Mind Over Miller: A few tumbles in zoo-animal practice


Dr. Robert M. Miller recounts a time when he had to help a full-sized African elephant.

I feel that sometimes I get too serious writing this column, so I've devoted this one to humor. I'll save the story about the veterinary student who went with me to see a leopard. Hint: The animal was in a squeeze cage, and I had the student take its temperature while I checked its head. You know how cats urinate? The student got baptized. But more on that in a later column.

On another occasion, I had to examine a lump on the back of a full-sized African elephant. One trainer stood in front, one in back, and one on its right side. I then went up an aluminum ladder on the elephant's left side to examine the egg-sized lump. I stuck a needle in it, and pus came out.

"It's an abscess," I declared, and came down the ladder to get a scalpel and an iodine swab. Now, this was not a practical joke, but if it had been videotaped, I'm sure it would have won the $100,000 finals on "America's Funniest Home Videos."

I went back up the ladder. The elephant could not move forward, backward, or to the right because each of those directions was blocked by a trainer armed with a bull hook.

The left side, however, only had an aluminum ladder leaning against it. At the top of the ladder, a fearless veterinarian lanced the abscess.

The elephant moved abruptly in the only direction it could—toward the ladder. As I sailed through space, I thought of my wife, my children, my home, and my dogs.

Fortunately, a large loose haystack was behind me, and I landed in the middle of it. I was unhurt except where the ladder landed on the bridge of my nose.

"Hey, Doc," one of the trainers called. "Can you do that again and we'll film it?"

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 website at http://robertmmiller.com.

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