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January 23, 2020

Faces of Fauquier: Vet favors “holistic” pet care

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“If somebody brings in a poisonous snake, I’ll probably draw the line,” says Dr. Rebecca Verna, who seldom turns away a patient.
I wanted a chance to really just approach things from a holistic point of view — work with the animals on diet, lifestyle change, exercise, physical therapy.
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Staff Journalist
The Marshall veterinarian credits an under-the-weather, pet rodent with her career choice.

Dr. Rebecca Verna’s mother also played a role in the matter.

“My mom was very willing to pursue whatever interest her kids showed,” recalled Dr. Verna, who owns Paws for Holistic Pet Care at 8381 W. Main St. “We always had one dog and one cat.

“But, my oldest sister had a horse. My mom bought my brother a drum set. She let me have mice, rats, guinea pigs, bunny rabbits, turtles — anything I could find and keep. I had cages full of critters in my bedroom.”

Her first and, arguably, favorite guinea pig got sick.

“I was 7 at the time,” the Roanoke native said.

So she, her mother and “Pippin” visited a local vet.

“They had just invented tetracycline,” said Dr. Verna, 59. “And he gave me an orange syrup and told me to squirt it in that guinea pig’s mouth a couple times a day. It got well. And that was what hooked me. I knew I was going to give animals medicine to make them well.”

In 1989, she earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg.

For the next two years, Dr. Verna worked for a Northern Virginia animal hospital and area clinics.

In 1991, she bought Bull Run Veterinary Hospital in Haymarket and renamed it Healthy Paws Medical Center.

The practice had just four staffers, with Dr. Verna as the sole vet.

“We completely revamped and rebuilt it into a big, fancy practice,” she said.

Under her ownership, Healthy Paws flourished — employing 30 people, including four full-time vets.

After 18 years, Dr. Verna sold it to Los Angeles-based VCA Inc., which operates more than 750 animal hospitals in the United States and Canada.

Economics and lofty professional expectations convinced the veterinarian that she should sell the practice.

“It was getting to be very difficult for a single, veterinarian-owner practice to do well in the market,” Dr. Verna said. “I over-glamourfied the practice a little bit because it was important for me provide service that was exceptional and a facility that was exceptional.”

At great expense, for example, she hired indoor-plant, rug and housekeeping contractors to enhance and maintain the center’s appearance.

“I wanted the place to just shine and always be perfect,” Dr. Verna said. “The staff really worked hard. We played hard. I had two little kids at home, and I was just maxed out on the amount of time I could put into the practice.”

The vet added: “It had grown to be bigger and more complicated and higher-quality than I was able to feel that I could maintain personally.”

Dr. Verna remained with the renamed VCA Healthy Paws Medical Center for three years to help with the transition.

The Healthy Paws’ sale also allowed her to start a practice that would focus on “holistic” pet care, she said.

“I wanted a chance to really just approach things from a holistic point of view — work with the animals on diet, lifestyle change, exercise, physical therapy,” Dr. Verna said.

Her certified areas of animal care include acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, cancer therapy, Chinese massage, Chinese food therapy and Chinese and Western medicine herbs.

Dr. Verna does no surgery, dentistry, X-rays, ultrasound or emergency cases, referring that kind of work to “conventional” vets.

“I have several local veterinarians that I’ve worked with where I send animals to them for” such services, she said. “And they send the pet back to me for getting their back adjusted, getting their pain under control, getting their legs strong and for cancer therapy” and the like.

Dr. Verna rarely turns away a patient.

But, “if somebody brings in a poisonous snake, I’ll probably draw the line,” she said with a laugh.

Under certain circumstances, she will treat wild creatures.

“I have actually acupunctured a beaver and a lot of woodchucks and some rabbits and squirrels that are in the hands of an appropriate rehab person,” said Dr. Verna, who this year expects to earn a master’s degree in Chinese medicine from the Reddick, Fla.-based Chi Institute.

