Meet Our Caring and Compassionate Veterinary Team
We are solely dedicated to your pet’s care! We look forward to getting to know you, and we hope you’ll take the time to scroll down and get to know us.
Client Service Representatives
Our Honorary Veterinarians
Leigh Fulford, DVM
Dr. Leigh Fulford is a University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine graduate.
Dr. Leigh is passionate about meeting the various needs of people by providing quality general preventive, medical, and surgical care for the pets they love. Her love for animals goes without saying, but compassionate care for the people these animals find companionship with is a calling that has evolved over the years and one that she finds quite rewarding.
Dr. Leigh enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking in her free time. She values her time with her family, friends, and dog, Liza Jane. Dr. Leigh craves adventure and loves to travel with her husband, John, and her young adult kids, Sarah Grace and Jay.
If alone, you will likely find her reading, listening to music, or grooming her retired Appaloosa gelding, Cody.
Dr. Leigh brings an immense amount of knowledge, expertise, and compassion to Gaines Shoal Animal Clinic, and we are grateful to have her on our team.
Neil Ellis, DVM
Dr. Neil Ellis is originally from Waycross, GA. He received his BS in Biology from UGA in 2001 and graduated from veterinary school at UGA in 2008 with Dr. Elder. After veterinary school, he practiced at a predominantly small animal practice in southeast Georgia for 6 years. He then continued his education in a rotating small animal internship in Orlando, Florida, at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists. After a year in small animal emergency, he completed an ophthalmology internship at the Animal Eye Center in Loveland, Colorado. For the past 3 years, he has been practicing small animal medicine in northern Colorado. His wife, Katie, graduated from veterinary school at UGA in 2009, and she is now on faculty at UGA in Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation after finishing her residency at Colorado State University.
Along with his 2 internship years of additional training, Dr. Ellis has received awards in Anesthesia and Pain Management as well as Pathology while in veterinary school. He is also certified in small animal veterinary acupuncture by the Chi Institute in Reddick, Florida. Dr. Ellis enjoys all aspects of veterinary medicine, but his special interests include ophthalmology, neurology, internal medicine, and pain management, as well as client education.
Dr. Ellis and his wife have a one-year-old son, Jonah, who will likely become a huge Dawg fan. They also have two Australian Shepherds; Penny and Walter, as well as a Paso Fino, named Leroy as their four-legged children. When not running around after one of the kids (human or otherwise), Dr. Ellis enjoys tennis, fly fishing, and college football.
Chris Elder, DVM
Former Owner of Shoal Creek
Dr. Ralph Askren passed the torch to Dr. Elder in 2009 after many years of working together to serve the Athens community. In 2020 Dr. Elder and his wife, Amy, made the decision to relocate to Florida, leaving Shoal Creek in the care of his friend and longtime colleague, Dr. Ellis.
Dr. Elder received an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Georgia and a Masters in Biology from Georgia State University. Dr. Elder graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008. Before deciding to pursue veterinary medicine, Dr. Elder worked at Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Georgia State University in both research and teaching. He was involved in advanced research into the mechanisms and treatments for Parkinson’s disease in both humans and primates.
Dr. Elder enjoys all aspects of the practice of veterinary medicine but has a special interest in internal medicine, nutrition, neurology, behavior, and dermatology.
In his spare time, Dr. Elder enjoys relaxing at the beach with his wife, Amy, boating on the Intracoastal, and playing tennis. Dr. Elder and his wife share their lives with two dogs and two cats.
Jim Rich, DVM
Dr. Jim Rich was born in Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner!) and grew up in Colorado. He graduated from the Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine (Go Rams!) in 1988. That same year he married Monica Gibson, and they have since shared various adventures together. Dr. Rich started veterinary practice in Collierville, TN, but soon moved to Cleveland, TN, where he was one of three partners in a busy mixed animal practice. Dr. and Mrs. Rich were soon joined by their daughter, Annie, and son, Joshua. After several years living abroad and then a brief period on the Texas/Mexico border, the Rich family relocated to the Georgia coast. In January 2021, they relocated to Winterville, GA, and Dr. Rich began veterinary practice at Shoal Creek Animal Clinic. Over the years, Dr. Rich has developed an interest and pursued additional education and experience in veterinary dentistry as well as maintaining his interests and education in general medicine and surgery.
The Rich Family has had several pets over the years.
Dr. Rich enjoys good music, hiking, backpacking, camping, kayaking, fishing, and other outdoor activities.
John Williams, DVM
Welcome Dr. John Williams, our newest Veterinarian. Dr. Williams joined us in July 2020, coming from Wisconsin. Dr. Williams completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama and obtained his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. As a new transplant, Dr. Williams and his fiance, a current resident at UGA, are enjoying our amazing area and are excited to be a part of our community. Dr. Williams loves working with our canine and feline patients providing preventative care and performing an array of surgical and life-saving procedures.
