Dr. Dawn Miller

HER CALLING: THE WILD Do you like your job? Is there something else you’ve wanted to do since childhood? Would you quit your present job to follow that dream? Dawn Miller did just that. At age 42, she decided to leave the corporate world and become a veterinarian. She went back to college to take the required courses, went on to veterinary school at the University of Florida and now has her own practice called Sunset Meadows Country Clinic west of Gainesville, FL.
She radiates good vibes. Human visitors and animals alike pick up quickly on her warn and friendly manner. Dawn Miller works with all sorts of animals from household pets and farm animals to tigers, emus and birds of prey (hawks and owls). Many are rescued from untenable homes by USDA or Florida Fish and Game or brought in after being injured in the wild. Some are released when possible, while others (such as the big felids) become permanent residents.
Miller says the wildlife and exotic birds and animals are funded by her private practice. She also does most of the work around the expansive clinic herself, but has a few excellent volunteers that come in regularly.
“She’s wonderful. She does everything she can to help them,” says Shirl Johnson, a volunteer at Miller's clinic. “It’s like a zoo, you never know what’s going to be walking around when you go there, kind of like Dr. Doolittle.”
After college, with an MBA in hand, Miller went to work as a career and alcohol counselor and then as a corporate trainer in Tampa, teaching companies how to use new phone systems. It wasn’t the job for her, she says. “Working for a major corporation was difficult for me. I did it well, but there was no joy in it, unlike counseling or working with animals,” Miller said.
Miller grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country. It’s a very close community and they’re very conservative. It’s kind of a step more liberal than Amish and Mennonites, says Miller, who maintains ties to the area. It’s a culture with a very hard work ethic. It was childhood visits to her uncle’s farm, working with the animals that first inspired her to become a veterinarian.
“I always wanted to work with animals,” Miller said. In college, I was into pre-vet program, but in those days women, especially Pennsylvania Dutch girls, just didn’t do those things. So I didn’t pursue it. I went into teaching, like I guess you were supposed to, but I didn’t like that, so I got into the corporate world. That was OK, but I really always wanted to go to vet school.”
When Miller went back to school 20 years after her MBA in pursuit of a veterinary degree, she found some courses, physics, for example, a little tough, but she had to get the prerequisites for vet school. It was a rough ride, she says. She had a job during school and three in the summer. There didn’t seem to be enough time or money. Miller was also eager to get out of the classroom and into real practice.
Miller graduated in 1992. She had to the degree, but felt she was lacking in practical experience. So she worked and several veterinary practices in the area to hone her skills. “One of those practice was Midway Animal Hospital,” Miller said. “It was a really busy practice, and some of the doctors just couldn’t get to the wildlife, so they would come to me. Most of the time I just didn’t know what kind of animal or bird it was let alone how to treat it. So the technicians would ask, would you at least euthanize it? She quickly tired of that and began learning how to save the variety of animals and birds that came through the door. Treating wildlife and exotics became her passion and remains her priority.
In 1995, a few years after graduating, Miller felt she had collected enough knowledge and equipment to open her own practice. She lives on the property and juggles private practice with her wildlife and exotic rescue work. Animals can be found everywhere – big cats in large enclosures, birds of prey and exotics in flight cages, with different species of deer, peacocks and some emus calling the meadow behind the house home. And let’s not forget the chickens and horses. “The animals here get along surprisingly well,” Miller said. “A lot of people comment on that, and I don’t really have an answer for why that is.”
Her day starts before dawn and end well after dark. There’s feeding, cleaning, surgery and other treatments to be done every day. Dr. Miller is exactly where she wants to be. “I consider myself really fortunate because I’m one the few people I know that just really loves what they do,” she said. As written by Jason Holland in the October 17, 2002 Gainesville Sun

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