Salty Paws Veterinary Hospital
Making the vet a happier place for your pet
Salty Paws celebrates 25 years in York County
By Melissa James, York County Contributor
Trembling. Hiding. Shaking. Whimpering. Many pet owners have witnessed these heart-wrenching signs of fear from their furry friends when the time comes for a visit to the vet. Just as humans can get worried about a trip to the doctor, pets can experience extreme stress, too.
Cool. Calm. Relaxed. Stress-free. This might sound like a spa, but we’re still talking about the vet! Specifically, Salty Paws Veterinary Hospital— providing Fear-Free Certified staff to facilitate the best possible visit for the patient.
“During my early years of practicing veterinary medicine and surgery, I realized there was a dire need for addressing behavioral problems in pets, versus just the presenting physical symptoms,” said Dr. Sharon Dirmeyer, lead veterinarian and co-owner of Salty Paws Veterinary Hospital. “To do this, I knew I needed more time with my patients, instead of simply moving them through as quickly as possible.”
Dr. Dirmeyer and her business partner and hospital director Teri Politi, decided to open their own practice where they could have more control over the schedule and where they could create a more relaxed environment for clients and their beloved pets.
“I wanted to help prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety and stress in pets,” said Dirmeyer. “So, Teri and I worked closely together to design a warm, serene and caring environment for our clients and their pets.”
Already living in York County, the pair knew they wanted to establish their business here as well. Although they tried, they couldn’t find a suitable building to repurpose, so they had to build Salty Paws’ facility from the ground up. They were excited to find property nearby that offered a prime, accessible location with great exposure on Hampton Highway.
“It was quite an amazing process,” recalled Dirmeyer. “We had to start from the very beginning, meeting with bankers, planners, architects and more. But we just jumped in and did it! We’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished and what we provide to the local community. We’re also thankful for everything the community provides to us in return.”
In addition to a stress-free environment, Salty Paws also focuses on educating pet owners about the facts and effects of behavior problems on their pet’s health and well-being.
“I learned that one of the best ways to alleviate fear and anxiety in pets is to inspire and educate the people who care for them,” Dirmeyer said. “This had to begin with our team and trickle down to our clients. We are lucky to have some of the best staff around. They are so dedicated and capable. We have created a healthier approach to behavior problem management and prevention by providing staff and pet owners with the fear free approach to education.”
Despite extreme staff shortages for veterinary practices throughout the Hampton Roads area, Dirmeyer said that Salty Paws has been fortunate to retain most of their long-term employees for many years. They’ve even been able to bring on new doctors and support staff when needed. Dirmeyer said they do this by offering flexible schedules and investing in the health, well-being and education of their staff.
“We affectionately call it the Salty Paws Club,” remarked Dirmeyer. “We’re a close-knit team and we’ve been lucky to find like-minded, passionate, quality doctors and support staff to join our practice.”
As an animal science major—as well as a horse trainer and equestrian enthusiast—Dirmeyer always aspired to pursue a focus on behavioral health for pets.
“From age 13 on, I never wanted to do anything else,” Dirmeyer said. “I love working with animals and people. I literally have a dream job of providing services to both and helping to enhance their relationship with each other.”
The last piece of the stress-free puzzle is to provide clients with enough time and personalized attention to ease their concerns, so their feelings don’t affect the pets.
“Most veterinary practices are now corporately owned,” commented Dirmeyer. “They are being bought up like flies by big conglomerates, as older doctors retire. By maintaining private ownership of Salty Paws, we have more control over our processes, schedules and values. We pride ourselves on spending time with our clients and really listening to their concerns.”
When asked what makes her feel most fulfilled about her business, Dirmeyer said it’s the validation she gets from positive feedback and affirmations from her long-time clients and staff.
“To have families and other professionals that I hold in high regard say that we’ve created such a special place really speaks to my heart,” Dirmeyer said. “They comment on the curb appeal, our kind staff, and the calming atmosphere in each of our spaces. They notice the pleasure we get from seeing our clients enjoy the fruits of our labor. How can praise get any better than that?”
Providing even more validation, the practice has received several “readers’ choice” awards over the years, including the 2022 Coastal Virginia Gold Award for Veterinary Practices, the 2022-23 Next Door Neighbor Favorite award, and the 2023 Coastal Virginia Overall Best Award for Veterinary Practices.
“I’m just so proud of our team for helping us to achieve these recognitions,” said Dirmeyer. “It’s a true testament to their hard work and dedication to our mission and patients.”
In addition to focusing on patients, Dirmeyer and her team are passionate about supporting the local community and are active with several rescue facilities in the area. They support the Peninsula SPCA and have spent years assisting the nonprofit with animals needing care. Dirmeyer is also on the board for the Peninsula Animal Referral Center on Route 17 in York County, which provides specialty and emergency services to pet owners throughout the Peninsula.
It’s just another reason the owners are grateful to be part of the York County business community. Dr. Dirmeyer said the County’s “Buy Local” and “Keep it in the County” initiatives have really helped them be successful. She added that she lives near a member of the York County Board of Supervisors, and she appreciates how they listen to her input and concerns.
When not working, Dr. Dirmeyer previously enjoyed trail riding, horse training and teaching students to ride. Now, she sticks to trail riding and golf! She said that she and Teri have no immediate plans to retire or sell the practice.
“I will go to my grave owning Salty Paws, unless I’m sure it and our employees are free to maintain our practice lifestyle,” Dirmeyer proclaimed. “Corporations can provide many resources to this cause, so we’re hopeful this will eventually lead to partnering with the right corporation.”