Ralph Askren, DVM
Retired, Founder of Shoal Creek
Dr. Ralph Askren founded Shoal Creek Animal Clinic in 1993. Although he is now retired, this page provides information about our founder! He is well-loved throughout our community, and our practice and many of our lifelong clients ask regularly about him. Dr. Askren is quite famous for his illustrations and the exceptional education that he provided to his clients.
After receiving an undergraduate degree in history with a minor in Russian language, Dr. Askren returned to school to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine. Upon completing his studies, Dr. Askren was recognized by the faculty at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine for outstanding proficiency in small animal medicine and surgery and has practiced veterinary medicine in the Athens area for over 30 years.
In 1993, he founded Shoal Creek Animal Clinic with the aim of creating a veterinary practice that offered quality veterinary care while maintaining a service attitude towards clients and patients. In addition, an overriding commitment to client education has been a hallmark of his practice.
Dr. Askren is now involved in numerous volunteer activities as well as pursuing his love of illustrating. He works primarily with VetMedAcademy.org, a non-profit that provides educational resources for veterinary students worldwide. In addition to illustrations for VetMedAcademy, his creations can be found in the Midkemia novels of the New York Times best-selling author Raymond E. Feist. Dr. Askren teaches middle school and high school students aspiring to join the veterinary profession through the Duke TIP@UGA program as well as the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine’s VetCAMP.
Mackenzie Rankin, DVM
Meet our newest doctor on board, Dr. Makenzie Rankin. We are very proud to have one of UGA’s finest join our team, and she is already making friends with our wonderful patients! Dr. Rankin is here to be a voice for your pets, and she absolutely enjoys sending them home feeling their very best. Dr. Rankin has a passion for dermatology and preventative care, and we know we definitely see a lot of itchy pets in Georgia! Please stop by to meet Dr. Rankin and ask her questions about your pet’s needs.
Alexandria Pierce, DVM
Dr. Alexandria Pierce graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and has been working in the veterinary field for six years.
Dr. Pierce prides herself in seeing the value and strength in the human-animal bond, understanding that pets are an important member of the family. She strives to ensure that each pet parent feels heard and understood so they leave the practice feeling educated and confident about their pet’s well being and care.
In her free time, Dr. Pierce enjoys quality time with her husband and three dogs. When she isn’t helping care for the pets within the community, you can find her hiking, paddle boarding, or at a local park for a sunny day on the lake!
Bryce Bartelt, DVM
Dr. Bryce Bartelt graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and has been working in veterinary medicine since 2016.
Getting to learn client’s stories and how their pets play a role in their lives is what makes Dr. Bartelt excited to come to work every day! He also has a passion for surgery and internal medicine.
In his free time, Dr. Bartelt enjoys spending time with his wife, Abby, and their daughter, Nora. He also enjoys many hobbies including soccer, golf, tennis, and board games!
Bob Brewster, DVM
Doctor Brewster attended UGA and finished his DVM in 1988. Doctor Brewster has long since been the face of both Barber Creek Veterinary Hospital and Gaines School Animal Hospital. In September 2020, Doctor Brewster decided it was time to retire from day-to-day Veterinary Medicine and focus on enjoying his family, traveling, and relaxing at home.
Doctor Brewster has left us with a legacy to carry on in his honor, one of true compassion and love for not just our patients but our community and the folks that make up our wonderful home. He is and will remain a part of these practices in one sense or another. We embrace his vision in our daily lives and will always ask ourselves, how would Doctor Brewster do it? Stay tuned, though… We suspect Doctor Brewster may join us from time to time in the future to catch up with long-time friends and check in on some of his patients!
Hana Kudela, DVM
Dr. Hana Kudela is from Southwest Georgia. She joined our awesome team after practicing in the greater Athens area for a few years after receiving her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University Of Georgia. She attended Young Harris College and received her Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Minor in Music.
Her professional interests are in wellness medicine, preventative care, surgery, and exotic and wildlife medicine.
Outside of Veterinary Medicine, she enjoys painting, cooking, hiking, gardening, and spacing time with her husband, Steven, and fur-kiddos, Mcgee and Anatar, and Riddle.
Registered Veterinary Technician
Meet Hayden! Hayden discovered his love for animal care during his last semester of obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in psychology at Armstrong State University. He was a research assistant in a comparative cognition lab at ASU, where he provided maintenance and basic care for rodent subjects.
