Mind Over Miller: Old dogs are the best

Mind Over Miller: Old dogs are the best

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Dec 01, 2005


Robert M. Miller, DVM
I love dogs. I always have. Interestingly, I've never been bitten by a dog, despite a career in veterinary medicine and jobs in a dog pound, a pet shop, and a kennel. Well, actually, I've been bitten twice, but I don't count those times. The first time was when I was working for the Denver dog pound, and I impounded a small stray that had bitten a child. I was transferring the dog to a cage in the truck. As I held it by the scruff of the neck, it reached around and started snapping at my wrist. I knew that it would get me, but I also realized that the child would have to undergo Pasteur treatment if the dog got away. So I held on and allowed the dog to bite me. I still have the small scar on my wrist.

Six years later, after I became a veterinarian, I made a house call to treat a German shepherd's ear. I was sure the dog would bite. So despite the owner's protests, I muzzled the dog with a rubber Nye tourniquet. But I learned that a dog of that size can easily stretch a Nye tourniquet. The shepherd seized me by the left shoulder and pulled me to the floor.

In both cases, I knew the dogs would bite, so I don't count them. Many other dogs have tried to bite me. Most dogs, however, seem to sense my fondness for them, and I can usually hunker down and convince them to come over for some petting and a little communication.


Weak Resolution
As much as I like dogs, there's not more than one in a thousand I'd consider keeping as a member of my family. I like calm, intelligent, kind dogs. My special weakness is for the working breeds such as golden retrievers, border collies, and Australian shepherds. When young, our dog Molly could be aggressive when working cattle or sheep and yet be tender and solicitous toward babies. Baby kittens or rabbits were safe in her care. She would not leave a newborn kid. Molly has always adored children—the younger the better. Few people display Molly's qualities of character: the innate good manners, the total devotion to her family, the perceptivity, the gentleness, the benevolence, the tolerance.

Molly is now 15 years old. Dear old dog, her body is feeble and nuclear sclerosis dims her eyes. But those eyes still gleam with understanding, gentleness, and love for the family that cherishes her and will miss her so much when she is gone. A dignified old lady, she's the classic shepherd of painting and poem.

Old dogs are the best dogs. With age, they reach the peak of their rapport with their human companions. Then, suddenly, they are gone, and the search begins for a puppy to take their place. An embroidered sampler hangs in my office. My wife made it long ago, when we were young, recently married, and anxiously establishing our practice in what was then a little country town. The sampler depicts a grizzled old dog. These are the words, by a poet unknown to us:

It's tragic that dogs' lives are so short. I take strange comfort in the knowledge that, at my age, I won't have to experience the loss of a good dog too many times in the future.

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 at http://www.robertmmiller.com/.