While attending veterinary school at Virginia Tech, Dr. Krisi Erwin went to a weekend seminar for complementary medicine where visiting veterinarians talked about acupuncture, massage and herb therapy as a complement to conventional veterinary practices. Combining the two is a holistic approach; considering your pet’s entire well-being and a mix of treatments, not just individual symptoms or conditions.
Erwin was intrigued and after becoming a practicing veterinarian, continued to educate herself. Her interest peaked as she began to study the benefits of acupuncture.
A yoga class at Longwood University would eventually send Erwin down a path of complementary, holistic medicine for animals. When the instructor showed the class a video of a man having brain surgery while fully awake, only using acupuncture in place of anesthesia, Erwin knew it was a technique she wanted to learn.
Erwin worked nearly a decade at Leesburg Veterinary Hospital where she would provide acupuncture and specialized services such as in home euthanasia in addition to conventional veterinary services.
But over time, Erwin craved a change.
“I was getting a little burned out in general practice, so as I was trying to figure out what to do for quality of life and also for the next leg of my career,” Erwin said. “I started learning more about hospice and I went to a hospice conference in California and felt that’s where I needed to be.”
As a result, Erwin started Wholistic Paws, a mobile pet service offering acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal medicine, rehab and in-home euthanasia. She and her husband, Jeremy, grew the business part-time for nearly a year, then as the call for her services increased, Erwin began operating Wholistic Paws, full-time. Loudoun residents may also know them as the organizers of the annual Pet Remembrance Candle Lighting Ceremony.
Now 10 years later and with the support of the community, Erwin and her husband have continued to grow their business opening the Wholistic Paws Companioning Center in Ashburn. The Center got its name through the philosophy of hospice work where care providers remain with and support patients until the very end. Erwin said many of her acupuncture patients are well enough to travel to a central location, and having a physical office allows for rehabilitative space. The space also accommodates support groups and educational classes, Erwin said.
Erwin specializes in acupuncture and is continuously learning how to treat animals with Chinese and Western herbs. She said the center’s pharmacy is fully stocked with herbs as well as many conventional medicines.
“The class I went to on western herbs, we were talking about drugs and the teacher said, ‘Well, this is medicine too. Just because it’s plant based doesn’t mean it’s not effective,'” Erwin said. “And a lot of our conventional drugs have roots in plant medicine to begin with.”
In the near future, Erwin would like to add chiropractor and ultrasound capabilities to the center.
Wholistic Paws has specialized in end-of-life care and in Erwin’s perfect world, she sees her center going hand in hand with conventional veterinary practices as a way to monitor diet and wellness.
Some practices like Ashburn Veterinary Hospital have an in-house complementary medicine doctor, but there are no other complementary medicine practices that have a central base in addition to home visits, Erwin said.
Having worked in Loudoun for years, Erwin and her husband have loved being a part of the Loudoun community. She hopes the Wholistic Paws Companioning Center will be a place that will inspire young people to explore veterinary medicine, and a place to better serve families and their beloved pets.
“People coming here might be very afraid. Their pet may have just been diagnosed with cancer or they’re thinking they’re going to have to euthanize for mobility issues. So we want them to feel like it’s quiet, peaceful, there won’t be 10 animals waiting,” Erwin said.
The center will have a soft opening later in May, with an official celebration over the summer, Erwin said. While the opening of the center is reason enough to celebrate, Erwin also wants to recognize present and past patients and members of the community that donated to Wholistic Paws’ crowdfunding efforts. They believed enough in her dream to help her make it happen, Erwin said.
“To me, it’s very meaningful that the community participated as much as they did. It means a lot. For Jeremy and I, each of these animals become part of who we are and we get to revisit with people every once in awhile when they need help and I just want this to be a good place for the community,” Erwin said. “We really want to do right by the animals.”