Following graduation, he worked as a kennel technician at an animal boarding and daycare facility as he prepared to go back to school for veterinary technology. Hayden graduated with an Associate of Applied Science in Veterinary Technology from Ogeechee Technical College in May 2021. He has since passed his board exam and received his licensure to be a Registered Veterinary Technician. We are excited about having Hayden as a part of our team, as his passion for animals radiates every time you see him with a patient! Stop by and say Hello to Hayden at either one of our practices.
Hi! I’m Robin, the practice manager at Gaines School Animal Hospital. I have been grooming for 18 years, mentored by some of the best women and men in the industry. I am assisted by Marina, a Certified groomer with over a year of experience. We seek continuing education yearly and strive daily to become better people and stylists. I started my grooming career as a bather at PetSmart in 2001 and moved forward with my education, apprenticing with several Master Groomers, and AKC show dog handlers/breeders.
I focused on the sporting, terriers, and nonsporting breeds, as well as extensive education in all areas of pet grooming, including advanced training for skincare and feline grooming. The greatest grooming challenge for me, as well as the most rewarding, is transforming pets from those that are afraid of being groomed, that require extra patience, into pets that enjoy the whole experience. I am highly motivated, with a unique ability to read pets’ body language to determine how they prefer to be handled. I find each pet has its own individual and unique history to tell, and I am here to listen. Also, since coming to Gaines School Animal Hospital in 2015 and working closely with our amazing Veterinarians and support staff, I diligently work to help alleviate skin conditions of all kinds, as prescribed and directed by the doctors.
Most of my career was spent in a “Pet Spa” environment, spoiling and making your pets beautiful, utilizing technical standards and abilities, all of which I continue to utilize daily. I have also found that the marriage of veterinary care and grooming not only creates a convenient option for busy schedules but also a completely healthy, happy life for our furry family members!
Meet Joe Gwiazdzinkski; he is one of our longest-running employees, having been with us for 20 years. He is the inventory manager for both of our hospitals, assuring we always have what we need to provide the best care for your loved ones. Joe enjoys working with our teams to help us learn about the newest advancements in animal medicine and what are the best products on the market for our patients. When Joe is not at work, you can find him walking his pup, Josie, enjoying movies, or playing video games.
Karen joined Shoal Creek in 2019. Her love for teaching and team building quickly landed her the role of lead assistant. In 2022 we were happy to introduce her as Shoal Creek’s Practice Manager. Karen’s natural ability to lead and her dedication to providing our clients with the highest standard of care has made her a wonderful addition to the Shoal Creek team.
Karen started her animal medical career in 2010 with Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE). After 4 years in wildlife rehabilitation, she made the jump into small animal practice and has been helping our four-legged companions ever since. Karen remains a passionate advocate for peaceful coexistence with our wild neighbors.
Karen resides in Madison County with her husband and daughter. She is the proud Mama of 3 fur kids, Riley (dog), Peanut (cat), and Nesta (cat). In her free time, you can find her kayaking, spending time with her family, and traipsing through the woods in search of mushrooms.
Front Office Supervisor
Angie needs little introduction as the lead receptionist here at Shoal Creek Animal Clinic. Her pretty smile has been welcoming clients into our clinic for 25 years! Angie has lived in Athens since she was in high school, and she attended Athens Christian School. She then moved on to the University of Georgia, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Family & Consumer Sciences and Journalism combined, with a minor in Mass Communications. Go Dawgs! Growing up, she had a variety of pets, and her parents fostered a great love for animals throughout her childhood. Today Angie has five cats: Brisbane, Cleo, Mitzi, Pogo, and Poppy. Angie is a great lover of puzzles and loves spending time out on her private dock with a good cup of coffee.
Meet Mila! Mila just recently joined our team as a veterinary assistant. Born and raised in South Carolina, she attended Clemson University and obtained her undergraduate degree in Animal and Veterinary Sciences. She is currently working on establishing her in-state residency here in Athens in hopes of attending the veterinary college at UGA- GO DAWGS! After providing care for our patients at work, she looks forward to coming home to her four kiddos: Her cats Bonnie and Clyde, her Jack Russel terrier mix Widget, and her leopard gecko Zilla. In her free time, Mila enjoys spending time with her pets, watching her favorite shows, being outdoors, and getting her hands on anything related to veterinary medicine.
After a brief sabbatical, we are happy to have Brenna back at Shoal Creek! Brenna has worked with animals her entire career but made the switch to veterinary assistant in 2020. Shoal Creek is her first and, thus far, only clinic she’s worked for, and she says we have done a wonderful job teaching her everything she knows about vet medicine. Prior to joining the SCAC team, Brenna worked as the lead trainer for UGA’s rhesus macaque colony, and though she misses her monkeys, she’s loving getting to learn so many new skills! Outside of work, her favorite pastime is lounging around with her ferrets, Labrador retriever, and husband.
