President’s Message – Taking Diversity Off of the Backburner

  |   WSVMA News

In the early 1980’s I had the unique blessing of being able to hang out with Dr. Leo Bustad quite a bit. At that time, I was given the opportunity to be a Teaching Assistant in his Human-Animal Bond course at WSU. Having access to him as a mentor left a lasting impact that I have benefitted from to this day. One main thing I learned from him is that if there’s something that is good and right to be doing, but there doesn’t happen to be a system in place for doing it, we should get to work and make it happen. He did this with so many things pertinent to the human-animal bond. We can thank him for coining that phrase for one thing! He was also instrumental in bringing animals into prisons for the rehabilitation of the inmates, as well as a source of training for the dogs. He was instrumental in pioneering systems and developing organizations to bring service animals into the lives of people with disabilities to provide assistance for their unique needs. He had the most amazing way of seeing so many problems as not something to complain about, but as something to solve. I think he replaced any space for complaining about situations, with joy and excitement for what it would be like to solve those problems. I also don’t remember him ever letting things sit on the back burner for long. If he knew that something should be fixed and saw it go unaddressed, he worked hard to see that the issue resolved.

I on the other hand am no Dr. Leo Bustad. I am good at letting things sit on the back burner until they become a crisis and can’t go without attention a second longer. There are action items at the WSVMA that fall into this category as well. As a volunteer organization (with an amazing small staff), things tend to get accomplished well if a few criteria are satisfied: If there is an urgent need to inform the membership. If there is a necessity for a new member benefit to fill a perceived need. And if there is someone with a passion, some skills, and the necessary time, to complete a goal. Conversely, if these criteria are not met, regardless of how important a potential action item is, it gets placed on that back burner.

One glaring example of this in action is the lack of diversity within our profession and our membership, and also the lack of diversity and inclusion across our leadership. Please know that addressing this has been part of our Strategic Action Plan for years and has also been included in our Core Values under our Community pillar. Yet, even though we have discussed it at our board meetings for years, it remains on our collective back burner. I personally apologize for this as the current President of the WSVMA Board of Directors.

With this in mind, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine that is much more like Dr. Bustad than I am. She has seen this lack of diversity and inclusion and not complained about it. Instead, with joy and excitement, she has made a solution happen. Her name is Dr. Stephanie Jones. She is the founder of Pets Help the Heart Heal ( By coordinating with schools and non-profits, this organization brings kids into veterinary clinics for tours, and to be involved in staged procedures. Through these events, not only do they capitalize on the power of the human-animal bond, but provide an introduction to young members of communities that are rarely exposed to veterinary medicine. This is a strategy that we have talked about on the Board, but while we have put it on the back burner, Dr. Jones had the passion and skills and has made the time, to put it into action. Certainly, there are lots of ways we can address this issue. This program takes the exceptionally long game of focusing on impacting future generations. Personally, this is a strategy that I believe in as well. Our current pandemic is forcing the actual implementation onto that back burner, but it shouldn’t stop us from having everything lined up to start when it is safe to do so. This is a direction I would like to see the WSVMA go in. I would love to hear from our members about programs such as this, or any others that address this issue. We’d love to gain information on what’s out there, what works and what doesn’t work. Our community is full of amazing problem-solvers like Dr. Jones and like the late Dr. Bustad. Please help us take this off the back burner. It’s been there for far too long.

By Dr. Gary Marshall, WSVMA President. He can be reached at [email protected].


Posted July 10, 2020