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The Incredible Dr. Pol Explains Why He Can't Retire and How He Helps Keep Pet Ownership Affordable

National Geographic Channels/Michael Stankevich

If you’re an animal lover, you’re probably a fan of Dr. Jan Pol, the veterinarian who stars in The Incredible Dr. Pol. If not, you should be! Back for its 13th season on Saturday nights on Nat Geo Wild, the show follows the large-animal specialist, 75, as he serves the community around his home in rural central Michigan, demonstrating his down-to-earth approach to life and working some strange cases—including leaving his dinner table to stitch up a pet boa that had been attacked by a rat.

When did your love of animals begin?

My sister tells me that before I was 3 years old, I took care of a crippled chicken. I don’t remember it.

How dangerous is your job working around big animals?

It’s not very dangerous if you know what you’re doing. You look in their eyes. Most animals, when you look in their eyes, you know what they’re going to do to you. Except cats.

Related: Quirky Habits of Cats

How many animals do you have personally?

We have three dogs—a Great Dane, a Newfie [Newfoundland] and a Saint Bernard—in the house. Their total weight is 500 pounds. We have three cats. We have ducks, geese, peacocks, pheasants, chickens, of course—because I like my eggs fresh—and we have horses—and a turkey.

What is the best part of your TV fame?

The show makes people happy. My wife, Diane, and I treat others like we want to be treated: honestly and fairly. I think it comes through how we have positive attitudes. My glass is half full, never half empty.

You have some really intriguing cases.

So many. About a month ago, for some reason or another, we had trouble with foaling, where this Belgian horse was trying to have a colt, and it wasn’t positioned right, so it died. I had to cut it up in pieces in order to get it out. This was something that I was taught when I was in the Netherlands in vet school way too many years ago. They taught us how to cut out dead fetuses, and that way, you do not do a C-section for a dead animal. By cutting it up in pieces to get it out, you save the mare or the cow.

What’s your best advice for people who have pets, especially dogs and cats, to keep them healthy?

Neuter them. Honestly, this is my biggest thing. If you want a pet and you are not going to breed the animal, have them neutered. It helps to control the population and the shelters will not be so full, and, yes, they are healthier. Many times hormones start screwing up later in life. For example, the uterus fills up with pus, and then it’s an emergency surgery that you could have avoided by neutering them in the first place.

Then, you have to take care of all the prevention, especially with heartworm and with the ticks that are coming here in Michigan now like crazy. We never had any trouble, but because of people traveling far and wide, the ticks come with them. So yes, prevention for parasites is a big plus.

Related: The Best Ways to Keep Your Pets Safe From Ticks and Fleas

Your son Charles came up with the idea for the TV show. How did that happen?

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Charles was in L.A. for eight years, and he and a couple of friends wanted to get into producing reality shows. That never happened. So Charles tells them, “We should go to my dad. He’s a large-animal veterinarian and he’s a character.” Charles was working at Nickelodeon with computers, so he had a job, but not what he wanted.

So seven years ago, they came here with a cameraman, and Charles told me, “Dad, don’t do anything for the camera. Don’t look at the camera. Do your work. That is what people want to see.” Nobody knew how right he was.

Are you comfortable sharing your personal life with viewers?

Yes, because I think that is part of the show too. Through this show, we are helping so many people, I’m completely in awe about it. We have had so many people that come to us. A woman whose son committed suicide and went into depression, she watched the episode where we went to church and had a positive attitude, and she came out of her depression.

People that have cancer, that are on chemo, a mother came from Kentucky to visit us. We didn’t know we were on the bucket list. Three months later, she died and they sent us a note saying, “Thank you so much for seeing us.” As a veterinarian, you try to help the animals and make the people happy. Through this show, we are making people happy, and that’s my goal in life.

What do your co-workers, Dr. Emily and Dr. Brenda, add to the practice?

A lot. Emily is a clown. She has no problem in front of the camera. Brenda is a very good veterinarian, especially with cows. Sometimes she wants to work faster, and she thinks that it’s terrible that the camera keeps her longer than what it’s supposed to be. But at the same time, we hired another vet six months ago, so it’s going to be five of us in the practice now with four ladies.

What do you think has contributed to your success as a veterinarian?

Being honest. Being a veterinarian is a service-related business. If you do good service, people come back. If we have to do some tests, X-rays or lab work, I ask permission. I tell the pet owner how much it costs, I tell them why I want to do it, and that way, they understand my reasoning. That way, you’re honest with them up front, and then they know that you’re trying to help do the best for that animal. My biggest beef is I want to keep pet ownership affordable so that the animals can be taken care of.

What do you do when someone brings you an unusual animal that you haven’t treated before?

Everything is written down. You can find it someplace. One unusual case was a woman whose pet boa had been chewed up by a rat. She had called six veterinarians and nobody wanted to see it on a Sunday. And to be honest, we were having, at that time, a family dinner, and I got the call from my colleague who didn’t want to treat snakes. I said, “OK, I’ll be there.” The lady told me, “Put the snake down because he’s hurt so much,” and I looked at him and said, “No, we can save him.” I had to look up and find out what anesthetic to use and everything, and we cleaned him up, sewed him up and he’s doing fine.

Related: How to Tell if a Snake Is Venomous

A veterinarian is an animal doctor. So anything that is an animal, you should be able to help, and if you don’t know how, look for it, or do the best you can and go from there.

I hear you also like woodworking.

I like to work with my hands. Maybe that’s why I like to do surgeries. If it is too hard, we send them on, but many times people cannot afford what others are quoting, and I tell them, “OK, let me try it this way.” It’s the same thing as the calf I treated with a broken leg. You cannot take X-rays, put a cast on and charge the farmer $400 when the cost of the calf is $25 to $100. I used my bushel basket, straightened out the leg, taped around it and I don’t have to see it again because the farmer, with his jackknife, can cut the cast off. That’s common sense. This is what I’m looking for: common-sense veterinary medicine.

Do you ever think about retiring?

I think about it every day, but they won’t let me.

So no lying on the beach and drinking mai tais?

No. We had a vacation at a resort in Cancun last February, and word went out, “Dr. Pol is here,” and I don’t know how many people came up to take pictures. Even in Mexico, because they watch the show there too. People just come running after us, “Hey, Dr. Pol, what are you doing here?” “I’m on vacation. I’m not treating animals here.” “Can we have a picture?” “Yes, you can.”

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