‘Speaking For Spot,’ Dr. Nancy Kay And Dr. Leo Bustad

Dr. Kay has been named the 2011 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year.

Since 1999, the human-animal bond sessions at the American Veterinary Medical Association convention open with the the Bustad Memorial Lecture. What a wonderful legacy!

Nancy Kay, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, is the 2011 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian winner. She was invited to present the Bustad Memorial lecture but informed the Board of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians (AAH-ABV) that she had a schedule conflict.

I offered to present for Dr. Kay. We were faculty for the VSIPP conference at Del Coronado last year where I attended her excellent keynote lecture. Since I had read her book and was also the 1999 Bustad recipient, Dr. Kay and Dr. Robin Downing, president of the AAH-ABV, took me up on the offer.

It’s truly an honor and requires double duty because I want to highlight Dr. Bustad’s brilliant life and feature Dr. Nancy Kay’s bestselling book, “Speaking for Spot.” 

Leo K. Bustad, DVM, Ph.D., 1920-1999
Leo Bustad started veterinary school after serving in the infantry and being a prisoner of war during WWII.  He was a newlywed and a new WSU graduate at boot camp. On the ship to Africa, Leo was swept overboard during a storm. He floated in the choppy ocean until another ship spotted him. The first attempt to rescue him failed due to severe winds.

If it were not for the ship’s captain who broke protocol to turn his ship around and head the straight at him, Leo would have drowned.

Leo’s contingent made the beach landing at North Africa that captured Casablanca. After that, Leo served in the mop-up of German African Corps in Tunisia; the assault on Southern Sicily; the capture of Palermo and Messina; the invasion at Salerno and the assault on Anzio.

Leo was ordered to recuperate from hepatitis, amoebic dysentery and malaria in North Africa. After recovery, his contingent made an assault landing on Anzio and he was captured. He spent 15 cold, hungry months as a POW. He was forced to march great distances to the Polish Corridor and was held in a barbed wire enclosure in a German prison camp until liberated.

1945-65: After the war, Leo returned to WSU for an interview at the veterinary college. He was accepted to the next class. He studied pig nutrition for a master’s so that one day he could help alleviate starvation. After graduation in 1949, he worked in private industry research at GE and Batelle and earned a Ph.D. in physiology.

1965-73: Bustad joined the University of California, Davis, for eight years as director of Radiobiology Lab and Comparative Cancer Virology Lab (established by Dr. Gordon Theilen). It was at Davis in 1969 that Leo Bustad introduced himself to me.

Dr. Leo K. Bustad
Father of the Human-Animal Bond, Leo K. Bustad, DVM, Ph.D., 1920-1999

He waited until I exited Haring Hall after presenting my paper to the faculty. It was written for Dr. Calvin Schwabe’s epidemiology class. He selected three papers for a special faculty audience. In that paper, I described my childhood in L.A.’s “’cement society” and the important role of animals as a connection to nature, as companions, the “people-pet connection” and the need for “socialized veterinary medicine.” 

I was scolded in the hall by one professor who objected. But as I went down the stairs toward The Silo, Dr. Bustad greeted me, shook my hand and complimented my paper, “People-pet connection? You’ve got something there, Alice.”

1973-83: As dean of the College of Veterinary at WSU, Leo studied the relationship between people and pets. He admired programs in Europe and organized a number of programs at WSU which grew nationally, such as People-Pet Partners, Delta Society [renamed Pet Partners in 2012], Prison-Pet Partners, Equine Therapy Program for Disabled Children, Animal Assisted Therapy, Service Animal Program, Pet Partners,  HAB programs, American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians (AAH-ABV). He also gave many inspirational speeches. “Compassion, Our Last Great Hope” is a book published by the Delta Society that captured text from selected Bustad speeches. 

Honoring Dr. Nancy Kay
Dr. Nancy Kay, a Cornell graduate, is the 2011 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian. She was selected for helping dog lovers with her medical advocacy book, “Speaking for Spot.”

Nancy is a staff internist at VCA Animal Care Center in Rohnert Park, in Northern California. She is married to Alan Kay, DVM, and they have three children, Mickey, Jacob and Susannah, and many pets. Alan is Nancy’s sounding board and feedback expert on the book.

Dr. John Albers, past executive director of AAHA, wrote the book’s foreword.  Dr. Kay wishes that she had this book when she first fell in love with dogs. She also wishes for each dog to have an owner who is motivated and effective about providing health care decisions. She wishes every dog owner could read her book and clearly understand what it takes to be their dogs’ medical advocate.

Speaking for Spot
Why do dogs need medical advocacy? Being the perfect health advocate for a dog can be difficult and challenging, especially if the pet is injured, sick or diagnosed with a disease, chronic condition or cancer.  Decision making is tough when the terminology is difficult to understand; the explanations are too short or if time is of the essence.

Dr. Kay wrote Speaking for Spot with goals: to help make these issues go right for the dog and to help concerned dog lovers become savvy medical advocates for their dogs. She accomplishes her goals with a warm sense of humor. She provides illustrations and explanations about medical conditions, diseases, diagnosis and treatment with a user friendly vocabulary and style.

