AVMA hands out four awards for work in human-animal bond, welfare, media

Updated July 2, 2024

The AVMA presented four awards June 22 at AVMA Convention 2024 in Austin, Texas, to recognize work with the human-animal bond, animal welfare, and contributing to the positive visibility of the profession.

The Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award recognizes the outstanding work of an AVMA member in preserving and protecting the human-animal bond. The AVMA Animal Welfare Award and AVMA Humane Award recognize an AVMA member and a nonveterinarian, respectively, for achievement in advancing the welfare of animals via leadership, public service, education, research, product development, or advocacy.

The AVMA announced the Bustad award winner ahead of the convention during National Pet Week, May 5-11. All three awards are supported through educational funding from Merck Animal Health. In connection with the awards, the recipients are speaking this afternoon at the convention.

In addition, there is the AVMA Steve Dale Excellence in Veterinary Media Award, which recognizes an individual for contributing substantively to the positive visibility of the profession by raising public awareness of the important and diverse roles veterinarians play in every facet of the health and welfare of animals, people, and the environment.

Three people in business dress stand side by side and smile for a photo
Dr. Zenithson Ng (center) accepts the Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award during the AVMA Excellence Awards celebration on June 22 during AVMA Convention 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photos by Lucy Kennedy)

Dr. Zenithson Ng received the Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award. Dr. Ng (Cornell ’08) is a clinical assistant professor of community practice at the University of Tennessee (UT) College of Veterinary Medicine. He also is the veterinary advisor for the Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee (HABIT) program, a UT program that sponsors pet visitations to nursing homes, assisted-living residences, retirement centers, and other facilities.

Dr. Ng was the first veterinarian to pursue a residency in human-animal bond studies in the United States, receiving a master’s degree on the topic at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Ng serves on the human-animal bond advisory board of Pet Partners. He is an alternate member of the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee and past chair of the AVMA Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions. His research interests include the effect of human-animal interaction on both humans and animals, the veterinarian-client-patient relationship, and stress reduction in both veterinary and animal-assisted intervention settings.

Three people in business dress stand side by side and smile for a photo
Dr. Debra Hickman (center) receives the AVMA Animal Welfare Award from Dr. Sandra Faeh (right), 2024-25 AVMA president, and Dr. Robert Duquette (right), director of veterinary strategic accounts for Merck Animal Health.

Dr. Debra Hickman was honored with the AVMA Animal Welfare Award. Dr. Hickman (Illinois ‘98) is global director for the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International. She is also associate vice president of animal resources and attending veterinarian at Purdue University. A respected animal welfare expert in the topics of rodent husbandry and biomethodology, Dr. Hickman has conducted research focusing on laboratory animal euthanasia methods. She is a diplomate of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM) and the American College of Animal Welfare.

She has supported a large variety of animal care and use programs in academia and the federal government as an attending veterinarian, in addition to directing the operations of multiple animal facilities over the past 20 years.

Dr. Hickman is a member of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia’s Working Group for Laboratory Animal Medicine and sits on the board of directors for ACLAM and the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS).

Three people in business dress stand side by side and smile for a photo
Janice Swanson (center), PhD, is recognized with the AVMA Humane Award for her achievements in advancing the welfare of animals through leadership, public service, education, and research.

Janice Swanson, PhD, was given the AVMA Humane Award. Swanson is professor emeritus and director of animal welfare at Michigan State University (MSU) with appointments in the departments of animal science and large animal clinical sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Swanson has been an influential figure advising government agencies, animal production organizations, commodity groups, and the food industry on farm animal care and welfare matters.

She received her doctorate in applied ethology from the University of Maryland. Before joining Michigan State, Swanson spent five years as a technical information specialist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal Welfare Information Center and 15 years on the faculty of the Department of Animal Science and Industry at Kansas State University college of Veterinary Medicine.

Swanson’s current leadership roles in animal welfare with industry stakeholders include the United Egg Producers (UEP), Tyson Foods, Leprino Foods, and the Professional Animal Auditors Certification Organization (PAACO). She also chairs the task force for the Michigan Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for the Care of Farm Animals and was the co-chair of the third edition of the Federation of Animal Science Societies Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals Used in Research and Teaching.

Gina Spadafori
Gina Spadafori

And finally, Gina Spadafori received the AVMA Steve Dale Excellence in Veterinary Media Award. Spadafori is a writer for Nationwide Insurance, specializing in veterinary communications for the pet health insurance division of the company.

Spadafori began her career in 1979 as a journalist at the Sacramento Bee and became a syndicated news columnist on pet care topics from 1992-2014. She worked as a freelance writer before joining Nationwide, covering pet and veterinary topics.

She co-founded The Pet Connection blog with Christie Keith in 2005. The blog gained prominence two years later when they reported on the 2007 Menu Foods pet food recall. The blog was acquired in 2019 by Petful, a pet food safety website.

In all, Spadafori co-authored 17 books with assorted veterinarians, including the first three books in the “For Dummies” pet care line: “Dogs for Dummies,” “Cats for Dummies,” and “Birds for Dummies.”