5 Questions With… Vernard Hodges, DVM, and Terrence Ferguson, DVM, stars of Critter Fixers: Country Vets

Nat Geo’s Critter Fixers: Country Vets is now on its third season. Stream the show on Disney+.

Vernard Hodges, DVM, and Terrence Ferguson, DVM, stars of Nat Geo’s Critter Fixers: Country Vets.

Dogs and cats are often the most common patients in a veterinary clinic, an assumption we can especially make for practices in the city. Often, it is our four-legged small animal friends that comprise the majority of the clientele, making the daily grind in those clinics a little more predictable.

It is the opposite for Vernard Hodges, DVM, and Terrence Ferguson, DVM, the Georgia-based veterinary duo and stars of Nat Geo’s Critter Fixers: Country Vets. Dr. Hodges and Dr. Ferguson own and operate Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital, a practice located 100 miles south of Atlanta. “See, when people say ‘Georgia,’ they think ‘Atlanta’ and ‘the rest of Georgia.’ We are from ‘the rest of Georgia,’” jokes Dr. Hodges. While they do treat small animals, they also handle cases unique to the countryside.

On the show, the Tuskegee School of Veterinary Medicine alumni are seen treating patients in their clinic or out in the field, attending to animals in farms or in clients’ backyards.

Veterinary Practice News caught up with the Critter Fixers recently for the Hill’s 2023 Annual End Pet Obesity Campaign, where Hodges and Ferguson shared more about their practice, what medical conditions they find common in the countryside, and their advice for practice owners and future veterinarians.

1) What is the most interesting part about being country veterinarians?

Dr. Hodges: The beautiful thing about being in the country is it’s not a one-size-fits-all practice. We are two hours north, east, south, and west of a specialist. So, if an animal comes in and is not stable, it does not matter if it’s a kangaroo, a donkey, or a skink, you treat it. Sometimes people may not understand, but there is not much specialization here. Being in the country is about getting in it and trying to make this animal healthy.

Dr. Ferguson: It’s the community for me. We don’t just get in and out of the clinic—we belong in a community, much like being in a family. I can’t recall how many times I’ve been in a room with a client, talking about things that have nothing to do with pets. That’s what is great about being a country vet—you get the chance to mingle with the community, and you fit. We are part of the big country network we are in.

2) What are some of the common problems you see in your community?

Dr. Hodges: I can’t tell you how many cases of pancreatitis we have seen around here. Owners love their pets to death; they feed them everything. Pet parents tend to feed their animals all kinds of treats, and it’s definitely very important to feed them the right food in the right amount. Otherwise, it leads to obesity. We see a lot of animals here with secondary diabetes, and I noticed there had been more cases of it now than before. We see a lot of food-related issues. Animals suffer from obesity and arthritis because they are overweight.

Dr. Ferguson: We also see many cases of allergies. A lot of people think allergies show up when there is sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes; but when dogs or animals have allergies, it manifests more on them as itching and scratching. In our area, we have a lot of things animals can be allergic to—pecan trees, Bermuda grass, peach trees. One of the things they are most allergic to is human dander. We have a lot of cases where animals are allergic to different sources—whether it be parasitic or atopy.

3) You treat different species in your practice. How do you keep up with best practices?

Dr. Hodges: The main thing you need is to continue your education. Read the periodicals, publications such as Veterinary Practice News, to stay on top. The internet and certain websites are also helpful. Once, I had a client from two hours south of our clinic call me. He said, ‘Listen, Doc, I got a problem with a rhea, and nobody would work on this thing. Will you give it a shot?’, I said, ‘Sir, I don’t know what a rhea is, but I’m going to give it a shot.’ The client brought in the rhea, which is like a small ostrich, and it had some growth problem in its legs. Dr. Ferguson and I worked on it together, and the rhea did fantastic! We did some makeshift things to make it better, but that can be the case sometimes, especially in rural Georgia. So, a lot of times, we have to figure it out. You have to be willing to try. Our veterinary license gave us permission to work on all animals. If you stay abreast and read, do continuing education, typically you will know what to do and at least give that animal a fair shot.

Dr. Ferguson: You can’t be afraid to continue to learn. Even though we are veterinarians and have been in this game for a long time, we’re always learning. A lot of it is because of necessity. Dr. Hodges and I have to bounce a lot of these things off each other: “What do you think? Do you think this is going to work? What do you think about this? I’ve never seen it before.” One of the beauty of being in our practice is we have each other. We’re not afraid to dive in and we’re not afraid to learn new things. That’s what I would tell new veterinarians: always continue to learn. Continue to read and use your resources, and just try to get better ever day.

4) What tips can you share about speaking with clients?

Dr. Hodges: Being a veterinarian is definitely like being a detective. To get the right answers to problems, you need to ask the right questions. When a pet initially comes in, I observe it, and I also try to make the client feel at home. I give everybody who walks in the door a hug and create that connection. You have to make people feel like you’re doing your best. It’s not every time that the medicine you do is going to work. Sometimes you need to have that second check and say, “Alright, maybe I’m going to give it another go and try a different routine, a different antibiotic, and hopefully it works the second time.” It’s all about really getting that family bond. Having that bond, getting that hug, it tells you they really believe in you, and they give you a chance to make that animal better.

Dr. Ferguson: It’s definitely about that relationship—clients being comfortable with us. Sometimes there are questions and things we have to say that may not always be comfortable. We go in a room and see this dog, and it’s a little overweight…that’s one of the conversations that we need to be more careful in. We need to talk about weight management and diet, but we can’t just say, “Look, he’s overweight…” We need to earn our clients’ trust, so when we recommend things for their dogs, we can also get their compliance.

Dr. Hodges: It’s the same between Dr. Ferguson and I. Sometimes when he’s eating, I’m able to say, “Hey, man, you don’t need to eat that, your scrubs are getting a little tighter on you.”

Dr. Ferguson: All about the relationship, buddy. All about the relationship.

5) How do you want your show to impact the industry?

Dr. Hodges: I have been amazed at how the veterinary community has embraced us. One thing we always hear is, “Thanks for what you do for the profession.” With Critter Fixers: Country Vets, we want to show mentorship in the field is important. We also want to make sure the profession is shown in a good light. Unfortunately, a lot of times veterinary people get burnout, they get fatigue. One thing we always want to do is to show this profession in an amazing light, for the amazing profession it is. I think that kind of portrays across the screen. People just simply enjoy it.

Dr. Ferguson: We always say representation matters. We do understand that we are a minority in this profession, but we want to at least let kids, others minorities, know that it’s possible because they see us doing it. There is nothing they can’t do because we’ve done it. All of those things are very important to us that’s why we continue to do the show.

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