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The Incredible Dr. Pol?… not so much say fellow veterinarians

If there ever was a poster child for “old timer” in veterinary medicine it would have to be Dr. Jan Pol. As far as I can tell, no one else is so gleefully in the running for a designation that denotes a pigheaded unwillingness to practice medicine to modern standards.

In case you don’t know Dr. Pol, that’s quite all right. It’s probably because you haven’t been paying close enough attention to the kind of reality television programming that passes for infotainment these days. Which can only be a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

But I digress …

Dr. Jan Pol, AKA “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” as his reality show on National Geographic Wild is billed, is all about an “old school” veterinarian’s way with the animals, James Herriot-style. Which makes for undeniably compelling content –– for reality TV or otherwise –– if only if Dr. Pol weren’t so … well … old school.

Veterinarians have been complaining about Dr. Pol since the very first episodes revealed that his methods –– how shall I put it? –– glaringly ignored many of modern veterinary medicine’s standards of practice.

“Atrocious,” “appalling,” “absolutely unforgivable,” and “embarrassing” have all been used by fellow veterinarians to describe Pol’s version of veterinary care. They decry the mass media exposition of old world ways like his as misleading to the general public. Dr. Pol, they say, does not represent the profession’s high standards.

Lax aseptic technique, a free hand with steroids, and minimal attention to anesthetic and pain relief protocols are a few examples that explain why most veterinarians I know agree Dr. Pol delivers substandard care. It also explains why so many veterinarians have called on Nat Geo Wild to cancel his show.

But it’s not just veterinarians. Plenty of in-the-know pet owners are concerned, too. Here’s one typical non-vet comment (this one appeared in the community forum over at DVM360.com):

“Dr. Pol (The Incredible....NOT)

Dr Pol sucks!  He doesn't care about animals. He uses a rubber band on a bulls balls!  Now people are doing that to their dogs, cats and domestic animals. I saw someone do that to a dog’s tail!  Please take him off the air!  I saw a cow whose uterus came out and he was putting it back into her and ripped it. He went into his truck and got a needle "from somewhere in the truck" and proceeded to sew her up with no anesthesia or pain meds and NOT SANITARY!  REALLY NOTHING INCREDIBLE ABOUT THIS BLOKE!”

This kind of viewership backlash is impressive enough. But when owners of Dr. Pol’s patients allege incompetence and licensing officials are asked to step in, the ante gets upped; higher still when the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs serves him with probation for negligence and incompetence related to an April 2010 incident in which he egregiously mismanaged the case of a pregnant dog. (Her pups died after Dr. Pol repeatedly failed to perform a C-section despite clear evidence of fetal stress.)

According to the state of Michigan, Dr. Pol misread an ultrasound, inappropriately treated his patient, didn’t keep adequate records, and failed to ensure that his staff kept proper documentation of telephone calls in his treatment records.

In his defense, Dr. Pol claims that his misdeeds all came down to minor record-keeping infractions and that the whole debacle was engineered by a rival colleague who “sicced” the Board on him, intimating that professional jealousy is at the root of his troubles. But he goes further still, claiming that veterinarians should not –– indeed, cannot –– take issue with his methods. After all, this is how he’s practiced his whole career.

Ignorance of one’s own shortcomings is bad enough –– especially when they impact animal welfare directly –– but it’s worse knowing that his network backs him unreservedly, if cluelessly, in spite of serious complaints, including the one still lingering on his license:

As National Geographic Wild’s Rajul Mistry explained blithely to DVM Newsmagazine, “The recent fine placed on Dr. Pol is due to an administrative complaint, not malpractice or misdiagnosis.” (A fine legal point I’m sure the owners of ten now-dead pups would take issue with.) Meanwhile, he continued to assert the network’s support for Dr. Pol, crowing that “The show is currently the No. 1 show on Nat Geo Wild and we hope it has a long and successful future as part of our network.”

To be sure, the network’s giddy glorification of Dr. Pol’s cowboy style rankles, but it’s the the flippant dismissal of animal suffering that really boils my blood. More so when Dr. Pol pleads innocence based on semantics, regulatory technicalities, and, as he continually claims, the fact that his show is intended as entertainment and should be viewed in that light alone.

Just TV, Dr. Pol?

If so, then I’m forced to conclude that perhaps the good doctor shouldn’t be allowed to practice on any real patients.



Pic: the one that jack the beer store cat didn't want me to post

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Reader Comments (28)

I agree totally. I watched a few episodes of Pol, and I was horrified. This jerk has no empathy for animals. You would think being in front of a camera, he'd at least ACT a little more caring. The way he handles the dogs and even the farm animals is , in my opinion, inhumane. I wouldn't take a goldfish to him.

