Helping Others from the Top of the World
Howard “Howdy” Miller, DVM 1972, and his wife, Debbie travel to Ladakh, India, each spring under the auspices of the Christian Veterinary Mission. They go to this remote Himalayan region, located at an elevation of 11,000-15,000 feet, to help village farmers and provide much-needed veterinary care for their animals.
Although a multitude of villages—each consisting of 10 to 60 houses—is scattered up the steep canyons of this area, the Millers return to the same eight villages each time to provide some continuity of care. Houses may have six rooms to accommodate three generations, but have no running water and only intermittent electricity.
To plow their fields, they rely on dzohs, a cross-bred bovine combining the strength of a yak with the demeanor of cow. Also central to the farmers’ daily needs and livelihood are cows, donkeys, goats and sheep. It is common for animals to have injuries, develop infections from parasites and suffer from respiratory illnesses, malnutrition and keratitis. Because of the region’s isolation, few animals receive veterinary care.
While walking along a trail earlier this spring, Miller came across a family who explained that they owned a cow with an injured knee. Since the cow was unable to come out of the muddy stable under the house, Miller waded through the mud to treat the animal. He washed, medicated and wrapped the wound. Grateful for the care, the family gave him a small bag of apricots and almonds, both considered precious delicacies.
When treating animals in some villages, Miller must also account for local superstition and spiritualism. For example, animal owners believe that firing, or burning flesh, above the perceived injury will promote healing. “The result is damaged tissue that I debride and medicate, all the while feeling sorry for the poor animal. These situations give a me a good opportunity to provide education to the community,” said Miller.
Between visits, villagers eagerly await Miller’s return. They often ask his liaison in Ladakh when the “English doctor” is coming back. Over the years, the Millers have developed respect for the hard life these farmers lead and an admiration of the yet indomitable spirit they possess.
Now retired from his successful practice in Oregon, Miller plans to continue his annual trips. “My education from the school has provided me with a rewarding life. I am very thankful for this and want to give back. By helping animals in Ladakh, I know that my work also benefits the people who care for them.”