It’s September, and that means Debby and I will celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary. Looking back, I’ve made three decisions
in my life that, more than anything else, account for my happiness and gratitude for that life.
The first is when I decided to study veterinary medicine. It wasn't an easy decision. I was 21 years old, a veteran of World
War II, and a student at the University of Arizona majoring in animal husbandry. I loved animals, but I didn't have the remotest
idea of what I would do with the degree once I earned it. I considered commercial art, journalism, law, police work, and anthropology.
But animals were always my first love, especially horses and dogs. One day while I was walking home from class, the idea of
veterinary medicine hit me like a flash. It took nine more years to get there, but I know there's nothing else I could've
chosen more wisely than a career in this profession.
The second smart decision I made was to marry Debby, who I met during my senior year in veterinary school. I never proposed
to her. Not long after we met, we simply started talking about marriage and making plans. Compatible, loyal, and beautiful,
she has been a wonderful mother and best friend, and she shares my values, interests, and ideals.
Third, my decision to move to California was a difficult but wise one. I had worked one summer before college in California
and didn't care for it. I was also prejudiced because Arizonans in those days tended to be provincial and resented the big
state to the west. But after a year of practicing in Arizona and experiencing the 24/7 working hours of a rural mixed practice,
I couldn't see how I'd be able to do justice to my impending marriage and to eventual fatherhood. I reasoned that the solution
must be in a five-doctor group practice. One doctor would be on vacation, one would be enjoying a day off, and the other three
would be working.
I took the California boards and searched the state for such a practice. I had no intention of creating one myself. I simply
wanted to join such a group but couldn't find it. Instead, I found a place: the Conejo Valley—with thousands of cattle, dozens
of horse-breeding farms, a private zoo, a camel- breeding farm, an elephant-training center, and no veterinarian!
I opened a practice, and I was busy from day one. Ten years later I had a six-doctor group. When I retired in 1987, it was
a 12-doctor mixed-practice group. Today the Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital has 15 doctors, and it's still a mixed practice.
And now I'm a client.
I still live in the extraordinary state of California, which has every kind of topography, every climate zone, and every kind
of community and culture in the United States. A wise decision 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