Photograph by Chris Buck
Photograph by Chris Buck

Dr. Pol on Why It’s Important to Grow Up With Animals

As his 100th episode approaches, the famous rural veterinarian reflects on health, wellness, and the connection between people and their pets.

This story appears in the October/November 2016 issue of Nat Geo WILD magazine.

Dr. Jan Pol, rural veterinarian and star of his own hit show on Nat Geo WILD, has never met an animal he couldn’t treat—puppies in peril, cows in distress, a rat-bitten snake, “anything that comes my way.” Pol has tended to farm animals and household pets alike at his own farm in central Michigan for the past 35 years. (His own dogs are Great Danes.) Since October 2011, he has been the down-home star of The Incredible Dr. Pol. We recently sat down with the doctor in advance of his 100th episode (airing in March 2017) to hear what he’s learned about animals and the people who live and work with them—and to learn what he can teach us about life with the “wild” ones that share our home.

Nat Geo Wild: Your 100th episode features insight into a variety of cases, from livestock births to a duck’s broken foot to corrective surgery for a six-legged calf. Is there something about this diversity that attracted you to this sort of practice?

I love the variety. This is one thing that I really like about this business, because we never know what comes through the door that day. This is what keeps me going. I am always so curious. Maybe what I’d like to do is live another couple hundred years and find out how far medicine will come in those days.

NGW: In addition to administering to the needs of animals, you’re also cultivating a greater understanding among people and animals. Why is that important to you?

My philosophy is that I want kids to grow up with animals. When kids grow up with animals, they make better adults. Especially when kids are very young, they are often taking care of animals or playing with animals, even before they can walk sometimes. This is what people don’t realize, how much animals can teach humans.

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At the Mount Pleasant, Michigan, farm that Pol calls both home and veterinary clinic, every breed of patient is welcome.

NGW: How are animals best understood?

I always say, look in the animal’s eyes. It’s fantastic when you take time to read the animal. It makes no difference if it’s a horse, a cow, you know, anything, dogs and cats. They tell you what they want, if you just listen.

NGW: What has saving animals added to your understanding of the world?

Most of the people that come to you with a sick animal are animal lovers. The people that have pets that don’t care about them never see a vet. I wish I could do more for the general population of pets in the world.

NGW: Wellness is so important in medicine. What do you tell people hoping to keep their pets healthy?

Normal food and exercise—both of you, not just the animal! You have to control the weight of your dog. Cats are kind of different. There are some lazy cats that just fill out. But an overweight dog doesn’t stay healthy. Diabetes is now one of the biggest things in these older dogs.

NGW: What’s one message that you’d like to share?

I want affordable, commonsense pet care, where we can have as many kids grow up with pets as possible. Make sure your animals, the puppies, get vaccinated. And make it affordable common sense, so people can grow up with pets and become better adults.