Jeri Chatfield, mom of super twin veterinarians, Dr. Jenifer and Dr. Jason Chatfield, tells us about their amazing journey.
Her story starts in a college town in Texas where a twenty-something Jeri Young fell in love with her former college math professor, John Chatfield. When she first met him, she knew that he was a part of her future.
They married right before she graduated from Texas State University, and within two years, she was pregnant. Her pregnancy seemed normal for the most part—she had her share of morning sickness, but she was enormous. Strangers would walk up to her and comment on her size. She agreed with them—she was huge, and since she didn’t have an ultrasound performed during her pregnancy, she just thought that she was pregnant with one very large baby.
On November 17th, she found out that she was wrong. That’s when her doctor heard two heart beats during her pre-admit exam. She wasn’t pregnant with a single jumbo baby—she was pregnant with twins. She gave birth that day to a boy and a girl, Jenifer and Jason.
“One look at those little faces and we knew that our lives were definitely never gonna be the same,” says Jeri.
Like most young parents, Jeri and John balanced their life and career caring for the two babies. Initially, Jeri stayed with the kids during the day while John taught at Texas State University. As the twins grew older and Jeri went back to work, John would teach his classes in the morning and then he would come home to relieve Jeri, who would then leave to teach classes in the afternoon.
Sometime during those early months, John, along with Jeri, had an idea that changed the family of four forever. John said, “Let’s get a macaw,” and soon McGuirk the macaw took up residence in the living room.
Once the twins were tall enough to rip the papers out from under McGuirk’s open perch in the family room, it was time for either the kids or McGuirk to move outside. McGuirk was moved to an outdoor cage. John said, “McGuirk shouldn’t be out there all by himself. If we have one, we should have two…”
So, just like Noah, twos became a running theme with the Chatfields; two babies, two macaws and twos of a host of other species. The family soon filled up their farm with exotic birds, including swans, pheasants, different types of macaws and cranes. Later, the collection expanded to include soft, fuzzy creatures, including lemurs and kangaroos.
As the twins grew, they developed incredible skills for caring for the unique animals on the farm. They would carry feed buckets and clean cages as the Chatfield farm was filled with exotic animals all needing their own type of care, and each family member had their own “bit.” John did most of the construction, maintenance and feeding of adult animals, while Jeri was in charge of feeding babies. Jason and Jenifer learned the value of teamwork in their family early on and pitched in wherever needed.
“One of the earliest memories I have of our kids is their love for all the different kinds of animals at the farm,” says Jeri. “When Jenifer was a toddler, her best friend was a silky chicken that she would carry around all day like another child would carry a doll. They were inseparable! We would have to force her to put the chicken back in the coop at night rather than have it sleep with her.”
“Jason also found friends on the farm, although his favorite one was much taller than he was at the time. He had this connection with a crowned crane, and they had a real friendship,” says Jeri. “Jason was the only one the crane would allow to touch him and the crane would kind of stand over Jason when he was playing in the backyard. It was really sweet how they seemed to bond with each other.”
Needless to say, all of the interesting animals made the Chatfield farm a favorite among their classmates for school fieldtrips.
“Every year, the entire school would come out to our house and see all the animals,” said Jeri. “It was an up-close learning experience that you couldn’t get elsewhere. Jason was influenced by this and throughout his career working at zoos, he’s always focused on creating programs where children can interact with endangered species to foster that understanding and love for rare animals among the next generation. There is no substitute for touching and holding these creatures when you are wanting to inspire people to support conservation.”
Even though Jenifer thought she would become a flight attendant and Jason was eyeing a career as a basketball coach, with their incredible background, it only made sense that Jason and Jenifer would become zoo veterinarians. They both attended Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, graduating three years apart, and spent their last semester in school completing externships at several major zoos, including the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and White Oak Conservation Center.
“While both of my children have focused their veterinary career on conservation, Jenifer is the one more actively focused in research,” says Jeri.
“In an effort to contribute to the preservation of her favorite species, the ruffed lemur, Jenifer spent time in the rainforests of Madagascar to study lemurs and develop methods for conserving them.”
Almost every species of lemur is at risk of extinction, making it the world’s most endangered primate, scientists have warned. As is the case with most of the world’s rare and critically endangered species, habitat destruction from illegal tree logging, charcoal production, hunting and mining is the chief threat for extinction.
In 2007, Jenifer published a peer-reviewed article that is a significant step forward for these imperiled creatures. The technique for semen collection that she and her team developed is not only safe, but can be used to augment genetic diversity among captive populations without removing lemurs from the wild. Previous attempts at establishing a protocol had been deemed too dangerous as some animals died following procedures. Jenifer never lost a single lemur during her three-year effort to perfect this assisted reproduction technique.
Jason, on the other hand, is focused on education. He is the Vice President for Zoo Operations at Jungle Island, an eco-adventure animal park in Miami. Jason is known for doing whatever it takes to make sure the animals of the park are healthy, happy and safe, while making learning fun for even the youngest visitors.
In 2012, Jason worked with a renowned human oncologist to help treat Peanut, an eight-year-old orangutan, using a novel immunochemotherapy protocol for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Not only was her diagnosis made early in the course of disease, but the therapy was incredibly successful. Peanut is the only orangutan with this rare condition known to survive therapy.
Jason is married to another veterinarian, Liz, and is a father of three kids, all currently under the age of ten. Having his own kids reinforced his passion for early childhood wildlife education. He believes having hands-on experiences makes the world’s animals real to kids, and gives children a desire to conserve these animals and keep them safe for future generations. During the pandemic, when schools were shut down around the globe, Jason developed a daily homeschool program for kids that focused on endangered species and brought a bit of humor and entertainment into online schooling.
Jenifer and Jason aren’t the only Chatfields helping animals. They often pull in their mom, Jeri, as a volunteer. For the last seven years, Jeri has teamed up with Jenifer and the rest of the West Central Florida Medical Reserve Corps for their “One Health Approach to Mobile Medical Units,” a program Jenifer founded that provides zoonotic disease prevention to pets of the homeless and indigent in their county.
The twin Chatfields’ newest adventure is teaming up to host the Vet Candy Podcast on Pet Life Radio. Although this was their first foray into the podcasting world, their show rose quickly to the number one show on Pet Life Radio with almost 600,000 downloads per month.
What makes their podcast so special?
“The Chatfields have the most interesting dynamic,” says Mark Winter, Executive Producer of Pet Life Radio. “Dr. Jenifer being naturally curious and serious is the voice of reason, while Dr. Jason is pure comic relief. Add in their competitive natures and sibling rivalry, plus amazing guests, and you get a unique perspective on veterinary life, their lives, and anything related to animals.”
What’s next on the horizon for these veterinary twins?
Jeri says, “Anything is possible when you are talking about Jen and Jason Chatfield… anything! The one thing we can all count on is that they will have fun doing it!” +
Subscribe to Vet Candy Podcast for free on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, Alexa’s Tune In, and more.