Critter Fixers is the name of the veterinary practice founded twenty years ago by Dr. Terrence Ferguson and Dr. Vernard L. Hodges. CRITTER FIXERS: COUNTRY VETS is the title of National Geographic Channel’s documentary series, premiering Saturday, March 7, about the two veterinarians, their clinics, and their community. Both men hope that CRITTER FIXERS will not only inspire people to take better care of their pets, but also to inspire young black viewers to want to be veterinarians.
DR VERNARD L. HODGES: We’re from Warner Robins in central Georgia, which is probably about a hundred miles south of Atlanta.
ASSIGNMENT X: How did the two of you initially come together?
HODGES: We actually met in college. We’ve been knowing each other for about thirty years, so we took classes together. Little did we know we’d be married [professionally, not romantically] for the next thirty years. We went to Tuskegee. Tuskegee produces, I think, at last count, ninety percent of all veterinarians of color. Honestly, in twenty years, I only know and have met one, maybe two [black] veterinarians who went to other schools. It is just not something that is very prevalent in the profession.
AX: So you’re originally from Georgia, went to Tuskegee in Alabama to study, and then went back home to Georgia to practice?
HODGES: Exactly. This is the best profession in the world. One thing you’ll see with our show CRITTER FIXERS, the obvious fact is, we’re black. So there’s diversity. Black veterinarians are three percent of the [total number of veterinarians in the U.S.]. We’re three percent of the veterinary profession.
AX: Do you know what the percentage is of black physicians for humans?
HODGES: I think it’s definitely a lot higher. I don’t know the percentage, but there’s more exposure. You see more. So it’s like, if you see this, and you’re exposed to this, then you want to be this. If you never see a black veterinarian, why would you want to be that? You want to be like somebody you can relate to.
DR TERRELL FERGUSON: So that’s one thing that Nat Geo is providing a platform for us to be seen on television, two professional veterinarians, so we hope that we can inspire some young people, young men, young ladies, to become veterinarians.
AX: Did you both always know that you wanted to be veterinarians?
HODGES: I’m a fish guy. So I’ve always dealt with fish and aquatics. My undergraduate degree is Fisheries Biologist, so I thought I would be the next black Jacques Cousteau. I actually was able to do several things with it while in college. I went to Nepal through the Agency for International Development, and came up with a project to feed carp as a protein source to the Nepalese people. As time went on, I still love fish, but I found out through the veterinary profession that I could do so much more. Even on CRITTER FIXERS, we do get a case where we treat fish.
FERGUSON: And I wanted to be a veterinarian most of my life, since I was seven, eight years old. I had a dog when I was young, the dog was injured and I thought at that time I nursed the animal back to health. Now, I know that [the dog’s injury] probably wasn’t that bad, but that lit a fire in me.
AX: Are fish your favorite animal?
HODGES: Fish are my favorite animal. Ichthyology was my thing, exactly. It is a lot of fun.
FERGUSON: I’m glad I have him on board. I’m glad I converted him over from that to veterinary medicine, because we make a great team, and I wouldn’t be here without him, and at Critter Fixers, we’ve been open for twenty years now, serving our area. We’re a small community in the area in middle Georgia, and we try to structure our practice as family. Everybody in our community is family. When our clients come in, we don’t look at them as clients, we look at them as family members. Because we have kids, and all of our kids have grown up together, and we try to give them a hug, and we try to love them, and we try to make their babies better. One thing about a veterinarian is, we can have two smiles going out the door. The animal’s happy, and the client’s happy. So that’s one thing a physician [for humans] can’t do that we have the upper hand on.
AX: What’s your favorite kind of animal?
FERGUSON: I think my favorite are dogs. That’s my favorite. That’s what I grew up with, and that’s where my love first started with there, and it blossomed to all animals. I think I have a pretty big heart, so I care about all animals, and want to make them all better.
AX: Do either of you have a favorite kind of animal to treat, if that’s different from your favorite animal?
HODGES: My favorite is cows. I think cows are really cool. Cows are the best mothers ever.
FERGUSON: I think guinea pigs are pretty cool, because they’re warm and they’re fuzzy and they’re just the right size.
AX: How did National Geographic find you? How did CRITTER FIXERS become a TV series?
HODGES: In this world now, no matter what you are, people will find you, especially if you are doing a good job and putting good energy out. [National Geographic] reached out to me via social media. I got a DM, and I did exactly what most people do – I ignored it, because I thought it was spam [laughs]. But then I talked to them, I was like, “Okay,” and then I talked to Dr. Ferguson, I called him and said, “They want to put us on TV.”
