SERVICE EXCELLENCE

Saving a War Hero: Dr. Leah Smith’s Unique Career Path

Mar 30,2021
Military working dogs are tremendous assets – they protect our Soldiers. They are afforded the same status as military service members, both in the care they receive and the respect that they deserve.
Not many veterinarians can say they helped save the life of a highly decorated war hero. Leah Smith, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, is not only an experienced veterinarian - she is also a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, bringing a unique perspective to her current role as senior talent acquisition partner, students with VCA Animal Hospitals.

Dr. Smith has been in the Army for over 20 years. She spent her first four years on active duty, and the remainder she has served in the U.S. Army Reserves. Dr. Smith currently commands the 109th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, out of Garden Grove, CA, which falls under the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) out of Salt Lake City, UT.

Dr. Smith credits her military experience for her unique perspective on veterinary care.

“The military gives you a strategic understanding of how your position as a veterinarian impacts others in the world,” explains Dr. Smith. “As Army veterinarians, our first and foremost mission is to take care of people.  Our care of military working dogs affects humans directly, so we really have a one-health approach to Army Medicine.”

In the last ten years, Dr. Smith has been deployed twice.  Both times, she provided medical and surgical care to military working dogs (MWDs) and those of the U.S. allies. She was also responsible for ensuring that food Soldiers ate was safe through different public health efforts. 

“Military working dogs are tremendous assets – they protect our Soldiers.  We keep them healthy so they can carry out their missions to keep us safe,” says Dr. Smith. “MWDs are afforded the same status as military service members, both in the care they receive and the respect that they deserve.” 
 
VCA Voice Kuno the Military Dog
During her tour in Afghanistan, Dr. Smith had the opportunity to provide emergency medical care to Kuno, a three-year-old protection and detection MWD with specialist UK and host nation forces. Kuno’s role was to detect explosives, find hidden weapons and incapacitate the enemy if ordered to do so. In May of 2019, his unit was attacked, pinned back by gunfire from a concealed enemy insurgent. With his unit unable to move, Kuno’s handler relied on him to break the deadlock.

Kuno raced forward through a hail of bullets and wrestled the insurgent to the ground. Despite suffering two gunshot wounds in the process, Kuno did not relent until his unit was able to successfully neutralize the enemy.

Dr. Smith and her colleagues received Kuno at their military veterinary hospital and began to immediately treat his extensive injuries. They successfully stabilized him so he could be transported back to the UK for surgery.  

Kuno’s actions were fundamental in the operation. For his bravery and determination, Kuno was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, the highest award any animal can receive in the UK while serving in military conflict. 

Providing emergency care to wounded MWDs provides valuable experience with working well under extreme pressure. Dr. Smith says that her military experience has been extremely helpful throughout her entire career, both as a practicing veterinarian and as an Army officer. The leadership skills cultivated in the Army have served her well in her role as VCA medical director, and her unique career path is now an asset to her as a senior talent acquisition partner for students. 

“I think I bring an atypical perspective of the veterinary profession,” she says. “So many different career paths exist for veterinarians. Starting a career with VCA opens numerous doors for the future, and I hope by sharing my experiences I help veterinary students see the possibilities. We can always reinvent ourselves.”

VCA is proud to employ veterans and active military personnel in various roles across our organization.
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As Army veterinarians, our first and foremost mission is to take care of people. Our care of military working dogs affects humans directly, so we really have a one-health approach to Army medicine.
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