HUDSON, Ohio — Determination today leads to success tomorrow. It’s a mantra that 2023 Remarkable Woman finalist Dr. Kelly Willard has lived every day since she was a teenager.

Although she is examining what is perhaps the most under-determined cat that you’ll ever meet at present now.

Having your own practice doesn’t mean that you can’t do other things.

Willard’s dad is a Navy veteran and worked for years as a narcotic dog handler for the Baltimore City Police Department.

His dedication to service rubbed off on is daughter, so at age 31, this wife and mother of two daughters, with a thriving veterinary practice in Hudson, decided that she needed to do more.

So, she joined the army.

“I wanted something with some purpose and seeing that my dad was taken care of because he served made me think this is something I should look into. I have the drive, I’m a competitive and motivated individual, I was already physically fit so I thought, ‘Oh, how hard could this be,’ Or so I thought,” Willard said.

Willard is now a major in the Army Medical Corps whose specialty in veterinary medicine is in high demand.

Army vets take care of dogs from all services that perform tasks that keep soldiers safe. They also serve in reserves, especially in the beginning, which was a tough balancing act for Willard.

“The first unit they assigned me to was in California, so I used to have to fly from Ohio to California monthly and that was challenging trying to figure out timing with work and kids and my poor husband. He’s a saint,” she said

But the biggest challenge came a little later. It wasn’t long before she was called up to go to Afghanistan, leaving her family for a year of active duty.

“I was sad to leave but I was really looking forward to helping make a difference to be a part of something and help these dogs, which are also helping the handlers and the soldiers in general,” she said.

Military dogs save lives. In Afghanistan, they were crucial in finding explosives and weapons and defending soldiers in harm’s way.

“They go out first a lot of times and they may get shot at first there was one mission where there were two ranger dogs there they’re called MPC multipurpose canines one got shot but everybody knew where the bad guys were, but seven rangers were saved that night,” Willard said.

It is the bravery of the dogs and their handlers that has inspired Willard to become an advocate for care for military dogs.

Like many veterans who have served in combat zones, military canines can have mental and physical needs that need to be addressed when their service is done.

That’s why Hudson Veterinary is a partner hospital with Paws of Honor, a non-profit that helps provide veterinary care for retired military and police dogs.

“The dogs, they’re all taken care of. The military pays for them but when they retire, they go to live with one of their handlers. It’s a big cost on that poor handler who might be some 20-year-old kid and they’re stuck with a dog that’s arthritic or three-legged or dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome,” Willard said.

Willard said many groups have stepped up and provided vaccines and other medications that the animals need, and she is one of the dozens of veterinarians nationwide that provide care.

It’s not easy being a mom, a doctor, a marathon runner and soldier all at the same time. But Willard said life is about taking on challenges, working to overcome them and having a wonderful family that is always in her corner.

“I always seem like there’s a catch but there is not a catch, I just really want to help these dogs and the handlers who care for them,” she said.

Willard is currently taking on yet another challenge. She’s scheduled to begin training as a paratrooper.

Click here for more information about Paws of Honor.