ATM: What changes have you witnessed in animals since the 70s until now?
JP: When I came out of vet school, we didn’t have diabetes in animals. We have diabetes now because we are what we eat. This change in diet is why people and dogs now have diabetes. We see diabetes in cats too, but not so much.
Parvo is a virus that can spread and change from one species to another. Parvo first came from pigs through raccoons, eventually to dogs.
We used to call a mixed breed dog a “mutt.” Now, mixed breed dogs are considered designer dogs, and people pay a lot of money for them. These are all changes in my 50 years of practice.
ATM: How did you work to educate and work through the changes?
JP: The more you learn about medicine the less you know. This is so true. You hear everyone in the health profession say this. When we think that we know something, it changes, and we must start all over. This is a challenge in the veterinary profession that I like. This is why you take continuing education because others have found new research on things, and then you learn how to treat it.
ATM: How do you use your empathy skills while working with animals?
JP: You have to know what animals are like. Animals become scared and are a problem when they are threatened. This is one of the reasons why in our clinic we do not wear scrubs and white coats. Animals realize these are different clothes and whenever they see these clothes, they associate them with fear. We wear regular clothes. This is one thing that keeps the animals calm. If you have a dog that is a little scared, then the main thing is to get down to their level or sit down beside them. You let the dog walk up to you. The same goes for horses.
When you are called to look at or examine a horse, it is important to come up to them with open hands so that they are not threatened. Fear is their main feeling, so you must realize and know what causes fear in an animal. Walk up to him/her and let the horse take a whiff or smell of you. Most of the time within five seconds horses know if they can trust you. Then you can easily work with them.
ATM: What are your observations about an animal’s gut feelings?
JP: Dogs have instincts, and they also remember. So, when they remember they were hurt or mistreated, they remember this for their whole life. We have a Great Dane that we adopted a few years ago. He had been at a boarding facility between the ages of 3-7 months, the formative stage, and I was told that the veterinarian at the facility did not like big dogs. We have had him four years. Every so often he looks at me like what are you going to do to me now. This is not an instinct, it is a memory. When this happens, I look at him straight in the eye which is how I can tell what he is thinking. Maybe because I am a veterinarian, I can look animals in the eye and understand what they are thinking or doing. You then start to befriend them. If you look in their eyes and see fear, then you just back off. Let them come to you and go from there.
ATM: What are ways to understand the lack of emotion in dogs and how they react differently than humans?
JP: Dogs have no emotions. They can be happy or sad. They do not cry like people. Their feelings are completely different than humans. They have a part of the brain that is so developed that it stores memories. The nose in dogs is so developed that they can sense smell, but feelings I do not know. Humans have five senses. I once saw a four-year-old dog with a lady who had migraines. The dog knows and feels when she gets a migraine headache an hour before it happens, and he barked at her to warn her. Another example was with a miniature poodle. The owner had diabetes and her little dog who was not trained, sensed when her blood sugar was dropping. She sleeps with the dog and he wakes her up by blowing in her ear when her blood sugar drops. These things happen, but we have no idea what part of their brain knows this. These animals have a feeling, a smell, and I wish I knew what it was.
ATM: What is the feeling of having a show The Incredible Dr. Pol and a profession geared around expecting the unexpected vs. if you knew what to expect?
JP: This is what I like about my job. It is not the same from one day to the next. You have no idea who will walk through the door. You have to be open-minded and always on the lookout for what is unexpected. I am a veterinarian first. The filming is only secondary. This is why this show is so popular. Nothing is made up for T.V. They show what we do and not even half of what we do. You have about 100 hours of taping per week and they only use 40 minutes of it. There is a lot of editing going on. What you see is our regular work. When we get kicked, it hurts. It is not like let’s see how this cow kicks somebody.
ATM: From your show, what are the main misconceptions that owners have about how to connect with an animal regardless of the species?
JP: Getting in touch with animals. Let the animal tell you what it wants and be completely open-minded for the animal to let you know what they want. They cannot talk. They can do this with their eyes, behavior, and body language. Dogs are very smart. They can learn a lot of commands. Horses are very intelligent. Make sure you do not do anything to the animal, anything they disagree with or could hurt them. Keep an animal feeling safe. For animals, safety comes first. Food is second. When you have created a safe haven for the cows and horses, then they are quiet and happy.
ATM: What can you reflect on animal to animal socialization?
JP: We have three big dogs in the house. Big dogs with a total weight of 500 pounds. We also have two cats. The cat jumps on my lap when I come home. My Saint Bernard will come up, and the cat is rubbing her head on the dog’s big nose. They get along fine. The animals feel safe because they do not have to fight for food or anything. We had to teach him that these animals are in the house and are a part of the household. He accepts it and protects them.
ATM: There is a stereotype that two of the different or the same animals cannot get along during their adult stage.
JP: You have to know how to train these dogs. You have to be the alpha. Dogs live in a pack in the wild. Somebody is the boss. You have to make sure you are the boss, so they can adapt to what you want. When these dogs are chasing other animals, they are not being trained properly. We send all these people to dog training exercises. The professionals will tell the owner how to train a dog. People have to be the boss of the dog. This does not mean they have to beat them or be aggressive, just be stern and tell them this is not acceptable behavior. Animals have such a good memory. You only have to tell them just a few times, and it is good.
ATM: How has working with animals taught you discipline and how to be patient?
JP: You have to train animals. A mouse can easily be trained. Pigs are easily trained. People get these potbellied pigs and do not know how to train them. The pig becomes the boss of them. The roles are reversed. This is the worst thing to see. You can train any animal. Cats are not the easiest to conform. You train an animal by repetition until he knows. You have to be the alpha in the pack to control the animals in the pack.
ATM: When the alpha trait switches from the owner and back to the animal what happens?
JP: This is when you have lost. You must be consistent, stern, and make sure they understand you are the alpha. If they see a crack in your behavior, then they will take advantage of it.
ATM: Why are cats harder or more difficult to train than dogs?
JP: Cats have their own mind. Dogs are a man’s best friend. Man is the cat’s servant. We have cats in the house, but honestly, the cat is trainable with food.
ATM: How can neutering your animal change what is expected of their gender?
JP: All of our animals are neutered. If you are not a breeder, or do not want kittens or puppies, then neuter your animals. You do not have to teach animals how to multiply. Throwing cats outside because you have so many does not mean they die. They will survive and multiply. This is the big problem in the United States. This is why the shelters are so full. Neutered animals are better behaved. Their hormones are not taunting them, so they listen better. It’s very important to spay and neuter your animals.
ATM: If an animal’s owner starts to slack in giving them attention, then how does this impact the way this animal will mature or grow?
JP: If they do not get attention, then the wild side comes back. This is what you see in strays when they are actually fighting for survival. They are smart enough to do this. If they get attention in a loving home, then they do not have to run the streets looking for food and shelter. They will stay with you. This is where it is not about the attention, but it is the bond between the owner and the animal. If you take care of the animal, then the animal will take care of you.