I am obviously going way out of sequence in sharing my influences and mentors, but AJ’s untimely death has struck me hard.

AJ, Allesandra Jacqueline Lesho, was our dog sitter. She died tragically in a car crash soon after achieving her longtime goals of serving on a mission trip to Ecuador and getting into veterinary tech school. AJ was 24 years old. She stayed in our home several times to watch our dogs. She will be greatly missed by humans and canines alike.

AJ was a wonderful and kind young lady. Small in stature, but a giant in attitude, spunk, and love for animals. She lived nearby and worked as a veterinary assistant at the Elkridge Animal Hospital, where we have taken our dogs for many years. She always greeted us (mostly just the dogs!) with great enthusiasm. Due to frequent vet visits with our old dogs, we got to see her quite often.

Just days before her death, I texted AJ about potential dog sitting for an upcoming trip. She apologized for the slow response since she had to get back from the Ecuadorian countryside to WiFi. I told her I hoped it was going well. She replied, “It is amazing.”

AJ’s lesson for me is not that life is precious and short (though it certainly is). No, the real lesson for me is how much I didn’t even know AJ. I knew she was going on a trip to Latin America this Summer, but I didn’t know that it was to Ecuador. I didn’t know that she was going on a mission trip to care for animals as a volunteer with World Vets. I didn’t know that she had gotten into her dream veterinary program. I didn’t know anything about her background or her family.

In fact, I really didn’t know much about AJ. Yet, she shared our home when we were away and she loved our dogs nearly as much as we do! So why didn’t we take more time to learn more about her? Do we all have so many relationships in our lives in which we know so little about people we interact with on a regular basis?

Yes, I think we do. Some people are much better at learning about the people around them. I guess I’ve always tried to respect privacy, telling myself, “people will tell me if they want me to know.” Others either don’t have the time for “peripheral” relationships or, sadly, don’t care.

I believe the reason that AJ’s short life has affected me so much is a feeling that perhaps I could have helped her more if I’d known more about her. I hope I would have encouraged her more in reaching her goals if I’d known about them.

I also speculate that AJ had to raise a good amount of money for her mission trip. Besides what we paid her to stay with our dogs, AJ never asked us for anything. There is no doubt in my mind that we would have donated if only we had known. With my network of doggie friends, I have no doubt that I could have talked at least one or two others into supporting AJ. Now, sadly, I am left with only sending donations in AJ’s name to WorldVets.org and her school, CCBC.

Tomorrow I will attend AJ’s memorial. I will likely talk to her family and friends to learn even more about AJ. I truly regret not doing so with her. That, I am learning, is a life lesson I’ve missed.

Thank you, AJ, we will definitely miss you!

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