A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Days in the Life of a Country Vet

Nat Geo Wild chronicles the world of Dr. Jan Pol

This morning, he’s realigning one of the four stomachs of a distressed cow. In the afternoon, back at his office, he and his team will be pulling dozens of quills from the faces of two dogs who made a big mistake chasing a porcupine. And you’ll find him working late into the evening on a dog whose hair is so matted that … well, that would be giving away the ending of that particular scene.

For many of us on this website, when we think of cows and pigs, we think of the horrors of factory farming. But for a rural community in Michigan, there are still family farms doing things the traditional way. And Dr. Jan Pol is their veterinarian.

Dutch by birth and approaching his 70th birthday, the 14-hour-day doctor isn’t involved in philosophical questions of animal rights. When he says “I love all animals,” he means he wants to see them healthy and living a decent life. And there’s no contradiction to him in the fact that in one scene he’s saving the life of a pig with an abscess, and in another, celebrating his 30th year in business in the community, he’s roasting a pig for all his guests – clients, other veterinarians, staff and family.

The new series The Incredible Dr. Pol premieres on Nat Geo WILD this Saturday, October 29, at 9 and 10 pm ET/PT.

Some of us may find the series reminiscent of the partly fictional All Creatures Great and Small on British TV a generation ago. In The Incredible Dr. Pol, the action is real-life – also faster-moving and with less time spent on the human personalities other than the doctor and his family. But like the older show, this is about a country veterinary practice, very hands-on but with all the most up-to-date diagnostics. When the doc can’t figure out from his own equipment why a German shepherd police dog is feeling listless and off his game, he sends a sample to the nearest university lab while the dog’s handler sits distraught in the waiting room. (He’s their family pet, too.)

One of Dr. Pol’s clients is a farmer who also rescues horses from people who are either neglecting them or just can’t provide for them any longer. There’s a touching scene where a mother horse who has just given birth, is having some trouble. As Dr. Pol works on her, the baby calf looks on with obvious anxiety.

On another farm, when he doesn’t have veterinary-quality ether on hand to apply to a leg he’s splinting, Dr. Pol simply sprays on some starter fluid he has in his car. (“It’s mostly ether,” he explains to the farmer.)

Some of the scenes are slightly graphic (but carefully edited), like when a cow has pushed a little too hard to give birth and has ejected her uterus, or when he’s doing an autopsy on a horse who died and he needs to know why. (“There’s always more to learn.”)

Only occasionally, in a quiet moment, does the doc let tears well up when he talks of an animal whose life he couldn’t save.

In one scene, after the heavy work of extracting a calf who has died before being born, the doc says the mother now needs “lots of antibiotics.” And now we learn we’re on an organic farm.

“All our animals and all our crops are certified organic,” explains the farmer. “That means once they’re treated with antibiotics, you know, we can’t sell it as organic beef. We’ll just have to sell her in the conventional market.” Does that mean she’s off to the factory farm? That’s not discussed. But for those of us who are appalled by the routine and reckless use of antibiotics at factory farms, it’s insightful to see life for the animals at a typical organic farm in the Midwest.

This is farm country, and almost everyone you’ll meet in the series is in the business of animal agriculture. But for those of us whose work revolves around animal rights, animal welfare, and even animal personhood, and whether or not you eat the food that these folks are producing, it’s worth meeting them all and knowing the world they live in.

Back in the office, Dr. Pol’s next patient is pet rat. A quick examination determines that she’s having a false pregnancy. Her “mom,” who’s probably the wife of one of the farmers, looks relieved and happy as she takes the rat back from the doc and snuggles her into the cozy warmth of her jacket.

The Incredible Dr. Pol premieres on Nat Geo WILD this Saturday, October 29, at 9 and 10 pm ET/PT.