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2022 Canine Health Summit

Panel: Perspectives on the Human-Canine Bond

Thurs, April 28, 2022 | 1:15 PM ET

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David Dieffenbach

Embark Veterinary (moderator)

Victoria Cussen, PhD CAAB

ASPCA Policy, Response & Engagement

Marty Becker, DVM

University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine

Brenda S. Kennedy, DVM MS

Canine Companions

Mariana Serao, PhD

Retrieving Freedom

David (Dave) Dieffenbach has spent most of his 25-year career within the veterinary industry, holding several positions at industry leading companies like IDEXX and Covetrus.  At both companies, he created products as diverse as in-clinic chemistry analyzers, websites for reference laboratory results, and practice management software, introducing integrations and focusing on workflow efficiencies wherever they could be found.  He is currently responsible for Veterinary Product Strategy at Embark.  At Embark, he is bringing his prior experience to help the industry evolve to realize all the benefits genetic testing will have on the health of canines and the practice of veterinary medicine.  He earned his Bachelors of Science from Colorado State University. 

Throughout his career, he also has developed a passion for supporting veterinary practices and their staff.  In recent years, he earned a Graduate Certificate in Veterinary Human Support from the University of Tennessee, focusing on solutions to help veterinarians manage burn out and compassion fatigue, and was selected to serve as an Advisor for MentorVet, a company focused on helping new graduate veterinarians gain the support they need to succeed.

Dr. Victoria Cussen is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and serves as the Senior Director of Applied Behavior Research for the ASPCA’s Behavioral Sciences Team (BST). She earned her Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis where she studied individual differences in resiliency to stress in captive animals. She earned her Master’s in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where she completed her thesis on environmental enrichment for pet dogs. 

Dr. Cussen believes the truly multidisciplinary nature of animal behavior science requires broad thinking, and she is convinced that using well-tested approaches from many fields is the best way to drive innovation and improve companion animal welfare. This core belief underpins her work supporting the BST’s mission. The team advances evidence-based approaches to improve the quality of life of sheltered animals and reduce euthanasia of homeless animals with treatable or shelter-specific behavior problems. 

The BST also supports the ASPCA’s cruelty and disaster operations, including on-scene documentation of behavioral neglect and abuse, humane animal handling for removals, forensic behavior evaluations, consultation, research, and subject matter expert testimony. The team is actively working to develop objective measures of psychological trauma to help secure convictions in cases of animal cruelty and neglect.

Prior to joining the ASPCA, Dr. Cussen worked as an animal behavior scientist with both captive and free-living animals. She developed content for and taught Animal Behavior and Animal Welfare courses at Purdue University and at the University of California, Davis. 

She is published in respected journals including Animal Behavior, Animal Cognition, PLoS ONE, and Behavioural Processes and in textbooks, including Mental Health and Well-Being in Animals 2nd Edition, Companion Animal Care and Well-Being, and Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff 2nd Edition. She serves as a reviewer for several scientific journals, as an invited speaker at academic conferences, and as a guest lecturer for university animal behavior courses.

Dr. Cussen lives in the central Cascade Mountains of Washington State with her Belgian Malinois and GSD x ACD mutt. She is an avid hiker and an enthusiastic, but inept, birder. She spends most of her time thinking about canine aggression in all its forms, from frenetic reactivity cases, to controlled aggression in protection sports and working dogs, to its extreme manifestation in animals used for blood sport.

Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. He is the founder of Fear Free with the mission to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them. This includes veterinary and other pet professionals as well as pet parents through FearFreeHappyHomes.com and animal shelter and rescue group staff and volunteers through FearFreeShelters.com.

Dr. Becker was the resident veterinary contributor on “Good Morning America” for 17 years. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of American Humane as well as its Chief Veterinary Correspondent. His special fondness for older pets has led him to a spot on the Advisory Board of The Grey Muzzle Organization, which is dedicated to helping homeless senior dogs.

He has written 23 books that have sold almost 8 million copies, including three New York Times best-sellers. He also writes the weekly nationally syndicated newspaper feature Pet Connection with his writing partner, Kim Campbell Thornton.

Dr. Becker is an adjunct professor at his alma mater, the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and also at the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine at both Colorado State University and the University of Missouri. Additionally, he has lectured at every veterinary school in the United States, and is on the advisory board of World Vets, an international veterinary and disaster relief programs to help animals.

A passionate advocate for the human-animal bond, Dr. Becker serves as an adjunct professor at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He is an honorary board member of Pet Partners and the Humane Society of New York, as well as a past board member and strong supporter of his local pet rescue group, Second Chance Animal Adoption of Bonner Ferry, ID, and a supporter of the Panhandle Animal Shelter in Sandpoint, ID, the Kootenai Humane Society in Coeur d’Alene, ID, and the Whitman County Humane Society in Pullman, WA.

Dr. Becker practices at VCA North Idaho Animal Hospital because he loves veterinary medicine, pets, and the people who care for them.

Dr. Brenda S. Kennedy is the Vice President of Health and Research at Canine Companions, a human services organization that raises and trains highly skilled service dogs to enhance the lives of people with disabilities, at no cost to the recipients. Dr. Kennedy completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees in the fields of biochemistry and developmental biology at Northwestern University and MIT. After graduate school, she worked at a biotechnology company, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, with research and development groups focused on obesity, diabetes and autoimmune disease. She received her DVM from Tufts University in 1998 and worked as a veterinarian in private practice for 16 years prior to joining Canine Companions in 2014 as their National Veterinarian. In her current position, she oversees the medical care and husbandry of dogs in the breeding, puppy, training and graduate programs as well as operations at the Canine Early Development Center. In addition, her research team works with multiple academic and corporate collaborators to identify ways to enhance the health, longevity and success of service dogs, to maximize their amazing human-canine partnerships. Areas of particular interest include canine cognition, behavior, health/nutrition and the impact of service dogs on their human partners, including children with autism spectrum disorder and veterans with PTSD.

Mariana Serao is the Director of Canine Science and Technology at Retrieving Freedom Inc., an organization with a mission to provide highly trained service dogs to Veterans with disabilities and children with Autism. Her connection with the service dog industry started with her partnership with RFI as a faculty member of the Animal Science Department of Iowa State University. She set up the program to give animal science students more experience in animal training and to create awareness to the college community on aspects of equality and inclusion of individuals with invisible disabilities. Mariana holds a Master’s and PhD in Animal Science from Brazil and has over 20 years of experience in animal science and research in nutrition and more than 10 years of experience with canine management. At her position at RFI, Mariana oversees our breeding program, dog acquisition and data analysis of our organization.

2022 Canine Health Summit Sessions