The relationship between people and animals, often called the human-animal bond, is powerful and diverse and has been documented throughout history, across cultures, and in recent scientific research.
Although people experience the human animal relationship most often with dogs, cats and other household pets, individuals also form bonds with wildlife, feral animals, even farm animals. We magnify the effects of the bond even further when we bring registered therapy animals into nursing homes or children's reading programs to benefit others. We train service animals to help people with disabilities, literally transforming their lives and providing increased independence.
I don't usually have to explain to my clients what the human-animal bond is - they are often experiencing the benefits as well as the painful emotional consequence of loving an animal as we face end of life concerns.
Recently I had the honor of being elected to the board of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians (AAH-ABV), an organization with the mission to advance the role of the veterinary medical community in nurturing positive human-animal interactions in society.
That seems like it should be a "no brainer" to most of us as veterinarians, but as scientists and physicians we are taught to fix things. In fact the veterinary oath makes no mention of people beyond using our skills "for the benefit of society".
What we need to keep in mind, especially as companion animal veterinarians, is that the relationships pets have with their people has a huge impact on their health and welfare. Here are just a few examples:
In consulting with clients with patients in veterinary hospice, we weigh the benefits of any treatment with the potential risks, as well as the impact on the relationship. A medication that we can mix with gravy may be okay, but if getting a pill down requires a struggle, we need to look at other alternatives.
It's about the bond.
"Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge."
Mary Craig, DVM, MBA
Dr Craig is a mobile veterinarian with a house call practice focused on end-of-life care.