Tonight, The Incredible Dr. Pol episode titled ‘Rock-A-Baa Baby’ focuses on spring in Michigan and all the babies that are popping up for his clients.
We witness problems when births do not go as planned and cow tummies twist and blow up like a basketball and need to be repositioned, a common issue for farmers!
Also, we will meet Tia the Yorkie whose owner is concerned that she cannot walk normally after a breeding session, a silly Great Dane named Moose struck with enteritis from eating something he shouldn’t have, a pair of cockatiels frustrated and picking at each other, snarly Simon the cat who has nasty sore and Sammi the cat who sadly faces a serious diagnosis.
Also tonight, you will feel for Peaches the Jack Russell Terrier who is having seizures, and Lucky and Ducky the baby rats who need some TLC, and a poor mama cow in labor who needs Dr. Pol’s immediate help and a goat who needs Dr. Emily’s observant care to facilitate dilation and deliver her kids.
All in a day’s work for Dr. Pol, Dr. Emily, Dr. Brenda, Diane, Charles and the team as they work tirelessly to efficiently tend to their patient load.
Now into the 12th season and 6 years in, Nat Geo WILD star Dr. Jan Pol greets me at the Television Critics Association winter tour in Pasadena, California with the same enthusiastic good cheer he has had since day one.
The hard-working veterinarian manages a family business with typical self-deprecating humor, telling me again when son Charles, a producer on the series, first told him he wanted to pitch his dad for a show, in our exclusive interview he replied, “Why? I’m an old guy. Do it my way. We will be criticized and nobody will want to watch it.” Well, we were wrong on both sides.”
We spoke to Dr. Pol this morning about the show tonight and the business of helping animals:
Monsters and Critics: Dr. Emily. Now, did she have her baby?
Dr. Pol: She had a girl.
M&C: Excellent. In the episode tonight she’s six months pregnant.
Dr. Pol: And the girl is now eight months old!
M&C: In tonight’s episode called Rock-a-Bye Baby, and it’s spring, and spring brings all the babies. There was Tia the Yorkie. There were the cockatiels…
Dr. Pol: Yeah, I do all the birds.
M&C: When you say they get frustrated, is that the fault of the owner from putting-
Dr. Pol: See, this is the problem. Cockatiels, macaws, these big birds, outlive their owners. The bond between owner and bird is very strong, so if the owner either moves away, dies, and it goes to a family member, he is lost. I have seen one the big cockatiels and macaws, that’s completely bald from here on down. Not a feather on his body.
M&C: So they literally pull their feathers out in grief.
Dr. Pol: Yes. Absolute frustration, because their friend or whatever, the caretaker is not there and many times, the surviving family member [brushes off any connection], ‘Ah, that dirty bird,’ because they are dusty, but to be honest with you, they’re fantastic animals.
M&C: Do you counsel people though bird purchases?
Dr. Pol: Oh yeah. I warn them. [I say] ‘Wait a minute. You better have two people that know how to take care of them. One young and one old, so that if you go, these birds can live to be 70 years old.’
M&C: Is there any other animal that’s like that, that you have to have a caveat for people?
Dr. Pol: Birds are the worst, but yeah, some others one too. It doesn’t really make any difference, what bird because there is always a bond.
Diane and I … right now, I have three dogs. The [Great] Dane is hers. The Newfie is actually now both of ours, but the St. Bernard that we rescued is basically mine. Then, again, if I ignore him, he goes to Diane and … So yes, it’s not as specific as it is in these birds, these tropical birds.
M&C: Dogs just seem more malleable to humanity, they’re easier.
Dr. Pol: Yes. If somebody is not taking care of an animal, then you see that … sometimes you walk away. You don’t know how many times a person has come with a dog that said, ‘Dog came on my doorstep. Never had a better dog.’ Because for me, it seems like that these animals know that they are rescued and then the bond gets so much stronger, they are more truthful, more loving. But when they go from a bad situation to a good situation, it can’t get better.
M&C: Do the animals who are hurting, the really snappy, snarly animals that come into your office, but they settled down allow you to touch them as they know you’re trying to help them?
Dr. Pol: Not only that, many times those animals are not socialized. They are in the family, but they don’t see anybody else and the main thing is to have your animal socialized. Have people come in.
If the dog barks at them, tell them, ‘No. I’m the boss. I’ll tell you when to bark,’ instead of, ‘Oh, you’re a good dog, good dog.’ No! When you tell a dog he’s a good dog, that he’s barking at your neighbor coming in, that’s not good. You should say, ‘No. Don’t bark at him. He’s fine.’ They are not the boss man, you could call it. They [people] have to be alpha.
M&C: And then there are cats…
Dr. Pol: Cats own you.
M&C: Right. There was an interesting scene in tonight’s episode. Dr. Brenda, she’s called on an emergency to a cow … that cows have four stomachs and the cow has a twisted stomach and she’s pinging it. I’m wondering if you can talk about that scene and what’s her process.
Dr. Pol: Well, a cow with what we’d call it LDA and that’s what we see most of the time. When a cow is born, it basically has one stomach just like we have, and that one digests the milk. Then, later on, the other three develop and the very first one is the Reticulum. It’s a very small one that actually contracts into a very small, tennis ball size and throws water over the second one, the contents of the second, well, which is the Rumen.
The rumen is the storage and a kind of milk grinder. Then the third one is where all the water gets squeezed out again. That’s the Omasum. Then the last one is way pushed down the road. That’s the really true stomach, that’s the Abomasum.
Because it’s pushed down the road so far, if it fills up with air, for some reason, mostly because the cow goes off feed, the cow doesn’t eat, some food doesn’t go through, you get some gas development.
