Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) graduates and Georgia residents, Dr. Vernard Hodges, and Dr. Terrence Ferguson opened Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital opened in 1999 in a 1,000 square feet leasehold on Highway 96 in Bonaire, Georgia.
Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital is now a 7,000-plus square-foot state-of-the-art facility, serving as the only veterinary clinic in the Bonaire/Warner Robins area/Houston County. The clinic offers digital radiography.
Hodges was born in Norwalk, Connecticut but was raised in nearby Fort Valley. Growing up in rural Peach County is where his love and passion for all animals and knack for trying to heal all things developed. Ferguson is a native of Talbotton and his love of animals began as a child growing up in that rural West Georgia community.
Additionally, both Hodges and Ferguson started a television series in 2020 called “Critter Fixers: Country Vets”, and recently finished a fourth season of the series. All four seasons of Critter Fixer: Country Vets are currently streaming on National Geographic and Disney+.
The Atlanta Voice: Why did you guys decide to open Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital in Bonaire, GA? Where did this idea come from?
Dr. Vernard Hodges: We were both born and raised in Middle Georgia and are proud graduates of Fort Valley State University. After we graduated from veterinary school at the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, there was no question that we wanted to come back to the area to practice. We worked for a local veterinarian for a year to get our feet wet before breaking out on our own. We have two locations – Byron and Bonaire. Dr. Ferguson came up with the name Byron Veterinary Associates, and I told him that was a little too uptight for our personalities! I said what do we do? Fix critters. So, we became the Critter Fixers.
AV: Was there a moment that inspired you guys as business owners?
Dr. Terrence Ferguson: We are constantly inspired as business owners to support and uplift our community. We’ve been in business almost 25 years, and we’ve been fortunate enough to employ hundreds of Middle Georgians. Some of our employees have been with us for over 20 years! Giving back is also a part of our business model. We feel strongly that business owners have a duty to support the community. To that end, we use our business to host local schools, and we donate our time and money to local causes.
AV: Where does your passion come from?
VH: Our passion comes from helping others and seeing others win. Since we opened our doors, we’ve had students come in and learn from us. One of our doctors came to us as a kennel technician almost 17 years ago. Fewer than 3% of veterinarians are Black, and we are thrilled that we have such a huge platform to show the world that the sky’s the limit. Since the show aired, we have taken our mentoring program, which is called Vet for a Day, nationwide, and we reach hundreds of kids each year and show them that veterinary medicine is a viable option and a rewarding career choice.
AV: Is there a mentor in your life that inspired/inspires you both as business owners? If not, what inspires/inspired you both?
TF: After graduation, we worked for Dr. Ernest Corker, who at the time was the only Black veterinarian in Middle Georgia. Veterinary school teaches you to practice medicine, but Dr. Corker taught us about practice management. We also hooked up with some local businesspeople – realtors, insurance agents, and bankers – to learn the ropes of business.
AV: What are your business goals for the remainder of the year?
TF: Our business has grown year over year. We expanded to two locations about a year after we opened, and in the last year we were able to expand both locations and hire additional staff – including three new veterinarians. Our goal is to keep giving the same level of customer service we have given over the last 20+ years. Even though we see thousands of people a year, we want all of our clients to get the care they deserve.
AV: How did the series, “Critter Fixers: Country Vets” start? Did you imagine it would last this long?
VH: Believe it or not, the show came from a DM on Instagram! Our eventual showrunner reached out to me on social media and asked if we would be interested in filming a pilot. I thought it was a joke, so I ignored it the first time. Once we connected and I realized he was serious, I told Dr. Ferguson about it. Of course, he didn’t think I was serious, so he kind of ignored me! We got over the initial shock, filmed the pilot and the rest is history!
AV: With the series wrapping up season four in November 2022, are there plans for a fifth season? What does the future look like for Critter Fixers the series?
VH: We certainly hope so! We have loved every step of this journey, and we will keep on filming as long as people want to watch the Critter Fixers.
AV: What has been one of your favorite moments filming the show?
VH: We are both so happy to have children who want to follow in our footsteps. Nicole (Ferguson) and VJ (Hodges) are both aspiring veterinarians. They work with us in real life and having them come be a part of the show was mind-blowing.
AV: Any advice to future business owners about taking the plunge?
VH: Build a network! You must have faith and a good work ethic – when we went into business together, we didn’t have any support staff. We were the handymen, the janitors, and the receptionists, as well as being veterinarians. We worked incredibly long hours, and we relied on family, friends, and each other to succeed.