Few veterinarians treat goats with polio and deliver calves in the middle of a thunderstorm.Dr. Pol celebrating a successful calving. Photograph by Michael Stankevich, National Geographic Channel.
The Dutch native first spent time in central Michigan as a high school exchange student, and officially emigrated to the region as a young man. Dr. Pol’s zest for life and love of animals have made this program a must-watch each week.
I caught up with Dr. Pol’s son Charles, one of the show’s creators and cast members, who gave me an inside look into the hit program.
Q. What made your dad first want to become a veterinarian?
A. My dad, Jan Pol, was born in the Netherlands and grew up on a farm. Initially, he wanted to be a farmer. But there isn’t much farmland left in the Netherlands, so it’s nearly impossible to do. When he was nine years old, his brother called the local vet to help them deliver a litter of piglets. My dad helped the vet, and from that moment on, he knew what he wanted to do.
Watch a clip of the episode How Now Bloated Cow.
How did the idea for the show come about?
At the time, I was working in Los Angeles at Nickelodeon and trying to sell ideas for reality shows. My first idea was turned down, and I was advised to find an idea with a “larger than life character.” I immediately thought of my dad. I pitched the project to a production company, we filmed a sample episode, and my idea became reality. We’ve been on the air for the past four years. (See photos from the show.)
What does it take to shoot and produce a single episode of Dr. Pol?
It takes us roughly one week to film one episode of the show. So a 20-episode season will take us 20 weeks to shoot. We film almost everything that happens, which includes two to six farm calls each day and ten to twelve clinic cases. Dad starts at 8 a.m. sharp, and we usually film until 8 p.m. We pool all the footage together and the best ones make the cut.
How many people are involved in producing the show?
Besides the people on camera, there are over 22 crew members working on the show, and an additional 15 people in post-production. The crew keeps returning year after year, and we’ve become a really big family. We couldn’t make this show without them—it’s a labor of love. (See “17 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Pol.”)
What’s the scariest thing that has happened while you were making Dr. Pol?
We’ve had a number of close calls with the crew, but the most dangerous was probably when one crew member got run down by a beef cow. We lost the footage of the incident, so it never made the actual show, but it was really scary.
What was the most amazing thing that happened?
We were filming a calving during season three, in an episode called Back to the Suture. While this calf was being born, a thunderstorm came in. The sky got really dark and the weather was really nasty—it was windy and pouring rain. But my dad just delivered the calf and both mom and baby survived. It was a really special moment to be a part of.
Does your dad have any plans to retire?
Not at all. He loves his job and says it keeps him young and active. He likes to say that when your hobby is your job, you are never working. My dad has always said he will die with his hand up the back of a cow.
Watch new episodes of Nat Geo Wild’s The Incredible Dr. Pol on Saturdays at 9 p.m. EST.