Then, like a balloon or moth, then it floats to the top. 99.9%, it goes to the left side. Every so often, it goes to the right and that’s completely different. If goes to the left side, then there is this gas bubble between the second stomach, the big one and the belly wall.
It’s large like a basketball. So it goes ding, ding and again boing, boing and it resonates, so you know what it is.
I have learned how to just listen to it… and then we give the cow an anesthetic tranquilizer, so he lays down, most of the time, [or] then you just try to make them lay down. You do not want to overdo them. If the cow is not in bad shape, you don’t even tranquilize them, because then the tranquilization would be detrimental on his recovery.
Then you make sure to lay them down with the stomach on the top, roll them on their back and then just because it’s a balloon and water and it floats to the top and it has to be always in that specific spot, where we take the big needles and just go through belly wall, through stomach, leave a space.
If you put it tight, then you’re just actually cutting through the wall of the Abomasum and the cow dies. So you have to leave a space where it’s loose so the stomach can move and then you just roll them through and then the gas goes out and most of the time, farmers know already when it is. Some farmers do their own, to be honest with you. Then a couple of days later, the cow is fine and he eats again.
M&C: Is this a common problem with cows?
Dr. Pol: Very common.
M&C: People save for their college education for their children, but it seems like people don’t think ahead and save for the inevitable, which are vet bills for their pets and until they have a plan of action, what can I afford if my pet gets sick? Can you speak about that?
Dr. Pol: For me, the animal always comes first. Always. But care for the animal doesn’t have to come at the expense of the owner and their family.
[Also] the shelters are full and that is because people are not having their animals neutered.
For me, that is one of the main things to do. If you get a pet, and yes you can get whatever, but if you can find a rescue, most of the time, those are neutered at the shelter. Then, it’s upkeep with the yearly vaccinations, heartworm checks and a regular visit to the groomer.
Maintenance, you could call it, and [quality] dog food, but yes, there are always the other things. There is pet insurance, but I read in Consumer’s Report that there’s only one company that has paid out more than what they take in in premiums. So pet insurance for the catastrophes when something really bad happens.
But when conducting expensive tests or procedures isn’t going to change the diagnosis or the prognosis, the responsible thing to do is not burden my clients with a large unnecessary bill.
I know from experience that my clients are most vulnerable when their animal is in pain. Affordable care doesn’t mean substandard care, and to imply that would be misleading.
My philosophy on veterinary ethics is first, do no harm, and for me, this philosophy applies to the owner as well as the patient. In practice, that means applying a common sense approach to treatment and care.
So many people will spend whatever it takes, for some with a $200 dollar vet bill, [that] can mean the difference of having food on the table that week or not. I am very honest with my clients. I tell them what to expect and what treatment options are available and their costs.
I don’t want any surprises when they open the bill. I let my clients make the choice. If we don’t have the equipment or expertise to help an animal, we will refer the owner to someone who can.
See and that’s the thing. You should tell the owner, ‘This is what is going on. This is what it’s going to cost,’ but, there again, many of these tests that the new graduates know about because the colleges have all these fancy machines, ultrasounds and are merely diagnostic.
An example. About six months ago, [Dr.] Brenda is getting a call at 11:00 at night. It is not in the show at all. There was a big dog that needed a C-section and the owners couldn’t afford it. So the next morning, Brenda called me and said, ‘You have a C-section coming in on a big dog.’
It took me 40 minutes to get the uterus out, get the pups out and the dog was fine… and we saw her for one-fifth of the price [the dog’s owners] was [originally] quoted. Now, why not? This dog was owned by a 12-year-old boy and he was told [by the other veterinarian], ‘Okay. If you can’t afford our prices, go home, let the dog die.’
That was not [shown] in our show [but] that’s what I’m up against! That’s what I am fighting.
For me, it’s still very important to do a good physical exam-you can feel inside their belly if there’s tumors there or anything. They are animals. Yes, they have pain. [And] they mask it. Animals showing any pain is a sign of weakness and [they know they will] get eaten by the next step up the food chain. So they hide it.
If you do a normal spay on a little dog, in the morning, we do it between eight and nine. At three o’clock, the owner comes and the dog wags his tail and is so happy like he had never had anything [done].
M&C: Right. They just want to go home.
Dr. Pol: They just want to go home. ‘You’re back! Oh, that’s so good!’
M&C: Let’s talk about you and Charles. You and Charles are busy this season. What’s Charles up to?
Dr. Pol: Charles, maybe I shouldn’t say this. He is engaged. That’s good enough. But, no. Charles is a producer of the show. Now, he came to me seven years ago and said, ‘Dad, we should make a reality show about you,’ and I said, ‘Why? I’m an old guy. Do it my way. We will be criticized and nobody will want to watch it.’
Well, we were wrong on both sides. That, I think, is part of the thing. Charles is with me in the show, just … It’s a father and son. He helps. I am getting a little older, so he is the strong man, hanging on to him many times, but at the same time, it is good to have him there. So both our careers have intertwined again, which is fantastic, I think.
M&C: Has he had any serious mishaps as a producer in the field?
Dr. Pol: He dropped a needle and a syringe in front of an Angus steer and he bent down and that Angus steer just whopped him in the head. Oh my gosh. This is what I mean. You have to know animals… and especially large animals, but then again, small animals, too.
What I say many times, I look them in the eye and I know what are they going to do and that’s probably why I have never been hurt very bad.
The worse thing was when my shoulder rotator cuff got popped out. That got fixed and it’s completely good…but no, because you have to watch the animal.
The book that we wrote is Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow. It doesn’t make any difference what animal. You don’t turn your back on them!
Incredible Dr. Pol: Rock-a-Baa Baby airs Saturday, January 13 at 9/8c on Nat Geo