Otherwise, “if it’s somebody who just took something in as a pet that’s not legal for them to have, I try to encourage them to turn that pet over to a rehab person who can handle it better.”

Dr. Verna, who makes house calls, opened Paws for Holistic Pet Care about nine years ago in a one-story cinderblock structure originally built for a High’s ice cream shop.

• Age


• Home

• Work
Veterinarian/owner, Paws for Holistic Pet Care, Marshall, 2011 to present; veterinarian, VCA Healthy Paws Medical Center, Haymarket, 2011-13; veterinarian/owner Healthy Paws Medical Center, Haymarket, 1991 to 2009.

• Why do you do the job?
When I was a little kid, my mom allowed me to have pet guinea pigs and gerbils and hamsters. We always had one dog and one cat in the family. I just fell in love with the idea of helping them get well.

It turns out I really liked people, too. And humans are so attached to their pets. It makes such a difference to me, especially with children, if I can help their pet get well and live a longer life.

• Family
Husband, Nick, 64; sons Kyle, 26, and Keenan, 23.

• Education
Doctor of veterinary medicine, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Blacksburg, 1989; master’s degree, cow reproduction, University of Maryland, 1985; bachelor’s degree, biology, with minors in animal science and chemistry, Virginia Tech, 1982; Blacksburg High School, 1977.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
About 31 years.

• Why do you live here? 
I love the beauty of the area and wanted to get out of the city — the bustle and traffic — and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

• How do you describe this county? 
Clean. People are friendly, welcoming — a little slower-paced. Life in the country is so much more pleasant than going on the Beltway.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
I would urge continued improvement of the communications network and broadband, because there are an awful lot of people who would like to work from home and can’t do so.

I’d like to get cell phone coverage from my home, especially in cases of emergency or a disaster.

• What do you do for fun? 
Hike, take the dogs for a walk in the Northern Fauquier Community Park; reading.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
The Northern Fauquier Community Park.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years? 
I’m a little concerned it will be a lot busier. There will be more lanes on (Interstate) 66. There will be more convenience stores, more convenience services. I am not thrilled about it, but I expect a lot of growth, a lot more faster-paced lifestyle.

• Favorite TV show?

I hardly ever watch TV. We stream some movies. We like some sci-fi, robot-type themes. We like time-travel stories. I don’t like to watch general television. I avoid the news like the plague.

• Favorite movie? 
That would have to be the Harry Potter series. I guess I liked the first one best (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), simply because of the magical aspects of childhood.

• Favorite book?
“Watership Down” by Richard Adams.

• Favorite vacation spot? 

Aruba (an island in the southern Caribbean Sea).

• Favorite food? 

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom? 
My parents. Don’t let life or other people’s opinion limit you in your dreams. I just think it was the way I was raised. My parents were very welcoming to each of us finding our paths and to live it. We were encouraged to never let anyone tell us no and not to accept anybody else’s limitations.

• Who’s your hero and why?
My parents. They never judged. They were always hoping to broaden other people’s acceptance of the fact that everybody is an individual and it’s important to respect each person’s individuality and do anything you can to help the underdog.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery? 
As a parent, my first priority would be to get my kids their education — as much as they want — and help them as far as they want to go in growing their dreams and desires.

I would preserve and prevent the destruction of the (Amazon) rainforest. I think it’s vitally important that we replant trees and restore it. I believe vegetation is our source of oxygen and our source of cooling our planet. And letting the forests diminish or the rainforest, in particular, be over-forested is going to kill all of us.

From there it goes to feeding the hungry, house the homeless, take care of the people who don’t have anything.

Have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? Email Don Del Rosso at or Lou Emerson at
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isabella · February 5, 2020 at 11:01 pm
Paws for Holistic Pet Care is giving the proper care to the pets. Pet care is owned by Dr. Rebecca Verna’s. She is sharing her intention rental car alternative and all the information that is connected to her Paws for Holistic Pet Care.
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