Regulators discipline star of ‘The Incredible Dr. Pol’

Reality TV veterinarian is a polarizing figure

Published: April 07, 2015
By Jennifer Fiala

The star of a reality show about a rural veterinary practice in central Michigan has been found negligent in his treatment of a dog struck by a car in May 2011.

It’s the second time in nearly three years that regulators have disciplined Dr. Jan Pol, a 72-year-old veterinarian featured on a popular series bearing his name — "The Incredible Dr. Pol." The program recently concluded its sixth season on Nat Geo WILD, a sister network of National Geographic that promotes Pol as “America’s favorite vet.”

A disciplinary subcommittee of the Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine voted March 26 to fine Pol $500 and place his license on probation for violating minimal standards of care in his treatment of a Boston terrier who came into Pol’s clinic with eye proptosis (forward displacement) and a broken pelvis. Pol also must complete continuing-education courses. 

It is uncertain whether he will appeal the board’s 3-1 decision.

Calls to the veterinarian’s home went unanswered and the phone line at Pol Veterinary Services in Weidman, Michigan, was busy over several days though an answering service picked up Tuesday. Arthur Jalkanen, who represented Pol in a previous licensing complaint, said he is not involved in this latest legal matter.

According to state regulators, the complaint against Pol originated with an episode of his show featuring his treatment of the Boston terrier. The episode showed he did not wear gloves or other surgical attire while performing the dog’s surgery, and he failed to provide respiratory support, anesthesia monitoring or IV therapy during the procedure. The infractions constitute public health code violations ranging from “negligence” and “failure to exercise due care” to “incompetence.” 

Dr. Eden Myers, a Texas veterinarian who started an online petition and Facebook page calling for the cancellation of Pol’s show, complained in 2014 to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs about the episode. The state attorney general’s office opened an investigation based on her claims.

Reached by phone, Myers would not comment about the case, but she makes her opinions known via social media and other online outlets. Her petition on declares: “This National Geographic show hurts animals and their owners by promoting substandard medicine. … Continuing to air the show promotes substandard medicine to the public.”

More than 3,400 supporters have signed the petition. Veterinarians are among the show’s most outspoken critics, objecting to Pol’s seemingly lax approach to widely held medical standards. On the reality show, Pol is seen sedating patients in the field, leaving them unattended on a table, suturing without administering pain medication and, in one instance, using an electric prod to keep a lame cow standing.

“As a veterinarian, I am appalled that National Geographic Wild would publicly support and promote such substandard care of animals,” Dr. Rachael Byron of Knoxville, Tennessee, wrote on the website. (Byron consults for the Veterinary Information Network, an online professional community and parent of the VIN News Service, using her maiden name, Carpenter.)

“It is truly shameful, and obviously they didn't do their homework,” she continued. “There are plenty of charismatic veterinarians that are current on standards of care that would be a great face of the profession.”

Dr. David Luttinen of Bremerton, Washington, concurred: “The actions portrayed in this show are appalling. The standard of care and professional conduct depicted in this show are unacceptable practices within the veterinary medical community. As a trained health provider to animals, watching this show not only makes me sick to my stomach but also frustrates me beyond words. Do the right thing and cancel this show, please!”

Officials with National Geographic addressed the backlash in October, asserting that Pol has practiced a “common sense approach to veterinary medicine for more than 40 years, saving thousands of sick and injured animals.” 

“It is unfortunate that select individuals have rushed to judgment without truly understanding the work he has done over the years within his economically depressed community … Dr. Pol is not only a great caregiver locally, but he is a hero to many people and animals needing his services,” the statement read.

Many clients of Pol’s practice and fans of the show agree, attending his regulatory hearings in a show of solidarity. Supporters liken him to a modern-day James Herriot, and some consider Myer’s petition to be harassment.

“I just read the complaint and it’s is apparent that Mrs. Meyers [sic] is simply trying to cut down a well-known person to feed her own ego,” said Dr. Marcus Fre, who identified himself as a physician on Myers' "Cancel the Incredible Dr. Pol Show" page on Facebook.

“If it is true that the standards of care were broken by Dr. Pol, then the standards have grown out of control,” he said. “Let's keep in mind that we are discussing non-human animals here. If they die, it is unfortunate but certainly no tragedy. We have enough skyrocketing costs on my side of the fence …”

Jean Marie Gaskill is a client of Pol’s practice. In the online comments following a local news article, she described Pol as a loved and admired figure in central Michigan. “Dr. Pol is our vet, and he’s a really good man. He’s one of those old-fashioned vets that will fix your critter up without all the fancy high-dollar surgeries whenever he can.” 

That style of practice seems to have spurred the Michigan regulatory board’s first disciplinary action against Pol, stemming from a July 2011 complaint that he acted incompetently in a case involving a litter of stillborn puppies. 

Veterinary board regulators found Pol guilty of not keeping adequate records and levied a $500 fine, ordered continuing education and put his license on probation. 

Throughout the case, Pol maintained his innocence but did not contest the charges. In October 2012, he told the VIN News Service that his clinic made no mistakes apart from a failure to document all conversations with the pregnant dog’s owners. He said he agreed to the disciplinary action in an effort to end the complaint. 

Reruns of "The Incredible Dr. Pol" air on Saturday nights. Pol's Facebook page indicates the veterinarian is still working.

“It’s Monday, back to the grind!” he posted April 6. “Hope everyone had a great weekend.” 

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