Safety First!

By Pete Berg, Producer – The Incredible Dr. Pol

On my first day on the job for “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” Charles Pol handed me a packet with a list of common farm animals that they see at the clinic. “Read this over, my dad takes this pretty seriously.”

Photo by Pete Berg

I looked down to find a photo of an angry-looking bull, with a caption: “BEEF BULL. DANGER LEVEL – EXTREME.”

Flipping through, I discovered a list of safety rules, written by Dr. Pol himself, explaining the Do’s and Don’ts around large, unpredictable farm animals. Where to stand, how to approach, when to back off, why you shouldn’t touch a beef cow’s calf, and what to do if something starts charging at you. “What did I sign up for?” I asked myself.

Being a farm veterinarian is a dangerous job. The livestock that Dr. Pol and Dr. Brenda work on are HUGE, sometimes ten times their body weight, and STRONG. Safety is key – avoiding getting trampled, kicked, crushed or head-butted by a 2,000 pound bull is even more important than treating the animal… the last thing we need is a second medical emergency.

What you don’t see when you watch “The Incredible Dr. Pol” is that our entire camera crew is just feet away from the same dangerous animals that the veterinarians are treating.   We’re in almost as much danger as the vets.

And we’ve heard horror stories. The first week on the job, an Amish farmer told me about a Belgian horse who had kicked his uncle in the head and killed him on the spot. One kick and it left this man’s ten children without a father. Another time, we saw a family rush in a dog that was lightly brushed by a horse’s hoof – the dog’s face was crushed in and it lost its eye. Large farm animals are not to be reckoned with.

There have been many situations where our camera operators have been nearly trampled, kicked or crushed.

Once during a bull castration, one of the bulls tied up to the barn started doing complete 180-degree flips and ended up breaking a wooden barn post in half.

During a standard calf castration, a 300-pound calf (tiny by bull standards) got loose and ran right under through one of our crewmembers, flipping him completely over. He went head over heals, but luckily wasn’t hurt.

A timid alpaca started rearing up and jump kicking, nearly putting her foot through our camera lens.

We’ve seen spooked cows hop fences and flip over steel cages. (When a cow goes into fight-or-flight mode, you best watch out.)

An angry 200-pound bloodhound bit his owner on the hand (to the point where he needed stitches), and then snapped at anyone that approached. Dr. Pol had to use a ten-foot pole and a shot of anesthesia to subdue the dog.

Luckily, thanks to Dr. Pol’s safety rules and a little bit of luck, our crew has come out relatively unscathed.

The amazing part is that Dr. Pol has been doing this for forty years, and though we’ve seen him get his fair share of cuts and nicks here and there, he has never gotten a debilitating injury from an animal. It really pays to play it safe and learn to read animals (and also know when to call it quits when an animal is out of control).

The scenes you see on “The Incredible Dr. Pol” are legitimately dangerous. We’re not just teasing them up for TV. Though it probably doesn’t need to be said in the case of, say, castrating an angry spooked bull calf or draining a cyst on a jump kicking alpaca… Kids, don’t try this stuff at home!

Animals Come First