FERGUSON: I was like, “Okay, whatever.” You have to know this guy – he’s one to throw these little pranks out, so the easiest thing for me to do was say, “Okay,” rather than getting involved. Because I thought that was going to be the end of it, I wouldn’t hear any more from it. But then he called back, “They want to do Skype.” So we did that, and from there, they sent a team out to film us for the week. Which was a little bit different. We’d done things on television for the news, but not actually [a TV crew] following us around the clinic. So we did that for a week, and they put something together, and they pitched that to the network. And about three months later, I guess, they called and said, “You know what? You guys are going to have a show.” And we paused, and we didn’t say anything. And they said, “Well, you know you guys are supposed to be happy now. You can say, ‘Rah-rah-rah’.” I think it just caught us off-guard. We were like, “We’re two country guys from middle Georgia, and they really want us, they think we’re interesting enough to be on television?” And here we are today.
AX: Does having the cameras and the crew there affect your work at Critter Fixers in any way, or affect the patients?
FERGUSON: It doesn’t affect the end result. It does slow things up some, because we have to make it where we can show it on television. We can’t just work and not verbalize what we’re doing, because television can’t get inside your brain. But for the work that we do, we make sure that we cover all grounds, and make sure we take care of our patients.
AX: So you’ll say things like, “So this tool is called a ‘cardiac monitor, and it checks the heart rate…’
FERGUSON: There we go. So if I pick up a chart, I can’t just pick the chart up and read it to myself and go to work. I have to say, “Miss Jones has Buster. Buster’s blood work doesn’t look very well, I think these white blood cells are elevated. I think we may have an infection. I think I need to go talk to her.” So it’s like that, as opposed to me looking at it, and I go do my job.
AX: Are the animals affected by the cameras?
FERGUSON: I don’t think they’re bothered at all. And the crew was amazing, not getting in the way. It was almost like at some point they weren’t even there anymore. We got used to them being there. So they did a tremendous job.
AX: Were any of the owners like, “Why didn’t you tell me there were going to be cameras here, I would have put on more makeup”?
HODGES: [laughs] Now, that did happen a time or two. We’re talking to our show runner, and for us, it’s not a big deal. So for every animal and everything that we thought was worth video-ing, we had a hundred percent of [the owners] saying, “Sure, we’ll do whatever it is for [the Critter Fixers vets].” Our show runner would tell us, “I can’t believe it. Because oftentimes, we go to places and people are like, ‘No, we don’t want to be on camera’.” I was like, “These people are our family. They’ll do whatever we ask.” [Every time], we want to take a case, “We want to use your case on the show,” they were all quick to sign a release. They were like, “Anything we can do to make you guys successful.” And for us, a lot of these cases, we know how to handle it. We’ve been doing this for twenty years. And so even though a dog could come in there with his head almost coming off, we just go to work. To the average person looking at it, and looking back at the tape, I was like, “Okay, I can see how people thought this was interesting, because it’s life and death situations.”
AX: Does one of you specialize in one thing, and the other one specializes in another thing?
HODGES: We just do it all.
FERGUSON: Yeah. We’re both general practitioners, and we do it all together. We run it all, from being a pediatrician all the way to being orthopedists.
AX: How big is your clinic staff?
HODGES: We have three associate doctors working for us, and the staff, between two clinics, probably about twenty-five people.
AX: Do you ever treat injured wild animals that people bring in?
HODGES: Oh, all the time. I amputated a deer’s leg that was hit by a car probably about a month or so ago. The deer had a broken leg, and the wildlife rehabber was gone, and so we amputated the leg, and that deer is doing well. So we do it all the time. It’s the gamut. And we’re in central Georgia. We don’t have a lot of lifelines. If something is wrong, it’s two hours to two-and-a-half hours to get to a specialist and fix it. I mean, we don’t claim to be specialists, but we just have learned to be jacks of all trades. If it’s hurt, we’ve got to fix it. We don’t have the luxury of having the specialists in our town.
AX: With something like the deer, does the deer then learn to walk on three legs?
HODGES: Oh, yeah. That deer was walking the same day. With the broken leg, it was already walking on three legs, similar to a dog or cat. So it walked around; it’s doing great.
AX: And how far away do your clients come from, because you said you’re the only veterinary practice within a great many miles?
HODGES: There are some [other] veterinary practices, but we have them come from as far as a hundred miles away.
