Karen Thomason knew she wanted to be a veterinarian from the age of four. “From the time that I can remember … I was telling my parents that I wanted to be a vet,” she said. But it was a long road to what would become her lifelong passion and career. Thomason, who owned and operated Blue Ridge Veterinary Hospital in Floyd for nearly 30 years prior to her retirement in November, said she wasn’t a particularly good student in grade school.
In high school, she received a D in her first quarter of math. She told herself, “If I want to be a vet, I can’t be doing this,” and went on to graduate in the top 5% of her high school class, gaining admission to the University of California at Davis as a math major. Even after overcoming her challenges with math, however, Thomason knew that admission into veterinary school was extremely competitive, and she continued to study diligently.
At the time she entered college, Thomason recounted, there were only 17 vet schools in the entire country, and you had to be exceptional to get into any one of them. When you arrived, Thomason said, you were among the highest-caliber students in the world, and at first, Thomason feared she couldn’t compete. “The first week of vet school, I called my mom and said, ‘I’m going to have to quit,’” Thomason remembered. She described lots of memorization in the first couple years of her graduate education, which required a different set of skills from the problem-solving she had learned as a math major.
But Thomason persisted—because caring for animals felt like a true calling. “You really have to love it, because it’s not a lucrative career,” Thomason said. “You have to have that drive and a type A personality. You have to be a go-getter to do something like this. But I can’t imagine doing anything else in my entire life.”
After moving with her husband (whom she met in California) to Floyd in 1989, Thomason quickly established her vet practice, and has been serving local pets and their owners for the past three decades. Robison seems to remember every animal she’s ever treated, and the “wins”—where a sick animal returned home happy and healthy—stick with her as closely as the losses.
She said over the span of her career, she’s served clients—both human and animal—and then watched them grow up, get older and pass away, only to serve their children or their children’s pets. Serving the community of Floyd has given Thomason the opportunity to form particularly close relationships with her clients. “Developing such close relationships with people is the biggest benefit of a small town,” Thomason said. “It really is a different sort of people who are here.”
Thomason is reserved by nature, and said that being surrounded by such easy-going, understanding people helped her come into her own as a new vet. “I’m kind of an introvert so it was a hard thing going from love of animals to having to express myself in the exam room. It was a really difficult transfer for me to do that, but I learned to do it, and I’m comfortable in my own skin now,” Thomason explained. “The people in Floyd have made that so much easier too, they’re so kind and not in a hurry, and most really want to listen to what you have to say,” she added.
Thomason expressed how much she’ll miss her practice and seeing her clients and friends every day, but emphasized that she’ll still have plenty of animals in her life during retirement. She mentioned a low-cost animal dentistry in Roanoke where she may volunteer. “I’ll be involved in something like that, because I only have six animals in my house and that’s just not enough for me. I want to see a lot of animals every day,” Thomason said. She also plans to do some RVing in her now-free time. “I haven’t seen much of the United States, and I’d like to see some more.”
As far as what she’s taking away from nearly 30 years of practicing medicine in Floyd, she said, “I love my clients, I adore my patients, and it’s such a joy to work with them on a medical level every single day. I would die happy having done what I’ve done. I’ve learned so much about people and about vet medicine.”