Mind Over Miller: The dangers of denial


One of the strongest and most destructive human emotions is denial. And in veterinary practice, especially companion-animal practice, we see denial every day.

One of the strongest and most destructive human emotions is denial. And in veterinary practice, especially companion-animal practice, we see denial every day.

Dr. Robert M. Miller

I will never forget the well-mannered, older gentleman who brought in a 2-year-old Saint Bernard that had severely bitten his grandson's face. He said, "I understand that hip dysplasia is common in this breed, and I wondered if hip pain could have caused him to attack my grandson. If you don't think that was the cause, I'll have to put him to sleep—it would be too dangerous to keep him or to give him to someone else."

The dog was too big to place on an examination table, so I examined him on the floor. As I listened to his chest, he growled deeply. I muzzled him before proceeding. He was free of hip pain and in excellent condition. The following conversation ensued:

Me: Hip dysplasia is common in this breed; however, this dog shows no evidence of discomfort. Moreover, even with hip pain, most Saint Bernards won't bite. Unfortunately, certain bloodlines within this breed are inclined to bite, and I think you have one of these.

Client: Can we put him on pain pills?

Me: There's no indication for that. Your dog seems to be free of discomfort, so medication won't alter his tendency to bite.

Client: Would aspirin help?

Me: As I explained, I see no evidence of pain. I understand your disappointment. Most people who adopt Saint Bernards do not want an aggressive dog; they want a big, happy clown. Unfortunately, some Saint Bernards bite, and because of their size, they are dangerous. I'm afraid that you have such a dog.

Client: I understand there is an operation for hip dysplasia. I'm willing to pay for an operation if it will help.

Me: There is such an operation, and my partner Dr. Peddie performs it. But again, no pain is evident. Even if a radiographic examination reveals abnormal hips, an operation won't alter this dog's tendency to bite.

Client: I don't blame him for being cranky if he's in pain.

The poor man was in complete denial!

Denial is seen on a larger scale, too. Several times in this column I have mentioned two major environmental problems: global warming and overpopulation. And every time I have mentioned these, I have received comments from colleagues arguing that neither problem exists. To me, this is a prime example of denial by intelligent people!

How can we not alter the planet's atmosphere when we incessantly and increasingly pour pollutants into it? Isn't it obvious that the constant burning of fossil fuels will inevitably change the atmosphere? And overpopulation! There are almost six and a half billion of us. What other large mammal exists in comparable numbers in the past or present? The population has more than doubled in my lifetime and is still increasing. I worry for my grandchildren—what will the quality of life be when they are my age? What will have happened to our forests, our lakes, and our remaining grasslands?

We are intelligent people. We cannot let our political orientations, religious beliefs, faith in technology, or financial interests cause us to deny the existence of problems with obviously catastrophic consequences.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site atwww.robertmmiller.com

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