An Interview with... Dr. Robert M. Miller
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?
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!