November 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteragadoresmama

@ agadoresmama: And it's SO infuriating that people actually believe his schtick equates with quality care. One of my local board-certified surgeons actually had to endure having one of his clients call Dr. Pol to OK the procedure he had recommended. The dog's owner said she wouldn't go through with the much-needed surgery until Dr. Pol approved. I can understand people watching it as entertainment. I can even understand believing he's compassionate and caring. But I can't fathom people who actually think he's a great veterinarian. Seems weird to me given what I've witnessed.

PS: Thanks for following me for so many years. It's nice to see you commenting here!

November 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterDr. Patty Khuly

I hate this show. This man reminds me of my first boss, who wasn't anywhere near this bad, but still. It's not just the subpar medicine but the dismissive, arrogant attitude towards anything approaching modern medicine. Loved how he threw his former associate under the bus, by name, even while the other veterinarian was nothing but diplomatic. FYI, the state of Michigan has no CE requirement, which does explain a lot.

November 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I worked as a veterinary assistant (full disclosure: Trained on the job by my employer; no degree or certification) 10+ years ago, so I must assume that my knowledge is both very incomplete and very out of date, and I was totally appalled at the way this guy and his colleagues do things. The two that really stood out (I haven't seen all the episodes) were the pit/bulldog puppy that got mauled by the older dog, and Blackie, the dog that ate the baseball cover.

1) My former bosses repaired animals with seriously horrific injuries (dog maulings, gunshot wounds, hit-by-cars, etc.). It involved a lot more than giving them a shot of steroids and putting them away in a cage to wait. If he doesn't have the time or the staff to handle serious cases, he needs to either hire more staff or not be shy about sending clients elsewhere, where they can be seen in time to save their pets.

2) I desperately hope that somebody edited out the part where Dr. Brenda offered Blackie's owners IV fluids and bloodwork. My last dog survived pancreatitis twice (the result of "dietary indiscretion" both times). That our vet immediately put the dog on fluids and ran bloodwork confirmed her illness and saved her life, but she would have been dead very quickly had she not been treated right away. That any vet would see a dog that had been off its food and vomiting for a couple of days and not insist on fluids, at the very least, is totally beyond me.

Thorough care is not bill-padding. Nobody on this show seems to understand that. How many more animals could he save if he were doing a competent job? The idea of a veterinarian practicing like James Herriot is adorable until you remember that Herriot was practicing in the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's. I hope we can do better 60 years later.

December 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLBC

So many things about this show totally disguste me! The fact that for any lilttle problem he will sedate ur pet, after a while and after so many sedations it is not safe for your pet.
The most recent upsettng thing I saw waw a alpacca owner who decided that his coat was no longer making a proffit and called Dr Pol to put him down. Instead of looking in to a farm for him to live out hie life or a alpacca rescue this supposed great vet, made this poor animal disposable because his coat was no longer acceptable!
I find this show unacceptable. It shows everything that is wrong with how we are to treat the animals that love us so much and just want love in return.
Dr Pol is a problem not a solution!

January 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaime

I am watching Dr Brenda deal with a new foal. She is so full of misinformation and basically saying the foal will die. Just an excuse for poor care.

January 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLee

I love the tv show. It is very entertaining, wholesome and upbeat. It's hard to find shows like that anymore!! Dr. Pol and Dr. Brenda have a lot of successful outcomes so they must be doing a lot right!

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdebra

i can hear a big cry from the pet lovers here but i bet ya half of you spayed your beloved dogs, fixed the cats so they dont smell and removed their clawes so your expensive leather sofas wont suffer. sorry, the strongest will survive, and that is what Dr Pol excercises. old fashion way may be a sore to someone's eye.. well 'tuff luv"

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterzadrack

If you don't like watching dr. Pol then don't watch it! If you don't believe in old timey medicine don't watch it. All it is, jusr old timey stuff. IF YOU DONT LIKE IT, THEN DONT WATCH IT. that's all I have to say.

January 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteramber leann

I find it humorous that all of you are so quick to talk negatively about Dr Pol, who has 19000 patients and goes from a rat to a dog to alpaca to horse etc etc. all in one day. It is amazing to me that one person can possess that much knowledge. We have become a society of germophobes. Last time I took my 2 dogs to Banfield for a booster it cost me two hundred dollars because they had to do a full check up...even though they were just there. They are always trying to sell procedures and insurance. I'll never go back. I want a real Vet like Dr. Pol again, not a yuppie.

