A love for animals runs in the family

Ashley Wright needs an extra hand – or maybe even two – to count all the veterinarians in her family.

By the most recent tally, there are at least a baker’s dozen, but, Wright says, a cousin or spouse could have easily been missed. Currently in her fourth and final year of Washington State University’s veterinary program, Wright will join the list this spring.

Unlike most of her peers in the class of 2024 and her family members, Wright, now 44 years old, didn’t take the traditional path of graduating with a bachelor’s degree and then jumping straight into veterinary school. 

“I turned 39 in the fall of 2017 when I started actively pursuing my prerequisites for veterinary school, and while I am surprisingly not the oldest in my class, I am one of the oldest in my class,” she said. “But you are only too old to do something when you decide you are too old to do it.”

A family history

In 1958, Ashley’s father, Roy Wright, graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from WSU, although then the university was known as Washington State College. Within a handful of years, he and three of his brothers – Charles Wright (’59 DVM), Howard Wright (’52 DVM) and Jesse Bone (’50 DVM) – were all practicing veterinarians in the South Puget Sound area. The brothers opened their first clinic in Lakewood, Washington, and would add three more locations over the years.

The list only expanded from there, as Ashley’s cousins ventured into the profession. None of her three older siblings went into veterinary medicine; however, she seemed destined to follow in her father’s footsteps.

“I grew up in the vet clinic, and I fully expected to go straight through college and straight into vet school – that had been my plan from the time I was about 4 years old,” she said.

Straying from her path

That clear path, though, took a turn when Ashley’s mother unexpectedly died.

“I was 14 when she died. To be honest, that kind of derailed my life in a lot of ways,” Ashley said. “It took me a long time to find my feet. If I had gone straight to veterinary school after high school, I would have graduated about 20 years ago, give or take.” 

Instead, Ashley struggled for more than a decade to find her calling as she pursued a career in criminal justice, completed a degree in biblical studies and attended seminary school.

Veterinary medicine, however, was in her blood, and in 2011, still unsure of her future, Ashley took over the management of her father’s clinic.

“I was working 60 hours a week and loving what I was doing,” Ashley said. “In the back of my mind, I was really wishing I’d gone to vet school years ago like I should have. But at this point, it seemed impossible.”

In 2016, her father’s clinic was destroyed in a fire. Rather than rebuilding, Roy decided it was time to retire. Now out of a job, Ashley decided to return to school – this time to become a veterinarian.

Ashley enrolled in Olympic College to complete a handful of prerequisites she lacked. She excelled in the classes and applied to begin veterinary school in 2018. Unfortunately, her first application was rejected.

“To be honest,” she said, “it felt devastating.”

Advisors at WSU suggested she enroll in additional courses to improve her resume. She took the advice and reapplied, this time successfully.

“Thankfully, I got in, and my dad was ecstatic. He has been so supportive of me – I couldn’t have done this without him,” Ashley said.

For the love of veterinary medicine

When Ashley graduates in May, she hopes to find a position at a mixed animal clinic where she can gain experience with both small and agricultural animals. Eventually, she plans to take over the last of her family’s clinics, currently run by her cousin Dr. Robert Wright (’84 DVM).

Ashley hopes her journey can serve as an inspiration for others.

“You need to believe that your dreams are possible,” she said. “My journey was not a straight road, but it made me into the person I am today, and I wouldn’t trade a single moment of it. All of the ups and downs made me a better person today so that I can be a better vet for my clients and my patients.”