Exclusive: Charles Pol talks The Incredible Dr. Pol: Birth, Wind & Fire episode

Charles Pol
Charles Pol is a producer on The Incredible Dr. Pol who also assists his father Dr. Pol

Tonight on The Incredible Dr. Pol, the mercurial Michigan spring will bring surprise late season snow and some very happy ending stories… and one heartbreaker for sure.

The frigid weather seems to be finally coming to an end, and Charles Pol is busier than ever helping out his dad Dr. Pol as they handle the big farm emergencies while Drs Brenda and Emily hold the fort back at the clinic.

The changing seasons bring new life, and Dr. Pol and the team have their hands full with baby animals. This week, Dr. Pol helps with a basket of newborn puppies, a poor bird whose owner never clipped off the metal band on his leg and a lethargic cat, and Dr. Brenda treats a dangerous thrashing horse with an injured leg.

At the top of the show, a boy named Carson has a sick sheep he needs Dr. Emily to examine. The episode tonight and our conversation with Charles Pol reveals that getting kids into 4-H is a great way to instill responsibility.

Carson (center)
Carson’s lamb is ailing, the 4-H helps kids learn to care for animals

Also of note tonight is the cautionary tale of Bing the Canary. The metal leg band never was removed and as the bird grew, the excruciating pain it suffered made him stop singing.

“When the bird gets bigger sometimes these bands aren’t big enough,” says Dr. Pol as he tends to Bing. Sadly the bird’s injury is so bad that he must snip off his leg.

The more physically taxing cases see Charles with his dad as they rush to save a pregnant cow who has run out of time. Obstetrical cases by their nature are life and death so the two are on the case to assist Wilma the beef cow, as Charles and Dr. Pol carefully use chains and a calf puller to get one enormous calf birthed safely.

Charles Pol, Dr. Pol
Wilma has a 150-pound calf stuck as the two devise a safe birthing plan

Also tonight you’ll meet Ellie Mae the tri-color King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Daisy the horse, a Frenchie named Bailey, Neeko the Pomeranian, and a horse with early-stage EPM, a crippling protozoa neurological disease spread by Possum manure.
The heartbreaker story tonight is faced by Dr. Emily who must try to save Susie the horse.

Charles Pol, Dr. Pol
This horse has EPM caught by Possum manure- a happy outcome tonight for this animal

After Susie at her hay dinner, she collapsed outside. The owners and Dr. Emily try to get the horse up but to no avail. Thrashing ensues. A nasogastric tube is inserted into her stomach, but it has severe distress.  Despite a “whopping dose” of sedation, she thrashes more. It looks grim. The decision to euthanize an animal weighs heavy on the owners.

As the snow gently falls again, they make the decision to put the horse down.

I spoke to Charles Pol about this intense rollercoaster episode tonight that really shows the gamut of what Dr. Pol deals with every day:

Monsters and Critics: Dr. Emily’s dealing with a child named Carson who has a sick lamb. And I was wondering if you can talk about 4-H families and how important is that in that part of Michigan where Dr. Pol’s office is?

Charles Pol:  When I was a kid I was a member of 4H, the fair was a big part of the summer for the entire community. It was kind of the event. I think because when I was a kid there were more people in this area involved in agriculture, there was a larger percentage of the population that was involved in 4-H as well as that.

What’s cool is that even though the numbers have declined, a lot of the kids who are members of 4-H are not from families who are “farmers” or farming families. There’s a surprising number of regular people who might have a few acres of land and have a small pen in the back or a small shed and they raise lambs in there, a little hobby farm for the kids. It’s fantastic.

[When] I grew up, we always had a number of animals but we were never what I would consider a farm per se. It was more of a hobby farm. I think the main reason why we had sheep and rabbits was to teach us kids responsibility. Every day it was my job, my sister’s job in the morning and it was our job to go out there and feed them hay, get them water, get them grain every day. Every day.

It taught you responsibility and chores and taking care of animals and empathy and circle of life. I just think it’s an invaluable experience for kids. Having said that, the number of people have decreased. We have seen kids become less interested in that or have less opportunity to do it.