January 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjustin m

I just posted this on Dr Pol page on National Geographic Channel but Im sure it wont show up.

This was such a good show. I was really enjoying it and looking forward to new episodes. ...and then I saw Dr. Pol doing things to animals that should definitely be under anesthesia and definitely have pain pills or even being put down. He put rubber bands on the balls of animals so they will fall OFF?? My neighbor said he is doing this to his dog because it must be ok if they're showing it on the national geographic channel. My heart bleeds for that dog. I just feel like bursting into tears. I can't believe this torture is happening next door to me, just feet away and there's nothing i can do. That poor sweet dog. What kind of country is this? Are we not striving to do things easier and better?. I'm really disturbed by this. Please take this show off tv or at least take out the really cruel parts. Please. Have a heart. Dr. Pol should be put in jail but national geographic should at least not show these non christian evil practices on tv. It's like they are backing them up! Why does National Geographic find it necessary to show these evil archaic practices? I've always watched this channel and I've always subscribed to their magazines and have even bought things on the NG website and I had the impression these were kind, caring explorers and helpers?

Teary & Torn in Tennessee

January 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterLeah Mallory

Dr. Pol is a FARM VET. Most of his patients are livestock. For the person crying over the Alpaca , this animal was considered LIVESTOCK, not a pet. Farmers cannot afford to support livestock that is not producing. Farmers already work 24/7 and do not have time to try to get non producing livestock "adopted out."

I find it interesting that everyone to jump to judgement. Do you all know for a fact that there is a lack of sterilization? Do they show absolutely every second of every procedure on the show? No. It is only an hour long.

Dr. Pol is not the first vet or the last who has ever made a mistake and lost a patient. My own vet did not run a blood pressure check on my dog that had Cushings and she stroked and died as a result. High blood pressure can be a side effect of certain kinds of Cushings. None of us are perfect , no matter what your profession, you do your best , but none of us are psychic.

I am sure that Nat Geo did their research , and would not have renewed the show so many times if Dr. Pol was guilty of gross negligence.

January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

Its painfully obvious that most people here that are commenting have probably never seen a farm animal, let alone know anything about them. As to the alpaca, it had CL, or caseous lymphadenitis, which is a debilitating, contagious disease. It infects lymph nodes, internal as well as external, and there is no treatment or cure. The KINDEST thing was to put it down actually. As to the cow uterus, that is how its done, and most probably missed the fact that he gave the cow a spinal so it wouldnt push. Most women can testify that when that happens you are Numb! Therefore no need to have a local. I had a goat break a hind leg, and the local vet who really wont do goats quoted me $400 to fix it. I had done that before, and the goat never recovered properly, so this time I we3nt to Walmart, and bought stuff to set the leg itself. I gave her pain meds, and set the leg and it healed so well that you couldnt even tell. There was no reason to do a ton of xrays, or surgery to pin it, she was absolutely fine with tape and popsicle stick from Walmart..I use castrating bands on goats, cows, to neuter them or to remove horns etc. Thats normal procedure actually. You think a knife has less pain? Good grief. C-sections and many surgeries are done under local. General anesthesia is not without risks. I have seen vets kill a few over the years with general. Some animals dont tolerate general anesthesia and so they use locals. I dont see anything wrong with DR Pol and in fact if I lived near him would use him myself. He is matter of fact, and takes care of the animals and saves farmers as well as clients money on some frills that may or may not be needed. FYI, circumcisions on boys were performed for over 40 years without any anesthesia until recently, and also want to point out that even when used it hardly ever works anyway. So for all you naysayers, keep on spending those thousands so the vets can have a new car, or house, or fancy equipment. If you think farmers should, then soon your steaks and hamburgers will be costing you $40/lb. There is probably alot of stuff that gets edited out or the show would be longer than an hour. I highly doubt the guy does everything without any anesthetic. Its a reality show, they only show a portion of what goes on, and show what makes it cute and interesting. Give the guy a break, geez.....

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia

I will also point out that during the cow episode, the one with the prolapsed uterus, the tear was NOT Dr. Pol's fault. The tear was because the farmer, the owner of the cow, tried to push the cow's uterus back in himself without any knowledge, equipment or preparation. Also, Dr. Pol did sterilize the uterus with liberal application of antibiotics. The farmer's unskilled attempt to help his cow resulted in more damage. If you rewatch the footage, the tear in the uterus was noticed in a section of the uterus that Dr. Pol hadn't even touched. He had barely begun to inspect the uterus when the tear was discovered.

