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An Interview with... Dr. Robert M. Miller
This well-known practitioner, author, cartoonist, and horseman calls himself a pathological realist. As he puts it, "Real life is far more interesting than any work of fiction."
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board Member. He was a mixed-animal practitioner for 32 years and pioneered imprint training in horses.
What is the most exciting change you've seen in veterinary medicine?
Public recognition of our academic background. When I started practice, I was most often addressed as Mr. Miller and was asked if you had to go to school to be a veterinarian.
Dr. Robert M. Miller and his 6-month-old Australian shepherd Daisy, who is from the same bloodline as his previous dog Rosie, who died recently. Dr. Miller says Daisy inherited Rosie's distinctive smile.
Who were your most memorable patients?
If I were to choose a species, my most memorable would be the dolphins I treated when I was a veterinarian for the Pacific Ocean Park (1959 to 1962). What impressed me most about these dolphins, which were captured in the wild, were their kindness toward people and their extreme intelligence. And they're more tolerant than most dogs: In three years, I was bitten only once, when I gave a dolphin a painful injection.
As far as an individual patient, I remember a working cow dog that was brought in to my practice weekly to have the springtime foxtail awns removed from his ears. Always stoic, the dog would only squint while I performed the painful procedure. He never needed to be held, and when I was done, he would lick my hand and jump off the table.
Who inspired you most in your career?
As a child, I was inspired by the books about Africa written by naturalist-author-artist-taxidermist Carl Akeley. I wanted to do what he did. A career in veterinary medicine did not occur to me until I was 21, a war veteran, and a college student majoring in animal science.
What was the best professional advice you ever received?
My teachers in veterinary school taught me never to complain about nighttime emergencies or weekend or holiday patients. They told me it was part of the package. I never complained; however, the best part of retirement is not having to go out at night or on weekends.
What would you advise a new graduate?
You are in the happiest of all professions if your primary goal is service not income, if you have an overwhelming love for animals, and if you are captivated by the challenges of medical science.
What would you have liked to do if you hadn't become a veterinarian?
I wrote regularly for Western Horseman magazine and often said that if I hadn't become a veterinarian, I'd have wanted to be on its staff. However, in recent decades I've decided that if I couldn't have studied veterinary medicine, my second choice would have been animal behavior. And, in fact, I am a self-taught behaviorist today.
What part of your work do you enjoy most?
When I practiced, I loved diagnostics. I'm a compulsive problem solver, and for me, a diagnosis must always precede therapy. Since retiring from practice, I have dedicated my life to kinder and more effective horsemanship—that was what my 2005 book The Revolution in Horsemanship: And What It Means to Mankind was about. I discovered these methods in my 20s and am grateful to have lived to see these methods prevail.
What book would you recommend?
The three books that have influenced me the most are The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations by Robert Ardrey and Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, both by Jared Diamond.
What book are you reading now?
Katz on Dogs: A Commonsense Guide to Training and Living with Dogs by Jon Katz. It's great!
What is your favorite film?
In general, I despise Hollywood. But I do like documentaries, such as Mondo Cane and Winged Migration, which is a masterpiece. I'm not a big fan of fiction. In fact, I refer to myself as a pathological realist. Real life is far more interesting than any work of fiction.
What favorite musicians or songs would you include on your personal jukebox?
I've never been into the current fad in popular music. I love classical music, authentic folk music from any culture, and Western music. My wife and I attend a lot of cowboy poetry and music gatherings and are often amazed at the talent that is out there in the boonies.
What do you consider the greatest threat to the profession?
Materialism, a growing national obsession that can destroy our culture.
Which animal health needs are currently unmet?
Animal behavior should be part of every veterinary college curriculum and on every state board examination. The major conventions are finally paying attention to this critical aspect of our profession.
What is the greatest achievement of your career?
Starting a mom-and-pop country practice that became a 12-doctor group owned by four equal partners. In three decades of partnership, we never had a disagreement. One partner, Dr. Bob Kind, is gone now, but the other two, Drs. Jim Peddie and Larry Dresher, are my cherished friends.
What makes a good veterinarian?
A nurturing, empathetic personality; a strong work ethic; inviolate integrity; and an affinity for the natural sciences.