As Craig Barnett watched his daughter work toward becoming the veterinarian he once wanted to be, he didn’t linger with regret that it could have been him. He realized it still could be.
Now, after nearly 30 years in law enforcement, endless days capped with night classes and helping his daughter study with flashcards, he enters the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine with the class of 2024 as Alex Barnett continues her journey with the class of 2022.
The Barnetts are the first father-daughter enrolled at the CVM at the same time.
“I don’t know if I would have been here today, really and truly, without Alex,” Craig says. “Seeing her make the decision to go to vet school showed me that I could.
“I can’t say I would have been brave enough to venture into vet school, without her encouragement.”
The feeling’s mutual.
“I had a lot of reservations myself about vet school,” Alex says. “I didn’t know if I could do it or if I could be a good vet. My dad was always there telling me I could do anything, and that was a big part of me finally deciding to go for it.”
The Barnetts are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. They listen to each other thoughtfully. They give each other advice that’s supportive but grounded in reality. When Alex enrolled at Western Carolina University as an undergraduate on a pre-veterinary track, but also became interested in business, she questioned what to do next. Craig was there to help sort things out.
When Craig began to think about what to do next after retirement, he tagged along as his daughter went to pre-veterinary meetings. The two had numerous conversations about what he could expect from veterinary school, what types of classes he needed to take before applying and if he could actually accomplish it all. Alex was there to tell her dad that, as he’s always told her, all that was needed was putting his mind to it.
“He has worked so hard for this,” says Alex. “It took a lot of dedication and an extraordinary amount of effort. I am so happy for him.”
Craig always had an affinity for animals and went to Florida State University as an undergraduate to pursue marine biology and study sharks. Going to graduate school was always the eventual plan, but he second-guessed himself when he started getting mediocre grades.
In a biology class, he met a reserve officer for the Tallahassee Police Department and went on a ride-along with him. After graduation in 1992, he became a cop and stayed one for 27 years.
“Service has always been a drive for me, and I felt that with law enforcement,” he says. “I’m glad I went that route because it helped me mature. It gave me the ability to help raise a daughter who did go after her passion right out the gate.”
In 1994, he became a Raleigh police officer, but the pull toward animals was still strong. Thirteen years of his career was spent as a canine handler and eventually the force’s head police dog trainer. He brought many of the dogs he worked with to the NC State Veterinary Hospital for emergencies.
Even after completing a master’s program in homeland security and a promotion to a captain in the Raleigh Police Department, veterinary medicine was on Craig’s mind. At the same time, Alex was dedicating herself to the field.
He has worked so hard for this. It took a lot of dedication and an extraordinary amount of effort. I am so happy for him.
He had loved his career in law enforcement, but was ready for something new and stimulating. Not yet 50, he was also not ready to retire.
“I made up my mind. Vet school was what I was going to do, and I knew what I had to do to do it,” he says. “I’m that type of person. When I make up my mind, I’m all in. That was enough to keep me going.”
His job as a police officer didn’t end when he took off his uniform; he was on call 24-7, even after he started taking vet school prerequisite classes after shifts. He’d drive home from Raleigh to Fuquay-Varina after work and then drive out to Durham for classes. Alex had always been told by her parents to follow her passions. She was now telling her dad to do the same.
“He’s so well-suited to becoming a veterinarian,” she says. “He’s a guy you rely on. He’s sturdy, he’s stable, he’s a rock. He’s so good at working through problems and calmly finding solutions. He’s just the person you can come to when you’re having issues. He can make it better.”
When Alex started vet school, she moved back home with her parents. Now, they’ll be studying under the same roof, too, but not necessarily together. She is focused on avian medicine while Craig has declared a mixed animal focus. “He probably won’t need my help studying,” says Alex.
But what they’ll need from each other is something that has always been there — unwavering support.
“I’ve watched Alex go through two years of vet school, but I still haven’t really experienced it,” says Craig. “Thoughts go through your mind. I haven’t been a full-time student since 1992. Will my brain actually be able to absorb all of this quickly? I feel good about making it through and being a good vet, but those thoughts are there.”
Immediately, there are familiar words.
“He’ll be fine,” says Alex. “He’s got this.”
~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine