dvm360 sits down with Dr. Pol


Nat Geo star veterinarian champions common-sense approach, affordable pet care.

dvm360 channel directors Mindy Valcarcel (left) and Kristi Reimer interview Dr. Pol during WVC in Las Vegas.At the Western Veterinary Conference recently in Las Vegas, the editors of dvm360 had an opportunity to chat with Dr. Jan Pol, the title character in Nat Geo Wild's reality show The Incredible Dr. Pol. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

dvm360: How would you describe your veterinary practice philosophy?

Pol: I have my own philosophy, yes. What I like to see is kids growing up with animals. First of all if they have a cat or a dog and mom or dad is scolding them, they can go over there and cry in their fur. Also, when they're very young and crawling around on the ground with the animal, they're less apt to have allergies later in life. Third of all if they do something to hurt the animal-pull on the tail or whatever-that animal will tell them, “Don't do this. It hurts.” And they quit doing it because if they hurt an animal it walks away. I find that kids who grow up with animals make better adults. This is why I want to keep pet ownership affordable. Common-sense affordable pet care is what I believe in.

Recently a 4-year-old Australian shepherd came to the clinic with a cough. The lungs sounded a little off, but otherwise it was healthy with a normal temperature. The next day it had a high temperature and was off feed, and X-rays didn't show too much. The next day it was comatose and I had to put it down. I did an autopsy, and it had a malignant hemangiosarcoma that had ruptured. With all the testing we could have done, there is no way we could have saved him. I did the autopsy so the people would realize it wasn't their fault. Don't put a guilt trip on people if they can't do something. Do the best you can.

dvm360: Do pet owners come to you because of affordability?

Pol: No. They come to us because they trust us. I think this is another very important thing. Common sense, trust, and yes, treat others the way you want to be treated. And clients will come.

dvm360: Other practitioners have been critical of your approach, particularly regarding sterile protocol and pain management.

Pol: Yeah, but they're watching the show! We gather between 150 and 200 hours of taping a week and use 40 minutes. So they don't see everything. We are sterile. There is no question about it. What they see is not what they think they see. That's the problem.

dvm360: Do you get input on final edited version of the show?

Pol: As long as I do it before it goes to Washington [where the show is created]. The producers have three high-definition cameras with a card that takes about three hours of taping. If I don't want something, I have to say, “Camera down.” If it's on the little card and it goes to Washington, D.C., we still have some say, but very little.

But they are making a show that is popular, and they don't show us using our therapeutic laser. That's boring! Yes, we have that. We are not old-fashioned. And people come to us because they trust us; they know we tell the truth and leave it up to the owner. When we do a test or anything, we ask, “I would like to take an X-ray; I would like to take blood work; this is the cost. Can we do it?” Most of 'em will say yes, but every so often we see that look in their eyes. So I say, “OK. This is what I think is wrong, and we'll treat it as such.” Ninety-five percent of the time I'm right and everything goes well.

dvm360: How has being a star changed your life as a veterinarian?

Pol: I have become a lot more fluent in talking and thinking at the same time. I can think on my feet. Also, we meet the nicest people. I have said many times, pet owners and animal lovers are good people.

An aside from Dr. Pol's manager, Bob Aniello: Here at the conference Dr. Pol has received overwhelming support from many veterinarians who have thanked him for doing what he's doing-and also for the notion of care being accessible to everyone. Rural veterinarians especially have come by and said, “Thank you for representing us. We practice the same philosophy.”

Pol: Affordable, common-sense pet care is the biggest thing. And this is what we, many of the older veterinarians who walk around here at the conference, have to offer. Everybody wants to use their expensive machines, and that's fine, but you still have to do a physical exam and use your five senses. That'll tell you a lot. Then use whatever you need to confirm your diagnosis.

dvm360: Do you think increasingly high standards of care are pricing veterinary medicine out of reach of the average pet owner?

Pol: It sounds like it. It looks like it. That is a problem. Because so many people have pets that can't afford them. We have rabies clinics in our area. And some of those dogs, that's all they get. But they have the love of their people. So are these animals then worse off than the ones that than the ones that are treated so royally?

Many years ago I had a dog that got hit by a school bus. Broken pelvis. Bad. Sent it to a specialist, and they reset it. Two surgeries and six months later the dog is still limping. The same week a bigger dog gets hit by the school bus. Same fracture of the pelvis. Same scenario. I tell 'em, “This is what I can do. If you want to do more, go to the specialist.” But they can't afford it. That dog walked up the stairs within a week. He healed up good! So, what is good care and what is not? Are we doing animals a favor by always doing everything we can?

dvm360: Will the show continue?

Pol: I hope so! I'm an optimist. And I'm having fun. Don't forget that several of those guys have been filming for five years. They're like family. 

Valcarcel, Pol and Reimer share a laugh toward the end of the interview.

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