From the moment she got married, Ashley Leo, Class of ’24, and her husband, Andrew, decided to live life in full pursuit of their dreams. No matter the obstacle, Ashley, Andrew, and their two children forged paths that would fulfill their personal and professional goals. Ashley, a first-generation student in her family, always had a passion for veterinary medicine. For Andrew, it was a career in aviation through the United States Air Force, which brought he and Ashley to Guam.
While stationed at the U.S. military base in Guam, Ashley went on a hike and crossed paths with what would ultimately be the motivation she needed to pursue her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) – Apollo. “He was an emaciated, seemingly near death pit-bull, lifting his head just inches off the ground,” said Ashley. “At first, I was intimidated, but as he managed to get the energy to follow me back to my car, I admired his strength. It was there that I waited with him for several hours for help that never came. With the day coming to an end, I rushed him to the island’s only animal shelter where I surrendered him. Overnight he consumed my thoughts, so I called the shelter the next day to check on him. I was devastated when I was advised that in his best interest he would be euthanized. After much pleading, the shelter agreed to let me adopt Apollo and attempt to save him myself. I did not know what I wanted to be until I had this encounter with Apollo. I discovered my passion for animal care and ultimately my vocation in veterinary medicine.”
Ashley took Apollo to three different veterinarians and found he was only 18 pounds, had stage 4 heartworm disease, ehrlichiosis, and a torn cruciate. None of the veterinarians would take a chance to care for him, but Ashley didn’t give up hope. “The first few days were the hardest, he wouldn’t eat any brand of dog food I could find, I force-fed him water and hand-fed him ground beef and cottage cheese (not something I would recommend now as a veterinary student). My hope started to diminish as he became so weak that he was no longer able to stand. I will never forget how white his gums were, which I have now learned is a very serious clinical sign. Instinctually, I kept him propped up on pillows, hoping to make him more comfortable and it seemed to help his shallow breathing. By day three I thought I was going to lose him.”
Ashley never gave up, and through her tireless effort over the course of one year, Apollo would go on to survive, weighing in at 82 pounds and becoming a great family dog for seven wonderful years. Once Apollo was on his way to recovery, Ashley began volunteering with Guam Animals In Need and worked through that organization to become a veterinary technician with Marianas Vet Care, a small animal hospital in Barrigada, Guam. Andrew was then transferred to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, which set Ashley up to continue pursuing her dream as head vet tech at Whiting Veterinary Clinic. It was in this new role she learned most pet owners want the same thing she always wanted for Apollo – hope. The opportunity to provide that same hope to pet owners intersected with Ashley’s dream to take the next step toward becoming a veterinarian.
“Early in our marriage, my husband and I decided that we would lead our family by example. Given that foundation, how could we ever tell our children to follow their dreams if we did not follow our dreams ourselves?” Ashley pondered. After over 10 years as a veterinary technician, Ashley applied and chose to attend Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (Ross Vet) knowing the pursuit of her dream would mean being separated from Andrew and their children, now 9 and 12 years old. “Leaving my job and family behind to continue on to veterinary school may have been the most difficult decision of my life. But it was my children who made it easy with their support. It is difficult being away from them, but we look at it as a small sacrifice for the big picture. Technology has enabled us to keep me home without physically being there, and I'm involved in their daily life as much as possible. We FaceTime regularly and my husband sends me frequent candid photos and videos to highlight their days.”
As it would for anyone in Ashley’s shoes, being away from her family started to take its toll. Adjusting to veterinary school in an accelerated program so far away from home can present unique challenges for students, but fate would introduce Ashley to the next motivation she needed – Trinity. “A few days after being released from quarantine and settling into my apartment, I was scrolling Facebook and there she was. Her name was Sylvia, and her soulful eyes were staring at me through my computer screen, just as Apollo’s were that day in Guam. It was at that very moment I knew she was meant to be with me. On paper it didn’t make very much sense to take on such a responsibility, being on island less than one month and still adjusting to vet school. She had been hit by a car and left a tripod. She had been on two foster-to-adopt trials previously, only to be returned for anxiety issues. It was from her that I found new motivation; if she could be as happy and so full of life living with the challenge of only three legs, I could get through the challenges of vet school and my days without my family just the same.”