So I think that it’s one of those things where we really are big supporters and believers in 4-H but, and it’s a nationwide organization. People don’t really realize, its a part of the department of agriculture.

M&C: One of the next patients was Bing the canary. And your dad had to cut the bird’s dead leg off. The woman didn’t realize that the band had cut off because their little legs are so thin.  Can you talk about that and what bird owners need to look for so that their bird doesn’t have such a painful amputation?

Charles: I’ve actually seen this on not just that canary but I’ve seen it on parrots and other birds that we’ve had to clip. A lot of times the breeders put those identifying tags on when they’re born. And generally, that is to specify ‘This is the one that was born on July 10th’ or however they designate it. But it’s a little ID tag.

I don’t have birds but if I bought a bird the first thing I would do is cut that off. You don’t need it. Nobody needs one of those tags. They can be a challenge to cut off so you whether you have a veterinarian like Dr. Post who sees it all, or whether you have a veterinarian who’s an avian specialist, get that clipped off.

Or you can try to do it yourself but you’ve got to be careful because you might accidentally clip off the leg. But the sooner you cut that off the better because what happens is those birds will grow. It’s simply a piece of metal that somebody put on with a pair of pliers and pushed it together. As that bird’s leg grows, it begins to cut off the circulation. You saw it, the result, in this case, was pretty extreme.

Now, I haven’t seen anything personally that extreme where it took the whole leg off but I did see a parrot where you could tell that it was in extreme discomfort because of that leg band. Then you cut it off and you can see where it was just completely digging into the leg. I think bird owners have to be aware of this.

M&C: Let’s talk about Wilma the beef cow giving birth to a very large calf. You guys used a piece of equipment called a calf puller when the birth is difficult. How much time does a cow have before it becomes a critical situation and can you explain how the calf puller works?

Charles Pol, Dr. Pol
Wilma the cow is in labor with a calf that won’t come out, time for the calf puller

Charles: So the cow has a little bit more time than the calf. I think in this situation it was more of a life and death emergency for the calf because we knew when we got there, it’s surprising but you can tell when the calf is still alive. You can actually see it moving its head, telling us that it was still alive.

Although the camera didn’t catch it, we got a pretty good look and could tell quickly that the calf was still alive. But that yellowish color indicates that it’s kind of starting to become a bad time for the calf. We needed to get it out of there ASAP.

The difference between getting that calf out alive and having a dead calf can be a matter of minutes in some circumstances. Actually, you can pull a calf that’s alive like that but if it was too long without oxygen it can develop brain damage and die anyway. We’ve seen that happen where we got them out alive but not in time and they didn’t survive. It’s critical to get them out as soon as possible.

A mother [cow] can go as long as 72 hours with that calf inside them and then they become toxic and basically die. We had one, I think back in season two, we had a wild cow that was completely crazy. We had to rope it, try to get the calf out of there and the thing died as we’re working on it because of the toxicity in that cow. And then the stress, the time to get it out. So I say 72 hours is about, but at that point it’s extreme. The mother [cow]is already suffering from that toxicity from the calf rotting apart and everything. I’ve seen them being saved when they’ve sat in there for awhile but you don’t save all of them. It becomes a risky situation.

I think the interesting thing about the calving is there are cases where a cow will abort a calf or the calf will die, be brain dead or have some kind of problem where it was never alive in the first place, the mother won’t expel the calf but it actually absorbs the fluids back into its own body and mummifies the calf inside the uterus. Rare. but we’ve seen that happen. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s not possible for a cow to survive.

The calf puller is a device that we use. Chains are the best way for us to manipulate a calf from within a cow. And some dairy cows and some beef cows, but dairy cows especially because they generally have more calves than a beef cow will in its lifetime. But even some beef cows, once they have calves, we can actually pull it with just the chains.

We try when possible to just hand pull it if we can. But in this case, there was no way that we could hand pull this calf. We use a calf jack which is harder to use than what it appears, that we just hook chains up, throw the jack on and just crank out the calf with no problem.

