My wife, Debby, and I have owned many dogs
during our 46 years of marriage, and they've
all been Australian shepherds. We've often
had two, and sometimes three, at any given time.
The name of the breed, incidentally,
is a misnomer. It should be the
California stock dog. The breed originated
in California as descendants of
Basque herding dogs that arrived in
California during the Gold Rush. They
came with their Basque herders and
shiploads of sheep from Australia—
hence, the name Australian
shepherd. Australians are often miffed
at the name, because it is inaccurate,
and they are justifiably proud of their
own stock dogs, such as the kelpie
and the Queensland heeler.
All our dogs have been good dogs.
Someone once said that a person is entitled to one
great dog in a lifetime. Well, we've had three. Two are
long gone, but the third is Rosie.
Rosie is beloved. She doesn't have the work ethic
of our preceding great dogs, but she is still very special,
extremely intelligent, and supremely kind. She
also has the most powerful smile I have ever known in
Now, a lot of dogs smile. We've had several. It's
supposed to be an expression of submission. But
Rosie doesn't smile in submission. She smiles to
communicate. She has three smiles. One is her Elvis
smile, restricted to one side of her upper lip. It means
Then there is her questioning smile, involving a display
of just the incisors. People who don't know dogs
often duck out of the way, mistaking it for a snarl.
Finally, there is the full-mouth smile that exposes
the entire arcade, including all her molars—you know,
like Julia Roberts. This smile, the most extreme I've
seen in a dog, means "I love you, I've missed you, I
haven't seen you since bedtime last night, and life is
wonderful and filled with joy."
We have raised litters of pups in the past, and I
know we should have bred Rosie just to spread her
genes around. There are lots of good dogs around,
but great dogs are scarce.
However, we got Rosie after I retired
from practice and found myself in
an unplanned full-time lecture career.
We haven't been home long enough
at a stretch to raise and train a litter
like we used to. So last year when she
was 9, I finally spayed Rosie. I'll regret
that decision for the rest of my life.
Half a year after neutering her, we
found that Rosie had a highly invasive
anal sac adenocarcinoma, with metastases.
My wife and I wept. We have
never lost a dog prematurely. They
have all been 14 years of age or older.
Rosie was not yet 10.
A friend and colleague, Dr. Jim Felts, insisted on
surgically excising the primary tumor, and another
long-time friend, Dr. Alice Villalobos, prescribed a
course of immunostimulants and nutraceuticals for
Rosie. An oncologist suggested that Rosie receive a
long-term course of piroxicam, an NSAID that has
been found to have some anticancer properties.
Half a year later, Rosie has never looked or felt
better. There has been no palpable recurrence at the
original tumor site. One of my former practice associates,
Dr. Sean McCormack, recently performed an
abdominal ultrasonographic examination on Rosie,
and the metastases were static.
I now can identify with the many clients in years
past who were grateful to me for extending the life of
a treasured pet. Every day we have with this dear
creature is cherished, yet we know that someday,
soon, we will lose her. Lately, the words of an old
country song about a man remembering his childhood
friend, Old Shep, have been going through my mind.
The last stanza goes something like this:
Old Shep has gone where the good doggies go,
And no more with Old Shep will I roam.
But if dogs go to heaven, there's one thing I know,
Old Shep has a wonderful home.
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