"Virginia" answered the alpaca question very well. It is obvious that the complatant did not even watch the episode in question. The alpaca had a 2 inch diameter HOLE in its shoulder. The hole was nicely blurred for the weak stomachs of viewers, but you can tell that the hole is at least 1 inch deep. The farmer also stated that another alpaca on his farm had the same condition a few years back. The treatment is long (a year or more), painful, expensive, and with little chance of success, especially since the alpaca in question was old. I know many people will have their elderly pet put to sleep rather than submitting them to a year or more of tortuous, painful treatment that has very little chance of success, and that's talking about family pets, not farm animals.

Farmers need to keep their bottom line in view at all times. Would you rather the farmer patients of Dr. Pol's forgo all treatment and just let their animals die in agony because they cannot afford frilly expensive treatments? Dr. Pol does what he can with clients who do not have very much disposable income. Farmers can't spend a thousand dollars treating a single animal when they have another thousand to take care of.

Often, the editing in the show skips details like application of anesthesia, painkillers, and the like because it is repetitive and doesn't make good TV. I have watched most of the Dr. Pol episodes recently (and actually rewatched some specifically after reading critiques of his methods), and I noted a multitude of times where the show does not show Dr. Pol administering local anesthesia, yet later there is reference to the animal coming off anesthesia. Most of the exams and procedures are severely edited for television.

I am not without criticism of the show. I am very surprised at the low use of gloves and surgical masks. My skin crawls whenever I see Dr. Pol put his hand up a cow's rectum without gloves, no matter whether it's an emergency or not. Gloves are for the safety of the vet, not just the animal.

February 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris

NEVER would I use Dr Pol and particularly Dr Brenda
They have absolutely no concern about pain in animals.It is indeed sad that people who do not have large animals view these 2 inhumane vets as examples of large animal vets

March 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLee

19,000 patients like him because he delivers a service at a reasonable cost, cares, follows-up with patients, involves clients in patent care, experienced, and skilled. Maybe other vets. should take notice. Quality care does not always have to come at a cost. People will use a service if the cost is right and there is some quality!

March 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSRS

As a farmer and rancher, I can no longer afford the 'latest standard of care' that the new vets profess to practice! All I see is an increase to their bottom line which affects my ability to make a living and little if anything innovative that will increase or better the health of my animals and pets.

In the past the vets taught us to do as much hands on care as possible with all our farm animals and pets period. They would attend to the really complex stuff but always with the mind set that we were not going to do the fancy expensive procedures, tons of labs and imaging.

Dr. Pol does a great job, and he could take care of my pets and animals anytime.!

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFarmer_Tony

Dr. Pol is a basic large animal veterinarian. There is still no need (that said) to splint a broken leg with pieces from a wooden barrel (as pvc pipe is sturdier and works well) and not isolate the joint above and below the fracture line (BASIC fracture repair). There is no excuse for leaving an anesthetized dog upstairs while you sit in the basement during a tornado warning; the xray equipment is downstairs and they manage to haul dogs up and down them daily. There is NO excuse for doing a csection on a bulldog and not having a tube in her trachea so she can breathe (VERY VERY basic vet medicine with brachycephalic breeds). Let's face it, this is a reality "show"; Dr. Pol is not incredible. He has a son who lives in California (but manages to make it home during filming to ride around with him) and wants a career in film (he moved out there to pursue that; that is a fact). Charles sees an idea to pitch to a channel and uses it to further his career. Dr. Pol agreed to it to further his son's career. What I think is very interesting is that if you look at the still website photos for this show the dog has an endotracheal tube in and he is wearing a mask. Huh..don't see that on the show. Dr. Pol is not required by the state of Michigan to take continuing education (in Missouri we are required) and it shows. He did not graduate from vet school in the US and that also shows. I am in a rural area; my husband and I are both vets. My husband pulled calves, put back in prolapses, etc etc for 20 years. I worked at a salebarn bleeding cattle, vaccinating etc etc for 9 years with him. I have a dozen "Dr. Pols" practicing in my area alone; some are better, some are worse. That's the way it is

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Kathy Huenefeld

What would a "modern day" vet charge vs. Dr Pol to obtain the identical results? Right. It's like Monsanto vs Heirloom seeds. Who do I believe?

August 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDrVogel

I have been out of school a lot longer than Dr Pol, and I coulld not bring myself to do some of those things
depicted on his TV show. And another thing, use of the word "vet". This word is abused by the Veterinary
profession as much or more than the public sector. When people ask me - "are you a vet?" My reply is -
"yes, United States Marine Corps, 1950-1954, Korea".

