ANIMAL EMPATHY: The unintentional all-women business thrives on compassion and camaraderie to provide the best care possible.


Michelle Tompkins, who owns Glade Creek Animal Hospital in the Alleghany County mountains, says she's seen a range of animal ailments but one that stands out is the time she treated the Aflac duck.

"He was on the wrong side of a dog and he got injured. His owner told me he used to model for the Aflac campaign. He was a petting zoo duck who got discovered," she says. "He required a lot of feather plucking. And ducks like to wet their food before they eat it, so he had to float in a sink and he got to wet his duck pellets. He felt great."

There's compassion involved in doctoring a duck. Or a tiny puppy with a tummy full of pebbles, or beloved cat who is an elderly person's best friend. Thompkins opened her practice in winter 2017 after serving as an apprentice in the county eight years, and provides a myriad of pet practices from wellness checkups to orthopedics. Her business --quite unintentionally--has an all-woman staff.

"It's not something I chose to do, necessarily, but especially in a small-animal practice, women are more suitable for that niche because they're so compassionate and nurturing," she says. "The amount of nurturing required in this job is unbelievable. It's like pediatric medicine in a way. I would certainly hire a fella to help us out, because some of the stuff we do is manually difficult, but it's worked out. I pity the first man I hire."

She says this because of the camaraderie women have. There's a tacit understanding, she says, with a female staff.

"I have two children, ages 7 and almost 4, and they are the reason I chose to become a business owner. The work I've done over the years can be challenging and rewarding, but my schedule can be very erratic," she says, "so establishing a business can allow me to be very flexible, and having a staff of women I can extend that flexibility to them. All but one are mothers, and we have an expectant mother now. So it gives me the chance to work with them in a way I know is required."

Tompkins, 35, graduated from the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech in 2010. Her practice in Sparta is in the former Alleghany County library building, which had been vacant for two years.

Because of its historical designation, grant money could be used to repurpose it. Tompkins contacted the Small Business and Technology Development Center for advice, and received her $60,000 grant followed by a $500,000 loan toward renovations, supplies and to have working capital to...

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