University of Minnesota Alumni Association

The Last Word

My Heart Dog

Loving—and losing—a pet made me a better veterinarian.

Caitlin Feiock (B.A. ’11, B.S. ’11, D.V.M. ’20) is an assistant professor and serves as the clinical trials specialist and research manager of the Clinical Investigation Center (CIC) at the College of Veterinary Medicine. She is an avid trail runner, reader, and loves to spend time in the outdoors with her kids and dogs.
photo by matt white

My dog Artie came by her complications both naturally and by circumstance. Cattle dogs are intelligent, stoic, and skeptical (you would be too if one of your main job hazards was getting stomped on by a cow). They keep a small but very tight circle of trusted people.

When she was about 6 months old, Artie ran out the front door and decided to take herself on a walk. She got hit by a car and was rushed to the ER. She walked away from this with only minor bumps and external bruises, but she developed an all-encompassing fear of veterinarians and hospitals. She had to be anesthetized to receive even routine wellness checks and vaccines.

To have and love a dog that hated veterinarians is an irony that was not lost on me, given that Artie spent countless hours sleeping at my feet while I studied to become an animal doctor. Witnessing firsthand the Jekyll and Hyde transformation from the goofy and loving dog who I knew at home gave me so much patience, not just for the animals I was treating, but for the families that came with them.

Given Artie’s challenges, I started thinking about what I eventually wanted for the end of her life. I didn’t want her to experience even one second of anxiety about being near a veterinarian. At the same time, I didn’t want her to undergo a long and protracted process of dying naturally.

In true Artie fashion, she didn’t let me make the choice for her. Her last day started the same as any other. She trailed me through the kitchen, hoping to get scraps as I made breakfast and lunch. She alerted me any time somebody walked in front of our house. But, when I came home from work, she was just lying in her bed, gently wagging the tip of her tail. Out of an abundance of caution, I canceled my plans. She perked up a bit as the night went on, and asked to go outside so she could lay in the snow, her favorite activity.

Around midnight, Artie ran into a door frame and had a seizure. I laid down with her, her head resting on my shoulder. I knew this was my last night with her, and that I would call an in-home euthanasia service the minute they opened in the morning. I slowly stroked her ears and whispered to her that she was everything, all of the stars in my sky. After about 15 minutes, she sat up, made herself comfortable with her head nestled between my ankles. She took a deep breath and was gone.

All of the air and color went out of the room. I put my head on her chest, and when I didn’t hear a heartbeat, I felt my own heart rip open. Even though I knew this day would come, I had forgotten how to live without her.

After Artie died, I had a recurring dream, where the two of us were walking side by side through a snow-covered forest. She looked up at me with her big open-mouth smile and started to run ahead. She did this when she was alive, often with a twinkle in her eye when she’d disappear around the next bend. However, she always stopped to wait for me. In the dream, Artie kept getting further and further away. I always woke up right as she trotted over the next hill, disappearing into a fog between the pine trees. It was beautiful and devastating, which I have come to learn is the dichotomy of grieving something you love.

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