Leo K. Bustad

Studio portrait of Leo Bustad and his dog.

Served as dean 1973 – 1984

  • WSU DVM Class of 1949
  • Became best known for his fascination with the human-animal bond
  • Founder of the Delta Society
  • Established the People-Pet Partnership
  • He spoke eloquently and often about compassion and morality
  • Reorganized the college of five departments to three
  • Veterinary science building later named for Dean Bustad was completed in 1978 (took three years to build)
  • Recipient of the WSU Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1987
  • Dean Emeritus of the College of Veterinary Medicine

The Legacy of Dr. Leo Bustad

WSU pioneer in human-animal interactions

The legacy of Dr. Leo Bustad (1920-1998) can be found within the walls of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and permeating throughout all of the academic programs offered today. As the Dean of this college, Dr. Bustad’s enthusiasm for human-animal interactions and their implications on society established him as one of the primary voices for the field. Bustad was skilled in gaining not only the interest of the public and leading scientists, but also in attaining crucial media recognition for this subject.

Dr. Bustad received a DVM in 1949 from Washington State University and a Ph.D. (Physiology) in 1960 from the University of Washington. After a successful career studying the physiologic effects of radiation exposure, he was appointed Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at WSU in 1973 (in post until 1983). Outstanding educator, scientist and humanitarian, Bustad was instrumental in the creation of human-animal interaction programs at the national and international levels. He was involved in the organization of some of the first symposia and conferences in the field. Bustad published extensively on the human-animal bond and helped establish the first scientific human-animal interaction journal, Anthrozoos (1987). He was also instrumental in the creation of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (1990).

Influenced by his experience as a prisoner of war and also by Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy, Bustad taught a Reverence for Life course for more than 25 years. In addition to educating veterinary students and veterinarians on the importance of personal and professional ethics, Bustad also strongly believed in the importance of educating youth at a very early age. To this end, he co-authored in 1986 a humane animal care curriculum entitled Learning and Living Together: Building the Human-Animal Bond. This curriculum emphasizes the interconnectedness of people, animals and the environment.

Dr. Bustad was also a founding member of the Delta Society. He joined forces with veterinarians R.K. Anderson, Stanley Diesch, William McCulloch, and psychiatrist Michael McCulloch to create the Delta Foundation in 1977. It later became the Delta Society (1981). Bustad served as Delta’s first president (1981-1988). The Delta Society is a national organization that focuses on improving human health through service and therapy animals, especially through its volunteer Pet Partners Program.

In collaboration with Linda Hines, who would later become the second president of the Delta Society, Bustad created the People-Pet Partnership, a public service program at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University. PPP exists to research and educate the public about the human-animal bond and its applications, and to give veterinary students a chance to learn about and to experience the HAB first-hand. Founded in the mid 70s, PPP was the first university-based program of its kind.

Bustad’s work significantly contributed to the understanding of the changing role of companion animals in Western societies and its impact on veterinary education, veterinary medicine and society in general. The American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Delta Society recognizes Bustad’s legacy by annually presenting the Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian Award to a veterinarian who has made special achievement in the area of human-animal interactions. The Japanese Animal Hospital Association bestows a similar honor, also called the Bustad Award. It is fitting that the top award given by this organization, the American Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians, carries his name as well.

Learn about the Leo K. Bustad Endowed Fund