AX: Do you do house calls?
HODGES: We do sometimes. With all the case load, almost twenty thousand, it’s hard. We have clients that have been with us for twenty years. So in those special cases, we will sometimes go home and help them, but it’s hard, because we have so many people that depend on us. Being away is tough. Even coming to TCAs is tough. I’ve had to answer a question from a longtime client who was diagnosed by one of our junior vets – one of our associate vets – who has diabetes. Which is very manageable, but he called, and he was like, “What’s the deal?” I’m sure she explained it, but he just wanted to hear it from me.
AX: Do you ever have any situations where an animal has seemingly been abused by its owner? And if so, what do you do?
HODGES: Well, we haven’t had that in the camera, fortunately. But if there is an abusive case, we have a really close relationship with the local shelter and the police. Actually, we treat the police dogs. So we have that lifeline to talk with them if that’s needed.
AX: What are some of the more interesting cases you handle on CRITTER FIXERS?
HODGES: Well, definitely this big tortoise that has maggots. You have this animal that’s been around for a hundred years. You’re like, “You can’t die on my watch. On my watch, we’ve got to keep it going.” Some little bunnies and some other stuff.
FERGUSON: There’s a Caesarian section, where we had to deliver babies. Delivering puppy dogs is always fun, because life is starting, so we’ve got a lot of Caesarian sections we had to do, we had a camel on one episode that we had to do some work for, so that was a lot different for Georgia.
AX: Is the camel somebody’s pet, or …?
FERGUSON: Yeah. It belongs to a young lady who does rescues, and she called us to come out and help her out.
HODGES: Snakes. Yes, indeed, I had a spider on there. Most animals, especially exotic-type animals, the problem is typically, how do you raise this animal that’s in a captive environment? Spiders typically are out doing their thing. So in this instance, he was worried about the spider. But it was more of a husbandry thing, where the spider doesn’t need to eat as much to live, because it’s in a confined aquarium that’s small. So it ate a little bit less. I noticed it was fine on the physical exam.
AX: I know there’s a joke in here somewhere, but how do you examine something as small and fragile as a spider?
HODGES: It’s not very small. This thing will fit in your hand. [It is the size of, but not] a tarantula. So if this thing bites you, you get a nice little electric shock. But you handle it very carefully. You just hold him and examine him, watch him in his environment, that’s one of the main things you can do.
AX: And how do you treat fish?
HODGES: It depends. In this case, [on CRITTER FIXERS], when you see fish, sometimes you see this little white fuzz stuff, and you refer to it as “ich [pronounced ick].” The name is ichthyophthirius multifiliis. It’s a protozoa. This fish had a case of ich, so we used something called potassium permanganate, and we used that to treat it. And also, these protozoa can’t live if you heat up the water. So you warm up the water a little bit, and they fall off, and the fish hopefully lives happily ever after.
AX: Do you have any other projects we should know about?
HODGES: I do have a book that I wrote two years ago. It’s called BET ON YOURSELF by Vernard Hodges. But BET ON YOURSELF was just kind of a synopsis of my life, and he’s [Ferguson] included. It just talks about how we started out with not much, and God has blessed us. This was before the TV show, so I may have to write a little bit more and talk about how God has blessed us to move on to bigger things.
FERGUSON: I have a children’s book that will be out in a couple of months, C IS FOR CRITTER FIXERS. This book is for kids, probably three to five years old, and it’s to enlighten them and expose them to veterinary medicine, and a veterinarian of color. So it’s also part of the diversity that we’re trying to help spread across this veterinary field.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about CRITTER FIXERS: COUNTRY VETS?
HODGES: If you watch our show, you’re going to learn. That’s the biggest thing. You’re going to learn a lot about how to take care of your animals, and you’re going to see a fun-loving family. Because a lot of our staff have been with us over eighteen, nineteen years. So they’ve been with us since the inception, they’ve helped mold the culture. And once they come, they don’t leave. So hopefully viewers will see, once they become a member of the Critter Fixers family, they’re going to watch.
FERGUSON: And hopefully you’ll see not only family, but you’ll see the love that we have for animals. We wake up every morning in the greatest profession in the world, to do the best job we can with the love that we have for animals.
This interview was conducting during National Geographic Channel’s portion of the Winter 2020 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
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Article: Exclusive Interview with CRITTER FIXERS: COUNTRY VETS stars Dr. Terrence Ferguson and Dr. Vernard L. Hodges on their new NatGeo docu-series