By Valerie Milano with Darlene Gautier
Century City, CA (The Hollywood Times) 2/11/20 –
– Valerie Milano
“Taken from the Tuskegee University website”
The two friends-turned-business-partners first learned of the opportunity in March 2018. The international cable television network contacted Hodges and expressed its interest in developing a show that highlighted their practice and care of animals. On the show, viewers can expect to see the doctors in their natural environment caring for their Critter Fixer patients, which include dogs, cats, farm animals, camels, and even kangaroos.
Ferguson, a Talbotton, Georgia, native, said when he first heard of the opportunity, he didn’t believe it, since he considers himself and Hodges to be just two country guys from Georgia. He called the opportunity “unbelievable.”
“I didn’t think the show was a real opportunity in the beginning. I thought it was a prank,” Ferguson said. “But then I began to wonder about it––and I knew thinking ahead, it would be an awesome experience to be on a national platform to showcase our story.”
The pair’s story began nearly 30 years ago when they met as undergrads at Georgia’s Fort Valley State University. Ferguson graduated with a degree in veterinary science and Hodges earned a degree in fisheries biology. The duo then continued their Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) experience by enrolling in the doctoral program at Tuskegee’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Hodges finished in 1997 and Ferguson graduated the following year in 1998.
I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to Tuskegee’s own black vets. No, this is not some cool TV show you saw in the 70’s as a satirical commercial on Saturday Night Live but these two guys are real veterinarians that have broken through the mostly all white profession. Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Hodges are a marriage made in heaven as you will read in the interview below.
They have such a love for animals and their love transcends into the families that love those animals, especially when they have to euthanize a dog or livestock. This impacts the family and impacts them as well. They can be in one room euthanizing a dog and comforting the grieving family. (I don’t say “owner” because I have a four-legged pal and I don’t own him, he is my family.) They then have to go to another exam room to check out a new welcomed addition to another family, leaving what sadness there was behind and smile sharing the joy of this family’s newest member. This is hard to leave sadness behind and not show how that affects both men.
The show is called “Critter Fixers” on NatGeo Wild and I know that you’re going to enjoy and have as much fun watching it as I did interviewing Drs. Ferguson and Hodges. [And well, you know, Hodges is well, Hodges… He’s just out there having fun, man!]???
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: (Talking about his NatGeo Holiday party drink) ––so this is something with pecans in it and peaches because it’s from Georgia.
Valerie: Oh good!
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: And I don’t know what liqueur or whatever is in it. It’s kind of strong to me. I don’t drink much, and so I’m nursing it so I can make it through the night. So I may be holding the same one all night.
Valerie: You might be!
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: But don’t tell anybody.
Valerie: Absolutely. Okay, what’s the most difficult part of your job?
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: Definitely for me, it’s just dealing with the range of emotions, you know? As a veterinarian, you sit down and we’re at that point in our career that we’ve been doing this for about 20 years. So sometimes, we’ll have to deal with death via euthanasia and then, ten seconds later we gotta come back, deal with the new puppy like this (he points to “Geo” named after NatGeo).So the ups and down emotions are probably the most difficult for me.
Valerie: What was that word, Darlene, that you said they said over and over that you didn’t like. Was it “castrate?”
Darlene: Ewwwww [Laughter out loud amongst everyone]
Darlene: Yeah. Is it like when a bull is castrated?
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: Yeah, yeah.
Valerie: S o I guess it’s necessary but you wouldn’t like it… [Laughter]
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: Like what, castrate some guys?
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: No, no, no, don’t do that!
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: No, don’t do that. But it is a lot easier dealing with a two thousand pound animal filled with testosterone running through a fence and causing lots of problems so it is unfortunate but a necessary evil.
Valerie: How do they react after that?
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: What, castration?
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: Ya talkin’ about bulls?
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: They’re fine. They walk off…I’d say, typically, ten minutes and you won’t even know it.
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: They’re back eating plants always––so it gets done very quickly. It’s a very quick procedure.
Valerie: And the healing process is….
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Basically, what we do is, we cut the scrotum and the reason is, we’re in the south and the south is warm but in the summertime it’s brutally hot. So flies and parasites are around and we leave it open so I can drain if he needs. So it basically heals that way. So within a week you know if the scrotum is starting to regress up then it’s starting to heal up. They are usually fine within 10-15 minutes once we let’em back out.
Valerie: What type of anesthesia do you use?
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: With that one we don’t use anesthesia unless they’re so large, then yeah. Then sometimes what we will do is, we’ll inject a local anesthetic in there. But we don’t, like in small animals given general anesthesia so they’re sleep-sleep. A large animal is a little more difficult. To do that procedure takes it so fast, they go in and out very fast.
