TV vet tells real-life story of working with farm animals

(Farm and Dairy file photo)

Some look forward to the Oscars or the Golden Globes, maybe the next episode of a cop show or mystery thriller. I’m not much of a television watcher, and have long said I could happily live without one.

But, that was before Dr. Pol. Everything changed when I, along with thousands of others, got to know this Dutch-born veterinarian who loves his work, and remains true to hands-on, old-style animal care.

Last night, after months away, I finally had a Saturday night date with Dr. Pol, and I could not wait to see him again. I was ready to go on some farm calls!

Driving his Jeep fast to cover lots of ground, many of his runs in this year’s opening chapter were to family dairy farms in central Michigan, the snow and ice making an already challenging job just tough enough to cause a lesser guy to mope and bellyache, but not the wise and witty Dr. Pol.

Praising dairy farmers

It was uplifting to hear family dairy farmers praised throughout the hour-long episode. A Holstein cow in a cold, dark stall was in labor far before she should have been, obviously struggling to abort.

Despite the bone-chilling cold, Dr. Pol did what he quite often does if he knows he needs to act fast: he strips down to bare torso, his long arms able to work more efficiently.

It was a tough case, but perseverance and the patience to push, then pull, slow and steady, brought the cow through it. On another farm, a young dairyman’s concern was obvious for his favorite cow, a red and white Holstein with a uterine prolapse after calving.

Dr. Pol, his son, Charles, and the farmer did their best to save the herd’s top producer. As the young man thanked the Pols, the prognosis looking good, it was obvious the respect runs both ways in this relationship out on the farms.

His background

This jolly, hard-working veterinarian grew up on his family’s 40-acre dairy farm in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands as World War II charged on. The youngest of six children, each had daily chores. The family and their animals were all under one big roof, a common set-up in that area.

The Pol farm was remote, and people would sometimes ride bicycles from the city in hopes of getting fresh milk to drink. No one was ever turned away, Dr. Pol tells in his book Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow: My Life As A Country Vet — not even during the Hunger Winter of 1944 when Germans cut off food supplies to punish the citizenry.

Dr. Pol’s kindness toward people and the animals they care for shines through in every episode of The Incredible Dr. Pol, on the Nat Geo Wild channel, which has become a hit show, much to Dr. Pol’s surprise.

Humble beginnings

It all started on that small farm in The Netherlands, where family chores were occasionally interrupted by surprise Nazi inspections. Regardless of starting life under cruel oppression, this young boy learned to help others in the truest form: a young Jewish boy was sheltered in their home for a time, and a Jewish family took shelter in a shack in the family’s woods.

Genuine compassion for others shines through the smiling eyes of this jovial fellow. Most farmers managed everything their animals required.

In a rare emergency, with no telephone to summon the veterinarian, one of the Pol children would hop on a bicycle and pedal fast across the 5 miles to the vet’s house.  When that same vet once stopped at the Pol home and asked the tall, skinny kid with the long arms to come along to help birth some piglets, life changed forever.

Becoming a vet

That experience was enjoyably satisfying to the 12-year-old boy; It was that day he decided he wanted to become a vet. His first pet was a crippled chicken.

It was in his nature to look out for the struggling, those animals who needed a little something more. And it is that little fellow in a big man’s body who still shows up in the treatment rooms in the clinic and out on farm calls, truly wanting to help, knowing farmers can’t take too many losses, and every ally is significant.

It is enjoyable to feel as though I am getting to know a man much like the beloved veterinarian and neighbor of my youth, Doc Smith, who showed up on our dairy farm with a smile and a story to brighten the barn.

Dealing with a prolapse in our birthing pen while my dad was busy planting corn, I thought it was just about the worst thing that could happen on my watch. Doc assured me it happened more than I might imagine, and together we were going to set things right. And we did!

When I headed to the house after milking the cows that night, I felt like a real farmer for the first time in my 15 years. When I get to tag along with Dr. Pol or any of his associates, driving lickety-split to a farm call, I find myself cheering for much more than just that which meets the eye.

Hard work

I am cheering for good people working hard in all of rural America. I cheer for the love story of a Dutch boy and his American bride, Diane, as together they built this far-reaching practice, doing what they can to help their neighbors navigate life with animals of all types. I can’t imagine the temperament it would take to allow cameras in to your life, your practice, the farms and barns and horse stalls, often in tense circumstances.

It can’t be easy, but it sure is appreciated. Thanks, Dr. Pol and crew, for allowing us to be right there with you. And thank you for showcasing the wonderful rural culture still vibrant in much of America that is worthy of recognition and gratitude.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.


  1. Judith, thanks so much for sharing Dr. Pol with those who might not know him otherwise.
    I have always been drawn to the idea of farming and the animals who live there.
    How inspiring to read of your experiences and hoping, someday, to have them as well.
    I’m definitely a fan:-)

  2. My father was a vet in Capac, Mich. from 1938 till his passing in 1970. I love Dr. Pol he reminds me so much of my father. He use to strip down to his bare skin in the cold of Winter to help a cow that was calving. I was given his book for Christmas and truly enjoyed it. It included so many of the experiences that I remember going on calls with my father. I hope someday to meet Dr. Pol.

  3. The entire Incredible Dr Pol family, staff and crew have captured my heart. I was at home healing from gallbladder removal, so I watched “The 12 Days of the Incredible Dr Pol” while I healed.
    What an inspiration! Thank you, Charles Pol for approaching your dad and allowing we the viewers into this amazing life you grew up in. How blessed.
    Thank you.
    A devoted fan from Sherman county Nebraska


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