Catanzaro named Bustad recipient

Coveted award honors veterinarians fostering human-animal bond

August 6, 2012 (published)
By Phyllis DeGioia

Photo courtesy of Dr. Thomas Catanzaro
Known for his humor and the moniker "Tom Cat," Dr. Thomas Catanzaro served three decades as a charter member of the Delta Society, a non-profit that trains therapy animals. He was named Leo Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year last week during the American Veterinary Medical Association convention in San Diego.

Thomas Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, LFACHE, began his career as a horse trainer in 1960s Montana. Rather than breaking a horse, he used gentling techniques that involved gradual desensitization. He read equine body language.

Decades later, the veterinarian's compassion and regard for the bond between humans and animals has earned him one of the most prestigious honors in the profession. During a ceremony last week in San Diego, Catanzaro was named the 2012 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year.

"It is a major honor, and I am humbled!" he wrote in an email to friends and colleagues. He signed the note "Tom Cat," a moniker that he's adopted.

The Bustad Award is named for the late Dr. Leo K. Bustad, a former dean and pioneer in identifying the human-animal bond and its significance. Each year, one veterinarian is selected from a pool of nominees to receive the honor in recognition of outstanding work to promote the human-animal bond in practice, through education or via research endeavors that focus on human-animal interactions. Award candidates must meet specified criteria showing experience in practice, community service, teaching and research.

Recipients of the Bustad Award receive a $5,000 personal grant and another $5,000 to give to the veterinary medical program or not-for-profit service program of his or her choice, with the stipulation that the monies will be used to improve human-companion animal interactions. The award is co-sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association, Pet Partners and Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc.

Catanzaro, who originates from the United States and spent much of his career in Colorado, earned his DVM in 1974 from Colorado State University and a master's in healthcare administration from Baylor University in 1985. He now resides in the Australian state of Queensland with his wife, also a veterinarian, and works as a practice management consultant, author and speaker. Catanzaro has written numerous books including "Building the Successful Veterinary Practice" and "Promoting the Human-Animal Bond in Veterinary Practice." In 1991, he became the first veterinarian to earn diplomate status from the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), which specializes in health care administration.

Catanzaro believes the human-animal bond is what drives pet owners to veterinary practices. People want to keep their four-footed friends healthy, he said.

He reflects on knowing Bustad personally. The two met through the Delta Society, a non-profit co-founded by Bustad that trains and supports therapy and service animals.

"When Delta Society (recently renamed Pet Partners) was organizing I tracked down Leo and wanted to get involved," Catanzaro said in an interview with the VIN News Service. "He is the man who coined the term human-animal bond, but he always pointed out that it can be traced back to the earliest records of mankind. To me, the human-animal bond is why clients come to our front door."

It's an attachment that many veterinarians saw deepen post 9/11, he said.

"Pets gave non-judgmental love to families when they were afraid to venture out," he explained. "Caring for another living entity is a responsibility most people fear, but with animals, because of the non-judgmental love, it becomes a pleasure."

As a consultant who promotes leadership training, team building and management assistance, Catanzaro said he especially enjoys seeing practice owners come to the realization that appropriately trained staff can act as trusted representatives of the practice. He also dabbles in hospital design and enjoys brainstorming with owners about architectural possibilities for their practices.

"I like to see the light bulbs come on over people's heads," he said. "It's almost as good as puppy breath!"

Having spent years helping veterinarians alter their management styles, Catanzaro finds that most of his clients have trouble breaking the veterinarian-centered paradigms promoted during veterinary school. Non-veterinarians who work in practices often are just as committed to animal health and care, he said. They simply need to be nurtured to become what he calls "veterinary extenders" — staff members who can reliably assist a practice in promoting its standards of care and wellness programs. 

"Too often ... staff is left in the dark for understanding what the standard may be so they can represent the practice to clients and potential clients," he said.

In his personal life, Catanzaro said he loves Australia and his family, which now includes a black kitten. When asked to identify his proudest moments, he replied: "It is a toss up between being a dad, being a husband, being a scoutmaster and receiving this Bustad Award."

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