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Bustad Award Goes to Dr. Robin Downing

Kim Campbell Thornton

Dr. Robin Downing has been named 2020 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The award, named for the late Dr. Leo K. Bustad, former president of the Delta Society and dean of Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, honors veterinarians for outstanding work in protecting and promoting the human-animal bond.

“This is certainly the highest honor in the companion animal world,” says Dr. Downing, whose career of 30-plus years has encompassed clinical practice, pain research and management, pet rehab, and clinical bioethics. “I have always done my best to live my commitment to facilitating, enhancing, lengthening and strengthening the human-animal bond, as affirmed by Dr. Leo K. Bustad, during my entire career as a clinician, an innovative pain specialist, a rehabilitation specialist, a pain researcher and as a clinical bioethicist. This recognition is humbling and amazing all at once.”

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her lecture at numerous veterinary conferences and of interviewing her for articles on such topics as geriatric pet care, pain management, rehab, and helping pets with dementia, to name just a few. She is always passionate, always informative. It’s no surprise that she’s the recipient of this award.

Her work has led her to address such issues as pets with disabilities (another topic on which we’ve spoken frequently), clients with disabilities, improvement of pet pain management, and palliative and hospice care for companion animals. Along the way, she wrote the first book for clients whose pets have cancer and is now translating the principles and practices of clinical bioethics for application in clinical veterinary practice.

My colleague, pet advocate Steve Dale, no mean storyteller himself, says: “Using data as a backbone, she is able to create a narrative as few can to tell a story, to make a point, and often to change minds. As a result, her voice is one of the most influential in veterinary medicine.”

Dr. Downing is founder, owner, and medical director of the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management, and the owner and medical director of the Windsor Veterinary Clinic, both in Windsor, Colo. A graduate of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Downing has since earned an M.S. in bioethics from Union College/Mt. Sinai (now Clarkson University) and is currently studying for a doctorate in bioethics from Loyola University of Chicago. She has served as affiliate faculty at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences since 2001.

In 2005, Dr. Downing became only the third veterinarian in the world to become credentialed as a diplomate in the American Academy of Pain Management. She went on to create the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, the first interdisciplinary pain management organization in veterinary medicine, and to help develop the credential of Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner. She is also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“Dr. Downing has devoted her career to improving the health of animals and strengthening and prolonging the bond between people and animals,“ said Dr. John Howe, president of the AVMA. “Bestowing her with this award is a fitting tribute to Dr. Bustad, an outstanding educator, scientist, humanitarian and pioneer in the field of human-animal interactions.”

No surprise, she has been a part of Fear Free from the beginning, one of the founding members of the advisory board, on which she continues to serve.

“I am so excited, still, to be a part of Fear Free and spreading the gospel of taking the ‘pet’ out of petrified,” she says. “I never get tired of witnessing the transformation of pets who have previously had bad experiences with veterinarians. Fear Free is truly a transformational experience for those veterinarians and veterinary health care teams willing to learn the ‘magic.’”

To be considered for the Bustad Award, a veterinarian must have been active for at least five years in practice with a special sensitivity to the human-animal bond, working with a variety of clients, including children, seniors, people with disabilities, those grieving the loss of a pet, or other at-risk populations. Also considered are leadership in community service that illuminates the human-animal bond, teaching with a focus on the human-animal bond and related issues, and research related to increasing the understanding of the human-animal bond and its critical role in veterinary medicine and society.

“I have dedicated my entire career to facilitating, enhancing, lengthening, and strengthening the precious family-pet relationship,” she says. “What has been most rewarding has been the opportunity to teach and mentor both students and post-graduate professionals. It is all well and good that I have been able to influence the lives of my own patients and their human companions, but it is at least as meaningful to me to have had the privilege to expand that influence and impact to benefit the lives of families and their furry friends I will never know, by way of my caring colleagues.”

Her friend and admirer, Dr. Marty Becker, says, “While she’s so credentialed that her business card must be a foot wide to list her titles and degrees, her impressive bio is dwarfed by the size of her heart. She’s always used her head & heart to practice and preach—to peg healthcare professionals, pet parents and her clients—about the importance of looking after both a pet’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Her efforts will forever serve to celebrate, protect and nurture the human animal bond.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Kim Campbell Thornton is content manager for Fear Free Pets and is a Level 3 Fear Free Certified Professional. She has been writing about dogs, cats, wildlife, and marine life since 1985 and is a recipient of multiple awards from the Cat Writers Association, Dog Writers Association of America, and American Society of Journalists and Authors. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s competing in nose work trials with Harper and Keeper, her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

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