From the young age of 11, Covington resident Leslie Lathem knew what she wanted to be as an adult. She grew up with one sister and one brother in Alpharetta, where the family had lots of animals. One day their Shetland pony was attacked by a group of stray dogs. Their veterinarian told them someone would have to clean and dress the wounds daily. Lathem was the only one who had the stomach for tending the awful gashes. They built a makeshift stall in the family’s unfinished basement to keep the little animal isolated from more harm, and there Lathem tended the wounds, while falling in love with the field of veterinary medicine.
During her undergraduate years at the University of Georgia, Leslie took care of more horses on campus. She happily remembers that running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker loved the livestock almost as much as she did, visiting them almost daily.
"I think he wanted to be a cowboy," she smiled recalling conversations they had during those carefree years, where she was on the track team and a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority.
During veterinary school at UGA, Leslie did an internship in Kentucky with the Rood and Riddle Clinic, where thoroughbred horses are treated, to see if she wanted to stay in the large animal field of medicine. It was there she decided she would rather treat small animals and exotic pets.
For the last ten years, Dr. Lathem has been helping to heal animals and educate their owners about pet care at Honey Creek Vet Hospital in Conyers.
When asked about the easiest part of being a vet, she smiles and replies, "That’s easy. I love when people bring in a new pet for the first time. They are always so excited, and the young animals are always healthy and vibrant."
The hardest? Of course, it’s when an animal has to be euthanized.
"It’s hard on the vet, too. Most people don’t realize that. Especially, if it’s an animal we’ve cared for a long time."
When asked what her most important job is, she instantly replies, "Being a good mother to my son and daughter."
Jake, 16, plays baseball for Eastside High as a pitcher and outfielder, among other sports and activities. He has the honor of being one of 21 high school students, recently selected for a position in Youth Leadership for Newton County. The students will attend government meetings to learn more about the local political process and also attend a leadership retreat at UGA.
Mary, 13, is active in the Clovers & Company 4-H Club and the Cousins Middle School Chorus and has performed in more than 25 musicals and plays in the area, honing her acting and singing skills, as well as learning new dance moves. At Social Circle Theater she even learned to tap dance in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" earlier this year.
The arts have had a special place in Lathem’s heart since she was very young. From the age of 4 until she was 15, she performed with the Atlanta Ballet, including a spot in "The Nutcracker," performed at The Fox Theater.
Lathem and her husband, Jim, a soil scientist with the USDA, spend countless hours each month volunteering, raising money and watching their children perform or pitch or participate in their various activities. In addition, Lathem acquires and manages costumes for more than 200 children in productions with The Arts Association in Newton County, is on the board of Humane Society of Newton County (which sponsors The Mutt Show on the square in Covington and Rabies Clinics in the spring), and is a member of Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful (where she is on the executive board and fund raising chairman).
When asked what else she would like to do, Leslie chuckles and admits, "I’d like to write more. Maybe I’ll add that to my list when the children get a little older…" …when she can find the time.