After being a client for over a decade, Gia joined the Shoal Creek team in September of 2020 to pursue her dream of working with animals. A licensed Cosmetologist in a previous life, she will still give haircuts to the Shoal Creek team (and their families). When she’s not at work, she enjoys spending time with her family and 2 cats; and playing video games.
Kassie joined Shoal Creek in September of 2021 from southern Illinois. She transferred to UGA with plans to peruse a career in veterinary medicine. Kassie loves learning new things in the veterinary medicine field. When she is not at Shoal Creek, she is studying and taking her best friend Beau to the dog park.
Born and raised in Flowery Branch, GA, Kaitlyn joined our team in September of 2021. She grew up in a household full of animals, from parrots to German Shepherds, and has had an endless love for animals and nature since she was old enough to say “dog”. Her parents work in the ER, and her interests in medicine and fur babies led her to spend her high-school years first volunteering in treatment and then working as a kennel assistant at her local vet in Sugar Hill. After moving to Athens to pursue a degree in Ecology at UGA, Kaitlyn was thrilled to join our team and be able to work as a vet assistant here at Shoal Creek.
When she’s not working or studying, Kaitlyn enjoys reading and watching a mod podge of sci-fi and fantasy adventures and spending time with her bird and puppies! Her favorite hobbies though (when she has the time to travel), are scuba diving and exploring the outdoors with her boyfriend and family.
Madison joined Shoal Creek in July of 2022, and she was born and raised in Buford, GA. Growing up, Madison always knew she wanted to work with animals. She went to Auburn University, where she studied animal science, focusing on equine medicine and agriculture. Madison started her vet tech career working in large animal ER in Wellington, FL, for 4 years before making the switch to small animal medicine. Outside of work, Madison enjoys the outdoors and playing with her two golden retrievers, Harley and Moose.
Desinee was born and raised in East Macon, GA. She is a 2022 graduate of Fort Valley State University with a Bachelor’s in Veterinary Technology. Desinee came to us with 3 years of experience in the Vet Med field. She recently moved to Athens to complete RVT clinical rotations at the UGA Teaching Hospital as well as a 6-month Pre-RVT Internship there. She has plans to attend Vet school in the near future. She absolutely loves Pitbulls and has a herd of them, so if you have a pitty baby, 9 times out of 10, she will go out of her way to meet them. 🙂 If she finds time outside of working and taking care of her pitty babies, she spends that time on outside adventures such as fishing, hunting, kayaking, and camping. Here’s a picture of Desinee and her oldest Pitty “Shi” (11 years old).
Haley joined the Shoal Creek Team in August of 2022 after moving to Athens from The University of West Georgia in Carrolton, Georgia. She has always known she wanted to pursue a career in veterinary medicine as she enjoys helping patients, educating clients, and learning from her colleagues. Haley dual enrolled at North Gwinnett High School and Grayson Technical Education Program, where she took a Veterinary Science course. The program partnered with the Gwinnett Humane Society and Gwinnett Technical College, allowing students to assist with spay and neuter procedures for adoptable pets.
Haley was also a member of the HOSA Organization in 2020, where she competed in the Veterinary Science division and won 3rd place in the state! Before coming to Shoal Creek, she completed internships at other small animal clinics and worked at another animal hospital for roughly a year.
Outside of the clinic, Haley enjoys cooking at home, spending time with her family, and taking her dog, Booker, on walks at the park.
Veterinary Assistant/Social Media Coordinator
Hi Athens! I’m new to town, and I’m so excited to be able to live and work here in the heart of Dawg Nation! I’ve been in the veterinary field for almost five years, first as a client service representative and social media coordinator and then becoming trained as a technician (soon to be licensed), and I can say I never plan on leaving. I am Pet CPR and Fear Free Certified, and I’ve got a special soft spot for Shepherd breeds and grumpy kitties! I love being in the exam room on the medicinal side and also getting the opportunity to share the passion our team has for the health of our patients through social media and community outreach. I wholly believe in providing the highest quality care for each patient and client and can’t wait to meet every one of you!
Fun facts: I enjoy Georgia football, eating KRAFT (very important) macaroni, riding, camping with my two dogs, Coach and Arya, and traveling to compete in volleyball tournaments with my super tall husband. He played for the US Air Force National Team, so I just try to keep up!
Veterinary Assistant/Social Media Coordinator
Bio coming soon!
Bio coming soon!
Client Service Representative
Bio coming soon!
Client Service Representative
Bio coming soon!
Client Service Representative
Bio coming soon!
Bio coming soon!
Bio coming soon!