I don't watch many of the popular television channels, but one I do enjoy is Animal Planet. I'm not the only veterinarian
who enjoys this channel. On New Year's Eve 1999, 15 of us veterinarians and our spouses met at a ski resort in the Sierra
Nevada Mountains to greet the new millennium together. Before dinner, we all watched Animal Planet and were so engrossed that
we showed up to dinner an hour late.
Dr. Robert M. Miller
One of my favorite shows on Animal Planet is Emergency Vets, a documentary series filmed at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver. The show reveals to its millions of viewers the
sophistication of veterinary medicine today.
I also enjoy Australian animal handler Steve Irwin, who is so daring and dramatic that he now has several imitators. But his
new show, New Breed Vets, annoys me. For one thing, the camera relentlessly focuses on Steve, when it should be focusing on the patients and doctors.
Steve is in nearly every scene—carrying animals, helping animals up, or peering into the camera. That's show biz, I know,
but Steve also explains each patient's diagnosis and treatment in an unqualified manner.
However, my main objection with the show is the title, New Breed Vets; it implies that viewers are seeing cutting-edge procedures. And although the episode I watched concerned exotic species
that most practitioners don't treat, everything would be old hat to experienced zoo practitioners. These were the cases:
1. A camel was anesthetized because of a mouth lesion caused by penetrating grass awns. (Frankly, any California veterinarian
could have recognized a foxtail invasion by the necrotic odor.)
2. A wild koala that was hit by a car was treated for a limb fracture. An intramedullary pin "used for years in people" was
placed to reduce the fracture. (Funny, I did my first pinning half a century ago—it was in a dog and was a standard technique.)
3. An elephant with an infected toenail was treated with a poultice and a boot. (Big deal!)
4. Elephants were vaccinated against tetanus. (This is new? In 1959, tetanus was diagnosed in an elephant at Jungleland—a long-closed
theme park in Thousand Oaks, Calif.—so my colleagues and I vaccinated all of the park's elephants.)
5. A cheetah with a "superficial leg cyst" (an abscess, I suspect) was given "complex surgery to give it a chance of survival."
6. In the only challenging case presented, a cheetah with an infected compound mandibular fracture was treated. The fracture
was surgically repaired "exactly the same as in people." (Really, Steve? You mean they do this in people, too?)
I wonder if the producers know that the first hip prosthesis developed for any species was first created for dogs by U.S.
Army veterinarian Harry Gorman, or that in 1958 San Diego veterinarian Mil Custer successfully implanted plastic lenses into
the eyes of a spaniel that was blind from cataracts, or that a veterinarian in Switzerland performed the first recorded successful
caesarean section in history on a sow centuries ago. New Breed Vets indeed!
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