She sheds light on the challenges of many recession-battered pet owners who want to properly finance their dog’s health care. The problem is acute at the emergency room for families not prepared to pay for costly life-saving procedures.


Speaking for Spot
Dr. Kay's book, Speaking for Spot

Dr. Kay guides readers on proper pet selection for their lifestyle, how to pick the right veterinary practice and how to evaluate pet health insurance companies for the best coverage without surprises. She spends a few chapters educating readers on how to make informed decisions about their dogs’ overall health care from the puppy stage, the adult stage, the senior stage and the geriatric stage and the end of life stage.

“Speaking for Spot” teaches readers how to navigate the expensive, complex, confusing and often overwhelming world of “white coat” intimidation.

Dr. Kay’s “Ten Commandments of Veterinary Office Visits” offers tried and true secrets to making every visit exceptional for the pet owner and the V-team. She says, “Don’t be surprised if you get more cookies!”

She explains the veterinarian’s point of view and the amazing progress that veterinary medicine has made in diagnostic abilities using better laboratory screening, imaging and pathology. She points out that modern veterinary medicine and equipment and procedures, including stem cell therapy, is now available. This may permanently solve or improve the results for many surgical and medical problems that only a few years ago were poorly responsive or not treatable.

Seeking a Second Opinion

Dr. Kay discusses how to get a second or third opinion. She reviews the many reasons pet owners often talk themselves out of it. She frankly tells her readers to “get over it” and do what is best for their dog. She also frankly tells readers that their family vet will get over it too!

Shaded Text Boxes

Shaded text boxes feature interesting clips and bits of information and various lists of questions and points which Dr. Kay wants to emphasize to her readers and the V-team.

Dr. Kay tells how she dealt with her own decision-making dilemma about cancer for her family’s beloved 9-year-old old golden retriever, Vinnie. She tells how she and her husband elected an aggressive but risky cancer surgery for Vinnie. Later on, when Vinnie injured his knee, she tells her readers of the struggle they had deciding if their well cancer dog should undergo stressful knee surgery. Vinnie later on developed cancer in his heart (hemangiosarcoma of the right atrium), which is fatal.

When readers learn about Vinnie’s bad luck, they understand more about their own dogs and that golden retrievers may develop multiple tumors over a period of time. Readers also learn that veterinarians love their dogs despite their breed or genetic predisposition to cancer and other conditions. 

Dr. Kay tells readers about her decision-making dilemma with Boomer, the Basset hound-coon hound mix, whom she adopted when she was a sophomore in veterinary school. Boomer developed an inoperable brain tumor. Her family and children cared for Boomer (with the Pawspice philosophy for quality of life) into his final days. She wrote, “The decision to put Boomer to sleep was one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make.”

Readers discover that their own veterinarians are obviously as much in love with their personal companion animals as they are. Reading about Vinnie and Boomer, and how they lived and died, speaks well for the entire veterinary profession.

When the Diagnosis is Cancer

Dr. Kay guides pet owners as they delve into the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in their dog. She discusses breed predilections; the various causes and types of cancer and the main treatments for common cancers.

She helps readers focus on quality of life for their dog during treatment and during the final months, weeks or days, which she calls “closure time.” Dr. Kay discusses the challenges that are hurled at all who want to be a good cancer dog owner during the work up, treatment and closure. She gives suggestions to best experience the journey of life.


In a chapter titled “Euthanasia; Making the Best out of a Difficult Situation,” Dr. Kay discusses the problems that people often face regarding euthanasia. She explains how and why dying dogs can often linger at death’s doorstep for weeks or even months.

She helps readers understand that they need veterinary help to provide good pain management and for the final administration of sedatives and medication that allows for a peaceful, quiet passing. She informs pet owners how to be prepared for the many personal ways to say goodbye to a dear canine companion during the final moments and afterward.

Mutual Wishes

In his foreword, Dr. Albers states that he wishes this book was available to his clients when he was in practice. He admits that he would have benefited from reading it as well as some colleagues.

I recommend keeping a few copies of “Speaking for Spot” in your lending library. Besides helping clients with decision making, it might help mend broken fences. If you loan this book to “ripe” clients whom the staff wants to fire, it might help improve their attitude and freshen the client.

Dr. Kay hopes that once a dog owner reads  her book and becomes a medical advocate that their veterinary visits will never be the same and your staff will get more cookies!


One thought on “‘Speaking For Spot,’ Dr. Nancy Kay And Dr. Leo Bustad

  1. Hello Dr. Kay,
    I just read your article about neutering male dogs without surgery. My dog is 7yrs old and has a congenital heart defect(hole in septum causing pronounced murmer–leaflet from tricuspid gets caught) which is why I have put off having him neutered. He is now having prostate problems, would this procedure solve them, or must he have the surgery. My vet says surgery, but I would be interested in your opinion. I am scared to death of losing him this way. Feel free to message me on FB or send me an email. Thank you for your time.

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