After nearly five decades of seeing patients of the four-legged variety, a Pottsville area veterinarian will retire.

Dr. Sara Thornton will leave Schuylkill Veterinary Hospital at the end of business Friday and Dr. Jessica Walters will take over the operation the following Monday and rename it River Run Veterinary Hospital.

“I will miss the animals and the challenge of medicine,” Thornton said in an interview Friday at the animal hospital. “It’s like putting together a puzzle.”

She began work on June 1, 1983, when the operation was along North Second Street in the city. It moved to its current location along Route 61 in North Manheim Township in February 1987, and Thornton has been its owner since that year.

Beyond animal care, Schuylkill Veterinary Hospital offers a K-9 learning center for puppies and dogs, behavior services and surgeries. While Thornton has primarily treated dogs and cats, she has also cared for “pocket animals,” such as hamsters and guinea pigs.

A native of Hampton Roads, Virginia, Thornton, 62, received undergraduate degrees in biology from Virginia Tech, degrees in animal and poultry sciences from Tuskegee University and a doctorate of veterinary medicine degree from Tuskegee University.

She came to Pennsylvania when she took a summer job at a pharmaceutical company in Bucks County while in veterinary school and chose to practice in Schuylkill County for its proximity to larger areas.

“I wanted a rural area with access to big cities and this job came open,” she said. “I put a compass on a map and did a circle and looked for jobs in that circle. This (job) was one that was available.”

Dr. Sara T. Thornton examines Spotty, pet of Heather Marino, Orwigsburg, during her first examination at Schuylkill Veterinary Hospital on Route 61 in Pottsville on Sept. 1, 2006.


‘Generations’ of pets

She said the biggest highlight of working at Schuylkill Veterinary Hospital has been her relationship with clients, many of whom have been taking their animals to her since the early 1980s.

“I’ve taken care of generations of their pets,” she said, many of which she remembers. “Saying goodbye to those people is really hard.”

One longtime client sent her a card with photos of each of their six animals she has cared for over the years.

In addition to Thornton, the animal hospital has eight full- and part-time employees, three of whom have worked for her for more than 30 years: Jackie Clay, 32 years; Kathy Lischman, 36 1/2 years; and Karen Sippel, 30 years. One employee, Margaret DiMarcello, retired at the end of December after 19 years, but the others will remain.

Clay said working at the animal hospital “has been a good road” and is proud of Thornton.

“She’s been an outstanding animal doctor,” she said.

The employees aren’t the only ones clients see when coming to the animal hospital. Over the years, she has brought in her dogs, beginning with a Labrador Retriever named Tiger. More recently, her Labrador Retrievers, Orchid and Bling, both retired show dogs, have greeted them. Over the years, she worked with 10 other veterinarians but has been the only one in the operation for the past few years.

Thornton also bred and entered Labradors in competitions from 1995 until last year. In addition, she is an American Kennel Club judge of Labradors at dog shows throughout the tri-state area, which she plans to continue in her retirement, in addition to spending time with family and friends residing outside the area, and the animals at her North Manheim Township home.

Besides Orchid and Bling, Thornton has a houseful of cats, some of which she shows at cat shows, and two quarter horses, Dir and Kitty.

“I’m a horse girl,” she said. “I showed horses growing up.”

Sara Thornton talks about the C.O.P.S., canine observations and police safety, program she started with Michael Girvin Wednesday afternoon at the Canine Learning Center, next to the Schuylkill Veterinary Hospital, Pottsville, in July 2014.


On to the next step

Thornton said she will miss figuring out how to treat animals.

“It’s been an adventure, but I’m looking forward to the next adventure,” she said.

Born and raised in Auburn, Walters, 40, is a graduate of Schuylkill Haven Area High School. She received her associate degree in equine science from Delaware Valley University, a bachelor of science degree from East Carolina University and her doctor in veterinary medicine degree from Ross University’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

She has been a practicing veterinarian for eight years, five of which were in Baltimore, Maryland. She has been working at Blue Pearl Specialty and Emergency Center in Shillington for three years.

Her ownership of the animal hospital will mark the first time she is in charge of her own facility.

“I’m really excited,” she said Friday. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to offer more services.”

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