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Class of 2021 Story: Four Years, Four Dogs, One Unforgettable Journey

Erin Wilkins, Bubs
The class of 2021's Erin Wilkins with Mam, one of the guide dogs she helped train. Photo courtesy Erin Wilkins.

Class of 2021 Stories The following by Erin Wilkins is the third in a series of Class of 2021 stories running through May 7 leading to the CVM’s oath and hooding ceremony on May 10.

Read all of the stories here:

Most NC State College of Veterinary Medicine students look back on our four years here thinking about the friends that supported them. They’re the ones you met early on in your first year that you walked the halls with, sat in the lecture halls laughing due to a lack of sleep and who you share every triumph with.

Luckily enough for me, I not only had my classmates to lean on but the support of the dogs that accompanied me every day.

Bubs was my 8-month-old male golden retriever/Labrador retriever cross, in training to be a guide dog for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. I was his puppy-raiser.

He was a rash decision I made my senior year of undergrad at NC State, trying to fill up my time with a unique experience. He ended up being the best decision of my life.

When I read my CVM acceptance email, we danced around the room together in celebration. As I walked onto the CVM campus, finally realizing my dream, he trotted confidently at my left side as we experienced the moment together.

He was probably the reason so many people got to know me. There is no one more popular than someone walking the halls with a dog. To this day, I am convinced that most people only knew me as “the girl with Bubs” for most of the first semester because they knew his name and not mine.

Erin Wilkins
Wilkins with Bubs. Photo courtesy Erin Wilkins.

At the end of that first semester, our time together came to an end as he was ready to begin his journey as a guide dog. Since then I have raised three other dogs for the Guide Dog Foundation: Bergie, Mam and Murphy.

Many wondered how I was able to have time for puppy raising with the little personal time vet school gives you, but I do not how I would have gotten through without them.

I was always reaching down during lectures to rub their ears and give a quick pet. Having training sessions in between classes and long walks beside the cow pastures at lunch to decompress.

Reminding myself that we both need fresh air and to enjoy the little moments instead of letting the stress of the school year consume me. When I got permission from Dr. Laura Nelson, associate dean and director of academic affairs, to raise my third dog, Mam, I remember her giving her full support but advising me that by my fourth year I should probably take a break, as I would not have enough time.

I agreed with her. It seemed daunting and time-consuming as a second-year student. Then suddenly it was here and I was reminded of all the ways these dogs made those difficult days better.

So I made another rash decision, and Murphy became my fourth-year partner. Every day as we walk onto campus together, I’m reminded by his golden smile how I have yet to regret that decision.

Four years with four different dogs have left so many memories — calling someone over to help with a random training session on the hearth, bribing friends with puppy cuddles if they studied one more pharmacology lecture. Even having to say goodbye to my third dog in the middle of my anesthesia rotation and taking time to cry in the bathroom before continuing with our busy schedule.

It is hard for me to close this chapter and not swell with pride over how each dog grew into their purpose along with us.

Bubs is a rockstar guide dog who has expertly guided his handler around exciting places like Disney World. Bergie is a well-loved pet who enjoys hiking and swimming. Mam is a brilliant explosives detection dog with the ATF, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, who is about to graduate at the top of her class.

Murphy’s perfect demeanor and manners have made him a candidate to sire future generations of service dogs. Due to COVID, the timing of his training with me got pushed to overlap with my internship year. So naturally, I made another rash decision and decided to continue to train him as an intern.

Thank you, NC State, for embracing my passion outside of the classroom and allowing those four paws to take this journey with me.

Erin Wilkins is from Concord, N.C., and focused on small animal surgery at NC State. In 2020, she received the inaugural Samantha Lin Memorial Scholarship. After graduation, she will pursue a small animal rotating internship at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, N.J.