News Story

Court Overrules Licensing Board, Exonerates Vet Who Saved Dog

Reality TV viewer complained after Dr. Pol helped Mr. Pigglesworth

The Michigan Court of Appeals handed down a ruling in what it called the “Curious Case of Mr. Pigglesworth,” exonerating celebrity veterinarian Dr. Jan Pol of misconduct in a case that spanned five years. Its 3-0 decision overturned a fine and probation for Pol’s supposed negligence that was reported by another veterinarian who had watched his cable television show and took issue with his procedures.

Pol, of Weidman, Michigan, is the star of the TV show "The Incredible Dr. Pol” on Nat Geo Wild, which focuses on his rural Mount Pleasant-area veterinary practice.

In 2011, Pol treated a Boston terrier named “Mr. Pigglesworth” that had been hit by a car. He agreed to keep the cost of Mr. Pigglesworth’s surgery under $300, which was the budget set by his owners, Mable and Loyd Frisbie. The Frisbies, who were longtime customers of the veterinarian, would otherwise euthanize the dog.

Pol removed Mr. Pigglesworth’s damaged eye, stitched lacerations in his mouth and x-rayed his fractured pelvis, which he said would heal. The pet went home with his owners the day after his operation and made a full recovery, the court said.

Despite the successful procedure, a state licensing subcommittee called the Board of Veterinary Medicine punished Pol with a $500 fine and probation. The board acted after a Kentucky veterinarian filed a complaint against the 73-year old doctor, objecting to his treatment of the terrier, which had been documented on the TV show. The board is part of Michigan's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

After an investigation, the Bureau of Health Care Services, also part of the licensing department, issued a complaint against Pol, alleging mistreatment of Mr. Pigglesworth. It cited his failure to wear surgical gear (mask, gown, gloves) and to provide the patient with IV therapy. The bureau also faulted Pol for not placing a warming pad or blanket in the dog’s kennel during his recovery.

The complaint also highlighted two violations of the public health code, which allowed for a disciplinary subcommittee to punish Pol with a fee and probation, and require him to take part in continuing education classes.

“As we said in the beginning, this case is curious. A dog’s life is saved, yet the veterinarian faces sanctions,” the court said. “The evidence submitted does not establish a clear standard of care that respondent violated.”

Pol told MIRS News he was "very glad that they came out with this opinion." He added that for clients who can’t afford the best care for their pets, he tries to provide care and avoid euthanasia.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, who had previously defended Pol, expressed his support for the court’s decision in a statement.

"I am very glad to see Dr. Pol vindicated and justice served in court," Cotter said, according to MIRS News.

In 2013, Cotter sponsored House Bill 5176, which sought to prohibit authorities from investigating reports of misconduct or allegations “based upon information obtained from viewing the broadcast of a reality program.”

The bill, which Dr. Pol testified in favor of, was referred to the House Health Policy Committee in December 2013. The committee held one hearing the following May but never took a vote on the measure. It died with the end of the 2013-14 session and has not been re-introduced.

“This is common sense,” Pol said of the bill. “We all know that not everything we see on television is how it really happens 100 percent of the time. There simply isn’t enough time to show every single step of the process or procedure. By using television editing, my viewers are given a snapshot of what life is like for a rural veterinarian. But we are just as caring and professional as any big city vet.”

Linda VanVoorhis, who described herself as a concerned taxpayer and pet owner, attended an official hearing on the complaint against Pol in January 2015. She also attended the licensing board’s disciplinary subcommittee meeting in March 2015.

"Why in the world the state of Michigan picked up on this complaint from an out-of-state, former veterinarian was beyond [my] comprehension," said VanVoorhis. "The owners of the dog were happy with the dog’s complete recovery and actually brought him to the subcommittee meeting."

VanVoorhis added, "I think it’s ridiculous that as a taxpayer I paid for this judge for an entire day, this courtroom for an entire day, the attorney general’s representative, the prosecutor. That’s a ridiculous amount of money that was wasted. And [Pol] probably paid for attorney fees for four years to get this far."

“A tremendous amount of state time and money was wasted, and I’m sure a lot of agony for [Pol] and his family and his practice,” she said.

Michael LaFaive, who directs the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center, said the case is another example of regulatory bureaus hampering for-profit service providers.

“Regulatory bureaus are another layer of government that add often unnecessary and sometimes inconsistent applications of force to otherwise peaceful commercial transactions. This is a case in point,” he said. “Both the veterinarian and the owners of the dog assented to the transaction and the latter have testified to being happy with the results. The case should have ended there. Unfortunately, regulatory bureaus provide a means for officious private and public busybodies to interfere with and even attempt to punish for-profit service providers. It is hard not to applaud the court of appeals for their thorough (and sometimes humorous) takedown of this particular bureau.”

LaFaive added that a competitive market is a better solution than regulatory bureaus.

"One reasonable solution to this regulatory overreach is obviously to have less of it. Short of that would be to consider a voluntary alternative. Maintain these bureaus and their work for those who think them necessary, but permit an alternative. If adult customers of veterinarians wish to choose a vet that dispenses with static 'best practices' as defined by some regulatory body, let them alone enjoy the benefits — or the costs — associated with such a decision," he said. "Over time, I believe the evidence would show that the market makes a better regulator than your average state bureau."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.