Valerie: You’ve answered the question about what’s most difficult part of your job––did you have anything that you wanted to add?
Dr. Terrence Ferguson:
Generally, euthanasia is the most difficult part even though we know cuz we would never do one without calls which means that the animals are suffering, you know, they aren’t going to get better or they get older, they get different terminal diseases and we have to euthanize but even at that, that didn’t make it a whole lot better, even though we know that it’s the right thing to do. We may be in one exam room and doing that but we may have to go to the next exam room and we have a 16-week old puppy that’s someone who is just starting out. We need to show that love and affection and caring for them. We can’t take the one room to the next room so that it makes it very difficult cuz you kind of go up and down as the day goes on but you know. If there was a part that we could do away with, we definitely would. But it’s part of the process.
Valerie: Yeah, it’s part of the process. (pause)
When did your love for animals begin?
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: Hell, we’ve loved animals from day one!
Darlene: Please tell your story.
Dr. Terrence Ferguson:
You know the story I always tell is that, I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian since I was six, seven, eight years old. Basically, what happens is––like you say, I’m from the country. So we had a dog in the country. Our dogs are not tied up, they’re not penned up. They’re just with their freedom run. Well, our family had a dog that was hit by a car. Okay? So, you know the first thing you do grab some alcohol and a little paper towel or cotton balls, whatever you have, and you can try to do what you can to make it better. Well damn the dog got better. So at that time that little fire in me that made me think that I was just this great person that can take care of animals. I didn’t even know the name of it, but I knew I want to take care of your animals.
Valerie: Oh my god!
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: So, my mother, being an educator, I told my mother, you know I didn’t even know what the name was, I told her, “I want to be a dog doctor.” And that’s all I knew. So, she told me that’s called a veterinarian. So, even at that age we would work with construction paper (kids nowadays don’t know what that is!)
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Now, nowadays, do they still have that?
Darlene: Yeah, yeah. I use it.
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Ok, yeah so my mother cut the letters out to spell “veterinarian.” And just like this type of coffee table, on the floor, and she arranged it and she had to spell it because she said if that’s something that you want to be everybody’s going to ask you what you want to be. And when you’re in school, they’re going to tell you to write about what you want to be. Then she said, “you are going to make sure you know how to spell it.” So that was the educator in her.
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Yeah, so just being blessed, and knowing God has blessed me to become a veterinarian, but that’s my story now looking back.
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: And you’re blessed with me!
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Of course.
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: Yeah, I had to throw that in there.
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Now, looking back, I know that the dog really wasn’t even hurt badly. He just had an abrasion but at that time I thought I had healed him. I thought I had something that lit a fire under me and said, “That’s what I want to do.” Yeah, at that early age, I was blessed to know I would become one.
Valerie: Okay. How did you meet and how did you decide to launch the veterinary hospital?
Dr. Vernard L. Hodges: So, we met in college. We took some classes together. He was always smarter than me. We went to vet school. I went to vet school first. We came out and then, you know, we decided to launch our own practice. As you can see, he’s like pretty smart, super smart. We have two clinics. One clinic is in Byron, Georgia, so we started there. So his thing was, we’re going to be Byron Veterinary associates and that went on for about a week. Then one day we were sitting in the parking lot, I said, “Dog, we ain’t that good. We ain’t got us no money, we in Georgia. C’mon man, we’re Critter Fixers.” So he looked at me and said, “okay!” So we’ve been Critter Fixers ever since. That’s how we met, and now we’ve been Critter Fixers some 20 plus years later.
Valerie: Out of all the vets in the country, why do you think Nat Geo chose you for their show?
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: I’m still wonderin’ why. Nah, just teasin’––So you have to know, Dr. Hodges.
Dr. Vernard Hodges: It’s like the perfect match.
Dr. Terrance Ferguson: Yup!
Dr. Vernard Hodges: It really is.
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Dr. Hodges is The Social Media King! That’s the best way for me to describe him.
Valerie: You’re laughing?
Dr. Vernard Hodges: I like to have fun!
Valerie: But are you the Social Media King?
Dr. Terrence Hodges: I like to have fun! I’m social, real life whatever. He lets me do whatever I want. As long as all the animals are straight, he does fine, so, the marriage works. If I’m tempted in a corner, doing something, goofing off, he typically let’s me do it, like, “Well ain’t nothin’ dyin’––you good!”
