He’s plucked countless porcupine quills from the snouts of dogs, delivered calves in snowstorms and castrated a petite house cat and a 2-ton bull in the same day.
There isn’t much that rural veterinarian Jan Pol, 75, hasn’t seen or done in a half-century of practicing animal medicine in and around his Weidman, Mich., clinic.
While most of Pol’s peers have long since retired, the no-nonsense, Dutch American doctor who can fashion a goat’s leg splint out of parts from an old apple barrel has become a reality TV star of global proportions.
Now in its 12th season — there are two seasons per year — Nat Geo Wild’s “The Incredible Dr. Pol” surpassed the 100-episode mark last year and is still breaking ratings records at the same network that gave us the smash series Cesar Millan’s “Dog Whisperer.” “The Incredible Dr. Pol” remains Nat Geo Wild’s No.1-watched series.
Pol met his wife, Diane, when he arrived in Michigan from the Netherlands as an exchange student in the 1960s. The two run Pol Veterinarian Services, which of course makes her a regular presence on the show. But she opts out of the frame more often than not and is the low-key yin to her husband’s gregarious yang. The cameras also follow their son, Charles, and vets on staff who include Dr. Emily and Dr. Brenda as they deliver puppies or perform surgeries on ailing pigs.
“The Incredible Dr. Pol” resonates with a diverse swath of viewers in ways that more targeted reality programming have not. In a world of cable news brawls and social media tantrums, the down-to-earth charms of Pol have proved a soothing panacea.
The divisive ratings ploys of reality TV have no place in “The Incredible Dr. Pol.” It’s drama enough wrangling a wily, adolescent alpaca without humans adding their issues into the mix.
The work here is often graphic and messy, meaning invasive emergency surgeries, equine dental treatments with giant metal files or probing arm-deep in the back ends of bloated livestock. Yet viewers still keep coming back for more. Or maybe that’s part of why they keep returning.
“There was some talk that it might be too much for audiences, but it’s turned out to be OK,” Pol said. “Kids in particular are really interested in what we’re doing. It’s usually the dads who are upset.”
Pol speaks around the globe about the care and treatment of animals. The universal draw of helping animals is the initial lure of the show. Other Nat Geo Wild shows feature furry and feathered fare, but they don’t have Pol as a main point of entry. His quick wit, years of experience, stubborn tenacity and generous heart are a big part of the show’s draw as he makes his way across bucolic green fields and bone-chilling winter blizzards to reach his patients.
“It’s a slice of life that I think people feel very nostalgic for, even if they never experienced it themselves growing up,” said Charles. “There’s also lots of space, open landscape, animals and ... “
Pol jumps in, “and that time when I dropped the syringe and Charles bent down to pick it up and boom, he got it in the head from a steer. Three cameras caught it. Where else can you see that?” he joked.