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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Ask Dr. Dunham: Thoughts on the Human-Animal Bond - An Interview with CVM Director, Dr. Bernadette Dunham

By Lauren Saavedra, Summer Intern, Communications

Humans and animals share an ever-growing bond of care and concern commonly called the “human-animal bond.” According to Dr. Bernadette Dunham, Director of FDA’s CVM, humans share this unique bond with animals because of “their unwavering loyalty. Pets don’t judge, they just give and give. They give unconditional love.” Pets are more than just animals. They are our friends…they are our family.

Because our pets are our family, we take them to the veterinarian, bathe them, feed them, play with them, and love them. “It really is something special when an animal becomes a part of the family. People need to enjoy the time they have with their animals,” Dunham said. Our pets can sense when we are troubled, and they make it clear to us when they are upset too. Being in tune with another’s emotions is key to truly embracing another living creature. Opening your door and your heart to an animal creates a distinct and undeniable companionship.

Because of this irreplaceable companionship, pets teach children about compassion and love, and the process of life and death. Pets also teach children how to care for others, and they show all of us the ease and importance of acceptance. Your age, looks, and wealth don’t matter.  Animals are simply thankful for you!  Despite your bad hair day or your blue mood, your pet will always be there for you.  This feeling of support is so deep and profound that it cannot be easily defined.
In Dunham’s eyes, the human-animal bond is inevitable because the “interaction we have with our animals impacts us on a daily basis [and] is what makes our bond so strong. We can’t help it.” She added, “The bond we share with our pets greatly affects the compassion in society.  Animals enrich our lives so much and I hope we never lose sight of how fortunate we are to experience the human-animal bond.

The following quote is among Dunham’s favorites:  “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” –Mahatma Gandhi