FACETIME- Dirty dogs: Local animal lover pursues her dream

Patricia Wilkinson

Last summer, when Patricia Wilkinson got a call from a friend that a snake was loose in the Belmont Lofts condominium complex, she knew just what to do. Rather than taking tools or weapons, Wilkinson brought a pillow case and calmly picked up the snake.

"Snakes," she says smiling, "are just misunderstood."

Wilkinson, who has always been a lover of all creatures great and small, is acting on her passion for animals and doing something many people dream about but few dare to do. After quitting her full-time job as a respiratory therapist at UVA, she opened her own business, a self-service dog wash located in Belmont.

 Wilkinson, 53, "just has a way" with animals, says longtime friend Maria Bell. "She's not afraid of them, and they do what she wants."

It was Bell who called Wilkinson to remove the snake from the condo complex, and she recalls how Wilkinson grabbed the critter with ease while a small crowd of men "stood by in awe."

Located on Avon Street under the Belmont Bridge, Wash & Wag opened quietly in early February. While initial business has been slow, and while running her own business is "terrifying and exciting at the same time," Wilkinson says it "just feels right."

The Belmont resident learned how to handle snakes– and a bevy of other creatures– in her four years serving as the game warden for Falls Church. She says she did everything from investigating possible animal abuse to conducting rabies education seminars in local schools. While she loved her job, she never made enough money to support herself so she decided to go into what she calls "people medicine."

In the same determined manner that she rescues snakes, she has tackled and overcome a number of obstacles on the road to small-business ownership. It was extremely difficult, for example, to find a location she could rent that was willing to accommodate so many four-legged friends traipsing through the doors.

As it turns out, she found the perfect little place in her very own neighborhood, a place she believes is exactly "the way a neighborhood should be." She loves that fact that Belmont still has little shops and that "neighbors take care of each other."

To celebrate the shop's opening, Wilkinson organized the first annual Wag for a Wash run on Saturday, April 5 right outside her store. And the grand prize? A free dog wash, of course.