Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies News

The Impact of a Monograph: The Origin of the Expression the “Human-Animal Bond” and the Importance of Compassion

February 11th, 2020

Scholarly books have long been the backbone of academia, but too often these books do not get the attention they deserve. In this series, we ask our authors which academic works have had a lasting influence on them. Follow this link to see the rest of the series.

This post is written by Alan M. Beck, a series editor for our New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond series.


I first met Leo Bustad around 1978, when he was the dean of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where he served from 1973–1983. His varied experiences as an accomplished scientist and educator, fifteen months in a German prison camp, and his long-lasting marriage gave him a wonderful perspective on life. He passed away in 1998 at age 78.

As an academic leader with a wonderful sense of humor, he was a sought after event speaker. His speeches were not just appropriate little talks, but thoughtful, well-referenced essays exploring major issues worthy of discussion and further contemplation. There were many reasons that they should be available for further reading and so were compiled in books, the last of which was published in 1996, Compassion: Our Last Great Hope.

The speeches in Bustad’s Compassion address such issues as the college curriculum (compared to the saber-toothed tiger for its unchanging character), nurturing children, the Holocaust, the art of listening, freedom and responsibility, grief, writing your own eulogy, and the importance of animals to the well-being of people. Humans’ relationship with animals was a major part of his life, and his writings triggered a movement in both veterinary and human medicine.

Together with psychiatrist Michael McCulloch, they developed the Delta Society, which is now Pet Partners, to foster research on the value of our relationship with animals; indeed, Bustad coined the expression the human-animal bond. He shamelessly borrowed the wording from the often-discussed mother-infant bond. Both bonds indicated a relationship that is essential and mutual. It took a strong collaboration of a leading veterinarian and a respected physician for society to look past the biases in both fields. This was long before the present concept of One Health. The chapter on animals in Bustad’s Compassion ends with a quote from McCulloch: “If pet therapy offers hope for relief of human suffering, it is our professional obligation to explore every available arena for its use.”

In the last chapter Bustad discusses the scholars who believe the world’s greatest resource is compassion. As he notes, “Compassion is not merely feeling or sentiment, but actively helping to relieve pain and suffering in others.” He shares his sadness that this great source of energy remains relatively unused, unexplored, and unwanted. He argues that we should make compassion not a religion, but a way of life. We are reminded that Hebrew Scriptures note that God chose Moses to lead his people only when he observed how much compassion Moses had for his animals.

Bustad’s writings are well worth the read and the fresh considerations the text will promote. The life’s work of the author illustrates the importance of humans and animals to one another, as does this book—the indelible bond we share, the opportunities presented by these connections, and the empathy that unites all creatures. Bustad ends the chapter with “Everyone who is in need of help is my brother and my sister. That’s compassion.”