“In an age of research when it is tempting to reduce human emotions to biochemical reactions and to rely heavily on the technology of medicine, it is refreshing to find that a person’s health may be improved prescribing contact with other living things. Members of the health and allied professions must continue to combine resources, work together in the spirit of cooperation, and never forget to ‘cure when possible but comfort always.’”

Michael J. McCulloch, MD (1981)



History and Founders:

Delta Society...The Early Years

In the mid 1970s the general attitude towards pets across the globe was that they were luxury or throwaway items. They were, afterall, "just animals.". 

Our VisionariesDuring this time there were three visionaries – Dr. Leo K. Bustad, a veterinarian, two brothers, Dr. Michael J. McCulloch, a psychiatrist and Dr. William ‘Bill’ McCulloch, and doctors R.K. Anderson, Stanley L. Diesch, Joe Quigley, and Alton Hopkins all veterinarians. These professionals came to know one another as they shared their observations that pets were having a positive impact on their human clients’ health and happiness.   Each had observed in their own practices (and personal lives) this ‘phenomenon’.   They theorized there was much more depth to what they were witnessing.   However, they knew that anecdotal stories were not enough to capture the attention of the medical community. Scientific research was needed. 

They searched the journals and found little existed. So, they took stock of the situation and committed themselves to ensuring research would be completed to further explore the effects that animals have on people’s lives. 

In 1977 the Delta Foundation was formed in Portland, OR with Michael J. McCulloch, MD as the President.   In 1981 the organization’s name was changed to Delta Society to symbolize an expanding group of interested researchers and medical practitioners in both human and animal fields, and Leo K. Bustad, DVM, PhD became President. 

As research findings began accumulating which reflected that having an animal in one’s life helped reduce blood pressure, lower stress and anxiety levels, and stimulate the release of endorphins which make people feel good, the members of Delta Society knew it was time to put their now proven theories into every day application. 

In 1981, Bill McCulloch, DVM helped initiate the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Human-Animal Bond Task Force to review the profession's role in recognizing and promoting the human-animal bond. This AVMA Committee continues to this day.

Delta Society leaders were also instrumental in helping with the passage of the Housing and Urban Rural Recovery Act of 1983, via their testimony in Washington DC. With this passage, the federal government sent a strong public signal that it recognizes the therapeutic value of pets in American’s lives.

As Delta Society continued to strengthen its forces, under the guidance of Linda Hines (Delta Society President & CEO, 1983 - 2003)  in the late 1980s and 1990s new programs built on the organization’s research foundation were developed to provide direct services at the local community level. One of these was the establishment of the National Service Dog Center®. This program focused on advocating for the acceptability of service dogs in public places and provided tools to help those with disabilities find a service dog trainer and understand their rights. Additionally, Delta Society developed the Pet Partners® program – the first comprehensive, standardized training in animal-assisted activities and therapy for volunteers and health-care professionals.

In 2012, Delta Society changed its name to Pet Partners in order to convey more clearly its mission.  For 35 years as Delta Society and now as Pet Partners, the organization remains focused on improving human health through positive interactions with therapy, service and companion animals. Our history is rich with ground-breaking work and we invite you to become part of our future.

Did you know?

Pet Partners, formerly Delta Society, has been helping people understand the important role pets play in their lives for 35 years.

Pictured at left are: Michael J. McCulloch; MD, Leo K. Bustad, DVM, PhD; Linda Hines; William 'Bill' F. McCulloch, DVM, MPH.


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