You can pull the entire uterus out with the calf and can kill the cow pretty quickly if you don’t know what you’re doing.  I would say a lot of farmers learn how to do it but if there are any hobbyists out there, please take some lessons on how to do it right because you can end up hurting your cow.

My dad knows how to do it slowly. If you watch him, he’ll work the head around to make sure that there’s no tearing and that the calf is coming right. It’s about the angle. What we’re doing is we’re using the leverage of the cow to pull the calf. We have a metal plate that hooks up underneath the butt of the cow and then the chain hooked to the pulley. You start jacking that pulley and using the cow’s own weight to kind of pop that calf free.

It’s a tool that saves lives quite honestly. There are just some situations like this one where we couldn’t get him out without the calf jack.

Dr. Brenda
Daisy the horse has a severe cut and nearly pins her owner tonight

M&C: I was wondering if you had a particular story from tonight’s episode that you particularly were happy to see?

Charles: I wouldn’t say happy. There was one thing, we talk a lot about horses being dangerous. You hear us talking about that a lot. I can give you one real example of an almost bad situation with Brenda when she was working on the horse that had the cut leg.

The owner got behind Daisy the horse and pinned in between the wall. My dad had a colleague of his in that same type of situation. The horse got up, stumbled, fell, and pinned him between [the horse] and a car. It just crushed his pelvis and his legs. It was a really bad situation and he had to be in traction for a long time. That’s one of those things.

On the show, you’ll see my dad [Dr. Pol] say ‘everybody stay back.’ That’s exactly why… and I think it’s a real demonstrative thing.

Usually, you don’t see it when they’re getting up, but that horse tried to get up too early.

We were working on a horse just today, a similar situation where we’re castrating this horse and all of a sudden, it can come out of that anesthetic because they can work themselves through it. You’re working on the horse, then all of a sudden they’ll just try to get up.

A horse is much stronger than we are so you can be sitting on the head like that woman was and it can throw you off [like it did] her. Then she ends on the wrong side [of the horse] and falls. Accidents happen. I think it really demonstrates the kind of dangers that exist when you are working with horses and doing this kind of thing.

M&C: Then the horse that had to be put down is tonight…

Susie the horse’s owners make the difficult decision to euthanize their animal

Charles: I wanted to say about the horse with the colic though, it’s a really bad situation. The survival rate for colic surgery once the [horse’s] guts are twisted is very, very low. The surgery is ridiculously expensive.

They usually only do it for high-end horses and we knew some people who took a horse down to a university to do surgery because that’s where they have to do it. The surgery can run upwards of $17,000. The horse [still] died.
So you can imagine paying $17,000 for a surgery and then end up still with a negative outcome?  I think those people [tonight] got it …how bad that horse was with its thrashing and how much pain it was in.

They made the right decision. And it’s always hard. I remember dad and I showed up and this horse had a simple cut in the back leg. They were like, ‘oh, Dr. Pol and Charles are going to come out and they’re going to suture it up.’

We get out there and look at this cut and realize that wire had cut the horse’s tendon. Now we have to turn to them and tell them we have to put this animal down because there’s nothing we can do here.

I think that that was the kind of situation where you’re not prepared is always the hardest for the client. They’re not mentally prepared and they’re thinking, ‘oh, this is maybe bad but the doctor’s coming and they’re going to be able to fix this.’

But sometimes we can’t. Doctors only are human and only can do what they can do and at the end of the day, that’s just inevitable. It’s a part of this job. Every day we see animals that die. There are a lot of kids who are interested in veterinary medicine from the show and what future veterinarians have to consider is [that] they have to confront death on a daily basis. Because they’re not going to be able to save them all.

M&C: It’s so sad. It’s gutting. But the victories and the wins …

Charles: They make up for the bad ones right? They make up for the bad ones.

The Incredible Dr. Pol: Birth, Wind & Fire airs Saturday, January 20 at 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD.

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