September 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDr Brad

It's just a TV show and nobody really knows what goes on behind the scenes. I see a lot of comments about them not using pain meds and not being in a sterile field. I wish people would be tougher and do things without pain meds because this generation is growing up not knowing what pain even feels like because there is a pill for everything. The animals are fine without pain meds and as far as the sterile field well thats just stupid, you people that are complaining about the show just need to turn the channel and quit creating drama.

February 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTabby

Oh, Tabby, here I was thinking you were being all smart and snarky until I read your last line. I did not know there were people who still advocated for human and animal pain AND believed we should just dispense with aseptic technique already. Perhaps we should get rid of antibiotics and anesthesia while we're at it. How's that for high drama?

February 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterDr. Patty Khuly

You people are the MOST jealous busy-bodies I have ever had the mispleasure of reading. Fortunately I dont have to.....which is WTF you should do !!!! Turn off the TV and forget about it. Two of Pol's biggest critics have enforcement actions against their own license(s). So stop being jealous as HE has a show and YOU dont, get a life and do something...... sheese

March 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Hervieux

Many women have to face dreaded consequences due to negligence in post-natal care at the hospitals, so they are have to file a medical negligence claim against the medical team that was allegedly responsible for causing harm to the mother and child.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterColin

I enjoy Dr. Pol's show for the most part. Some of it is gross but that is true of the medical field for humans. The parts that are too gory provide a good time to get a cup of coffee. Like others have said, "If you don't like it, don't watch it". I do have a problem with the reruns. All week they advertise "new" shows but then they are reruns. I have been wondering if Dr. Pol is ill.

May 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBetty

Although Dr. Pol is far from perfect, I would like to point out that state of the art care has its downside too. Two experiences out of many illustrate that offering great care can also be cruel:

A new client came in to have her dog euthanized. Her spayed female dog had been diagnosed with bladder stones and she could not afford to pay the > $3,000 fee the procedure. She had agonized about this for 8 months while her dog continued to suffer the symptoms. When I told her we could do the surgery for as little as $400, her eyes lit up and we began planning her dog's surgery. The $400 would not have included stone analysis, IV catheter, preanesthetic testing, etc., although I think she ended up springing for them anyway. The dog sailed through the surgery and never looked back.

The second involves a parvo pup. We were caring for one of the affected pups when the owner of another from the same litter asked if her pup could be transferred to us. Their bill was past $4,000 while the bill on our pup was about $1400. My problem was with a comment on the referring hospital's file. To paraphrase, "The owner is unable to afford further care without compromise, so we will pursue outpatient care". This pup came in with an albumen of less than 1.0 and had severe facial edema and a host of other issues. Outpatient care would have been a death sentence. Happily, both pups recovered.

State of the art care would have killed both of these patients. Why is it that I have a duty to offer a referral if I cannot meet a patient's needs, but a very expensive hospital has no such duty when they cannot meet their patients' needs due to a lack of owner resources?

Back to Dr. Pol. Is it possible that he is responding to the needs of his community? Not everyone can afford the highest standard of care.

August 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRincon

I would ever take my dogs to this man!!! I'm not a vet but even I sat there and watch this show thinking this can't be right. Just the fact that so many of his animals die! He says "there's nothing more we can do" with almost every case. Each time he just gives the animal antibiotics; maybe Pepto Bismal for a stomach issue, and the wounds some of those dogs come in with he just cleans out with no pain medicine. The last straw was watching him squeeze an absence on a poor little tiny baby goat. The goat was screaming and Pol just kept saying "I know, I know, it hurts" That was all I could take. Why is he on the air? It's not like anyone can learn anything from him. Even the women who took her winnie dog in knew his lump was a fatty tumor. He disagreed then just cut it off!! And it was a fatty tumor. Then his pathetic son. What is this guy trying to prove? He doesn't want to be a vet yet he feels compelled to tag along with dad; watching his dad show off, it seems" when his son is around. The son is always defending his "old school" techniques. Why is his son even around?? Such a sad show.

August 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSpencer

First of all, Dr. Pol is an amazing veterinarian. Most of his patients are livestock, so he has to know what to do. It doesn't matter to me how his practice is different. He's 71 and he does it old school, that's what makes him unique! Why don't y'all leave him alone? I was visiting family in Wiedman, Michigan when my dog became severely ill. I met Dr Pol and he was great with my dog! He diagnosed my dog within minutes and got him feeling better. Turns out that he swallowed some plastic wrap and Doc Pol made him better! Plus, it wasn't totally expensive. Dr. Pol cares for these animals and loves them like his own animals! It doesn't matter whether their animals or pets, Doc Pol loves them all! So stop being haters, maybe travel to Michigan and shadow him. That'll change your mind!

September 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMe

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