A gecko comes in for a checkup. An ostentation of peacocks suffering from internal parasites seek a consultation and a cure. A large goldfish with a fatal condition that makes it look as if it’s being asphyxiated by a mass of orange caviar receives underwater surgery. A farmer brings in a chicken with respiratory issues. It’s all in a day’s work for Dr. Andrew Silverstone, owner of the Veterinary Hospital of Virginia Beach.
In between the cats, dogs and guinea pigs, Silverstone caters to a rather unusual clientele. He’s a vet who specializes in caring for exotic species. In veterinary practice since 2000, Silverstone can discover what’s ailing your Koi pond and will happily develop a personal relationship with your hedgehog. In consultation with state agents, he can even diagnose and prescribe treatments to help your beehive thrive.
Originally from Ohio, Silverstone set out to study physical therapy or engineering, but his career goals shifted during college when his mother, who worked to establish a Humane Society in a rural area desperate for such an organization, encouraged him to spend time with a local veterinarian she respected. Something clicked, and Silverstone never looked back.
“Back in the ’70s in rural Ohio, things weren’t nearly as progressive in terms of animal welfare as they are today,” he explains. Touring the area with his mother and “seeing the positive impact that quality animal care could have in a community on multiple levels” caused him to rethink his career trajectory and look seriously at becoming a veterinarian. “A vet is entrusted to care for the animal and also for the animal’s human companions,” he shares. “It’s about being responsive and mindful, with the focus on building long-term relationships of trust with clients.”
Prior to graduating from veterinary college, Silverstone had already gathered an impressive array of experiences that would inform the personal expression of his practice: oil spill animal response crew member, Spanish translator and equine monitor on the staff of the Olympic Veterinary Clinic for the ’96 Games in Atlanta, and stints as an oncology and radiology researcher. He is also a veteran of the United States Army Reserve Veterinary Corp.
As a post-doctoral research fellow at the National Institutes of Health – National Cancer Institute, Silverstone was part of a team that developed a cure for an inherited form of cancer in dogs: Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency, a rare disorder impacting the immune system. “Our research was the first where the dogs, who had helped us develop the treatment, were adopted out into the community,” he explains. “Our lab was the first to insist that the dogs be re-homed to loving families once the research was completed.”
Throughout his career Silverstone has sought out continuing educational opportunities covering a range of medical subjects, from working with marine mammals to studying small animal orthopedics. “It’s a form of purposeful meandering, of making connections” he reflects. “Everything I learn, every experience I’ve had, ultimately makes me better equipped to serve my clients.”
Silverstone’s clinic is warm and inviting, and there’s a special outdoor area that doubles as an indoor clinic alternative. “When there is too much stainless steel and too much tech machinery everywhere, clinics can seem sterile and imposing,” he relates, “so I wanted warm colors and natural looking surfaces where practical. The outdoor area is calming, and when a family makes the difficult decision to put a beloved animal down, they often prefer to say goodbye in a more natural setting. It can make things a bit easier.”
Silverstone is bilingual, and this helps him connect with the Spanish-speaking community in Coastal Virginia, an area of which he’s become fond. “The weather is usually temperate, and you’re central to a wide variety of environments,” he relates. “As a former Eagle Scout who happens to be Den Leader of Virginia Beach’s first female Cub Scout Den, it’s great that our region offers so many different opportunities to learn in the outdoors.”
As for his most exotic wildlife encounter, Silverstone remembers “a pretty unusual experience” in which he was asked to perform a necropsy on a Bald Eagle because of west Nile virus concerns. He explained that possession of the animal, or any part of it, was illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations. That’s when the requestor, a rather imposing figure, whipped out his U.S. Federal Marshals badge, deputized Silverstone on the spot, and pretty much ordered him to complete the exam. “But in terms of the most exotic animal I’ve ever treated, I’m still waiting for someone to bring in a tarantula!”