the reactions from people all over the world on what had happened in New York and in Washington. We weren't alone there. We were surrounded by a lot of friends that we had not known before.
At the previous meeting in Prague, there was a demonstration of German search-and-rescue dogs and it was very interesting for me to sit back and watch the interaction between the dog and the handler and how much that animal meant to the person. This year, we were watching the dogs work, but it was the American dogs and they were on television.
VPN: Most of the human-animal bond seems to revolve largely around dogs, to a lesser extent, cats. As you start getting to the snakes and reptiles, for example, is there a human-animal bond there?
Beaver: Absolutely, and with the rats and mice of laboratory workers, horses, cattle. If you've ever watched a 4-H or FFA student that has then sold their animal after they've raised this project, it's devastating to some of these young people to do that. The pigs, the rabbits, the chickens: Every animal can touch someone.
We talk primarily about dogs because we tend to be a dog culture, and we think of them as our companions, but certainly cats, horses, snakes, turtles, birds, fish, they all have that kind of interaction.
In fact, there's information that looks at the environment and the bond if you will. One of the men here in architecture talks about the effects of landscape on blood pressure. Just the living beings whether it be plant or animal is important.
VPN: The Humane Society of the United States recently issued a report arguing against pet ownership of reptiles. Are you familiar with that and do you have any thoughts on that that you'd like to share?
Beaver: Not really. Every group can make their own statement and I think it's better to let them make it and let them stand for that group's comments because that's their feeling.
Winners of the Bustad Award since its inception in 1986.
• 1986: William McCulloch, DVM, MPH (Texas A&M University)
• 1987: Robert Anderson, DVM, MPH (University of Minnesota)
• 1988: Earl Strimple, DVM (Washington, D.C.)
• 1989: James Harris, DVM (Oakland, Calif.)
• 1990: John C. New, DVM, MPH (University of Tennessee)
• 1991: William J. Kay, DVM (New York)
• 1992: Lyn J. Anderson, DVM, MSW (U.S. Army Veterinary Corps)
• 1993: Erwin Small, DVM, MS (University of Illinois)
• 1994: Sally O. Walshaw, M.A., VMD (Michigan State University)
• 1995: Robert W. Miller, DVM (Thousand Oaks, Calif.)
• 1996: Marvin L. Samuelson, DVM (Topeka, Kan.)
• 1997: Thomas J. Lane, DVM (Gainesville, Fla.)
• 1998: Patricia N. Olson, DVM, Ph.D. (Englewood, Colo.)
• 1999: Alice Villalobos, DVM (Hermosa Beach, Calif.)
• 2000: Caroline Schaffer, DVM (Tuskegee University)
• 2001: Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM, MS (Texas A&M University)