[Dr. Ferguson chuckles]
So, I was contacted via social media, and I do like everybody who ever contacts me through social media––I ignored it!
Valerie: Oh, no!
Darlene: It’s a balance.
Dr. Vernard Hodges: It’s a total balance. That’s the beauty of our relationship. You know, I mean, I’m like, “T. I saw a dog, can I please, please, please have that dog, please?” And he’s like more––the balance. The next thing is, we’re going back to Georgia with a dog. So, it works fantastic.
Valerie: And your decision? Well, you with NatGeo, was there…?
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Well, it just started from the social media for them to know.
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: The company called after seeing him, the flamboyant, I call Dr. Hodges and say “like man, I think we can get you on television.” So I started from there. But initially, like he said he ignored it. Then when he calls me, then what I said was, “Okay”––but I kind of, ignored him cuz he may come up with a lot of stuff. So it’s almost like I just say, yeah and if it’s going to work, he’ll work it out. If not, I’ll never hear about it again. So it seems like my thing is just say, okay! When he comes up with these ideas, “That’s Hodges.” I just like it progressed from there to have to do a Skype interview. Then it progressed to the point where they came down for a week, and we did a family for four weeks to fix the Nat Geo to see if they were going to, you know accept it or not. Then it took off from there.
Valerie: Can you maybe share a difficult situation that may be brought you to tears?
Dr. Vernard Hodges: Aw, heck, that’s every day. I mean, at this stage in our life, we’re starting to see patients that we saw from this age. So literally, last week, I was in the clinic and there was a dog that I’ve been treating for about 17 years, you know the gift and the curse of it are messengers and we’ve been able to relieve suffering. But when you’re in a room and you’re looking at this person who you shared photos, you shared Christmases, they brought you cookies. You’ve looked at his dog, and you’ve gotten his dog through issues, and you’ve watched their children grow up, and when you faced with the finality of this relationship, that brings you to tears. That’s very hard.
Valerie: The reality of the most, difficult situation.
Dr. Vernard Hodges: Obviously, I mean, unfortunately, we all sometimes see, difficult cases. I mean you see cases that are heart wrenching. You know, I can think of one that happened to me couple of weeks ago. We had a dog and there was a kid and we were trying to figure out what was going on. And after a while as I’m doing my exam, and it turns out––I don’t know if you’re familiar with the rubber bands and everything on braces that are really small?
Valerie: Of course.
Dr. Vernard Hodges: Right! So this kid who didn’t really know any better put this rubber band on this dogs leg and it went, you know, it dug in and we had to unfortunately, amputate that leg. So that led to the amputation but it’s a teaching moment and unfortunately that is the dog who has to suffer. And you’re dealing with the parents who are distraught, the kid is distraught, and the dog and the terrible situation. So you are trying to hold back the tears and unfortunately, this dog’s going to lose a leg. So you do the best you can to make the best situation of it, you know, I mean, you can’t throw away the kids. You now have to use that as a teaching moment, that these are real live animals and you can’t make those mistakes.
Valerie: So, you’re well, teaching others how to maintain––and that something that could be difficult for the animal and then you can explain to them how to treat them so they don’t fall back, right?
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Exactly. You don’t want to make the kid feel bad.
Dr. Vernard Hodges: So there’s so many things you had to deal with: you have the emotional issue, you have the parental issue, you have the veterinarian. So, there were so many issues that culminated, that fortunately however, we were able to save the dog’s life, but that was a tough case.
Darlene: But you’re teaching, right?
Dr. Vernard Hodges: We are teaching, correct.
Valerie: But that’s a really good point, Darlene, because that was going to lead to my last question and I know we’re here for a party.
Dr. Vernard Hodges: No, you’re fine!
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: Yeah, we’re fine.
Valerie: And so, what is your hope for the show? And who would you think would be your viewers?
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: A couple things that we hope for the show. One is––we hope that some of the things that we do will be educational for pet owners to understand. The next is––we hope that we can be role models for this profession. We know that the veterinary profession is predominately white. There are very few minority veterinarians. So hopefully just by our presence that it can inspire whatever color––it doesn’t matter whether they are black or they white or Hispanic––but let them know that this is not a barrier even though you may not see it. Now you do, this is something that you can do. So hopefully, you know just by diversity is that it helps a lot also. So those are at least two of the things that we hope that we can accomplish. And this gives us a platform to be to do that cuz it is not anything we say, but rather it’s just our presence that will hopefully inspire others.
Valerie: I just want to say, thank you for your time and inspiration to others who see what you both are doing and that through you, others seeking this profession will be want to be a veterinarian.