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Calf pulling and puppy worming: rural vet Dr. Pol is reality TV's most unlikely star

Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Cats & Dogs News

"I can't save every animal, though I wish I could," said Pol. "But that is part of life. It is important to see that side of things too. I want the show to be real, otherwise, why are we doing it?"


Walking side by side with Diane down the hallways of the Pasadena hotel where TCA was held, Pol was recognized more often in a five-minute stretch than talk-show host Ryan Seacrest, who had walked down the same hallway a few hours earlier.

The Michigan doc was, after all, easy to spot. He appeared comfortable in his own skin, confident enough to wear utilitarian reading glasses perched atop his bald head and a company polo short that read "Pol Veterinarian Services."

He walked with a slight limp that any Pol fan would know. It's the result of an ice-skating accident from his youth. "Everyone thinks the Dutch are born skating. I was not one of those kids."

Admirers who approach him do so with familiarity rather than fawning, and almost all of them eventually show the good doctor photos of their pets they have stored in their phone. He obliges and shows them photos of his Great Danes stretched out across the family couch. "It's funny that nobody ever talks to me about something normal, like the weather," he jokes later. "It's about their dog's feet or hips or something."

"The Incredible Dr. Pol" was co-created by Charles, one of three children the Pols adopted. He grew up watching his dad work miracles on the animals around them, but he was not compelled to follow in his father's footsteps and instead wanted to make movies and television shows. He moved to L.A. 10 years ago, where he worked at Nickelodeon in operations.

"There is a point where we all get in this business where you're like 'Why am I working for someone else?'" says Charles, who works on the show with Monica Austin and Jonathan Schroder. "So reality (TV) is one thing where you can just go out and do it like old-school, college filmmaking. You just need to find characters who are larger than life.

"And I said to my partners that the largest character I have ever met in my life is my father. His job has both drama and stakes -- everything you want in television."

"It sounded interesting enough," says Pol of the first time Charles approached him with the idea. "He said just do what you do, don't look at the camera. And yeah, that has been the format ever since. So what you see is real. We once had a producer who said, 'This is what I want you to do, and people will love it if you just do this.' And I said 'I'm not doing it!' Stubborn Dutchman, you know. So he just left."

A camera crew follows Pol's team several months out of the year. The crew's problem isn't fabricating a story from nothing, it's keeping up with Pol. He's notorious among those who know him for driving and moving quickly. "I can't stop for the cameras or do a retake," he explains. "Once I pull that calf out, I'm not pushing it back in so they can get a better shot."

Pol has felt the heat from showing it all. Another vet filed a complaint regarding Pol's treatment of a dog on the show, in particular a Boston terrier named Mr. Pigglesworth. The dog was struck by a car, and during an emergency surgery to save him, the complaint contends that Pol didn't wear sterile surgical attire and that Charles, who is not a licensed vet, assisted in the surgery. The complaint was eventually dismissed.

Another brush with the law, says Charles, happened when the police pulled over the camera crew for speeding and asked why they were in such a rush. They said that they were trying to keep up with Pol. "No one can keep up with Dr. Pol," replied the cop.

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