And that’s how you get kicked out of school.


Hold on, I’ve been refreshing my email since I got home.

I’m waiting on an email from the school principal.

By now, she’s probably been notified about the incident after school.


You know when the class “trouble-maker” does something bad and the whole class gets punished for it? I’m waiting for a new school rule to be announced to punish other families.


No, Emma and Kate are good kids. They don’t listen to Scott and me but they somehow listen to their teachers. But we are the Burtons and I swear this shit only happens to me.

Stella shot up to legend status after school today.

Legend status. Stella, the big black dog that will stand the test of time. New school rules written because of her heroic entrance onto school grounds. She busted out of the car in the name of her friendly breed, the labrador retriever. No dog has come that close to setting a paw inside the school.

She did it. She put a paw inside the school.


We live far enough away that I drive the kids to and from school.

On the rare occasion, I bring Stella with me to pick up the girls. Today was a rare occasion. I thought she could use the fresh air. The school staff hates me.


The wait in the school car line started out fine. I caught up on some emails, I helped write a rap song for my friend’s baby book, and then I talked to Scott on the phone. Stella waited with her eyes on the prize.


The school bell rang. Cars inched forward. I made my way to the front of the school. I saw Kate running toward the car with a smile on her face.

Oh, she looks happy today.

“Hi, Kate!”

I waved.

Kate opened the door.

“Oh no, wait!”

Gone. Stella was gone.

A wave of screams pierced the air. Brothers protected their sisters with backpacks. Teachers grabbed their walkie talkies and ran towards Stella. All eyes went to the black blur jumping on kid after kid. Stella’s big tongue crossed over every face she could reach.

I rolled my window down.


Kids moved in swarms from spot to spot in the grass. Boys dive-bombed Stella. Stella jumped on teachers. Stella knocked down a girl. The girl cried.


What do I do? I don’t know what to do. Do I get out? Do I…no, I shouldn’t film this.

A teacher walked up and down the sidewalk.

“Whose dog is this?! WHOSE DOG IS THIS!!”

“Oh, um! Hey!”

I slowly lifted my foot off the brake and rolled forward alongside the teacher.

“Mine. She’s mine. I’m sorry! What do I do?! EMMA AND KATE STOP LAUGHING! GET HER! GET HERRRR!! Should I get out?”

“No, stay here and we’ll get her. What’s her name?”

“Stella. I’m so sorry.”

Emma runs by, laughing.

“That’s my dog! STELLL-LAAAAA!”

I could feel the helicopter parents hovering behind me. They had the principal on speed dial.

“Stellaaaa! STELL-LAAAAAA!!”

Oh my God, this is a nightmare. I’m going to get sued for having a dog that loves to play with kids. They’re going to talk about me on News Talk radio tomorrow. They’re going to make a joke about that old movie with the man screaming, “Stella!”


Stella ran towards the open door into the school.


NO! I’m going to have to chase her up and down hallways. She’s going to knock over desks and leave paw prints on white boards. They’re going to send my kids to private school after this. We can’t afford that! 

Stella placed one paw inside the door. A teacher grabbed her collar and yanked her back.

Oh, whew. Ok, it’s ok.

Emma hopped in the car. Her face was red and she had the hiccups from laughing so hard. Kate pushed her way in. The teacher dragged Stella back into my car and shut the door.

“Stella wanted to go to school, mom!”

“Please don’t tell your dad.”

The girls called Scott.

Scott knows. I heard the disapproving, “Oh, Julie” over the phone. But it really should be “Oh Stella.”

It crossed my mind that maybe it’s in my head. This probably happens all the time. Many families in the area have friendly labs.

And then Emma’s friend rang our doorbell. Emma asked her if she heard what Stella did after school.

“THAT was STELLA?! Our teacher told us to stay inside because there was a big dog running around!”

And that’s how legends are made.

I’m waiting to read the disapproving email.



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But then there’s Kate.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

The five stages of grief. The experts say they can come in any order. They can last years or a few moments. Our dog, Bailey, has been gone for a week now. It hasn’t been easy for our family to move on.

But then there’s Kate – high tailing it straight to acceptance because she’s a mini serial killer with no emotions.

I’m exaggerating about the serial killer part.


She does care. I know this because she has no desire to hunt with Scott and Emma. She doesn’t like seeing animals die. But once you’re dead – well, Kate…she…

she asked me for a cat before we even left the vet hospital parking lot, like, two minutes after Bailey’s final heartbeat.

Me: Did you just ask for a cat?

Kate: Can I? I really want a kitty.

Me: (in tears) Aren’t you sad about Bailey?

Kate: Bailey is gone. Can we get a cat?

Denial. Kate was in denial. She wanted a cat. She couldn’t comprehend Bailey’s death. Her tears would come. The pain is immense and it’s just her way of dealing with it.

I’m not a psychologist. But it sounded good in my head.

Scott’s mom called as soon as we arrived home without Bailey.

Kate: Did you tell Nana Bailey is dead?

Scott: KATE.

Kate: What. Why is Emma crying?

Me: She is sad, Kate. Bailey won’t be coming home.

Kate: Don’t smile, Emma! Don’t you smile at me! Ha!

Scott and I will still catch ourselves using the plural form of dog. Did you let the dogs out? Did you feed the dogs? 

Kate: Uh, only one dog now. Stop saying dogs.

It is true – we only have one dog. And Belle wouldn’t eat for days. She also needed one of us to walk her to the grass because her partner in poop was gone. The vet told me Belle needed a lot of attention. Dogs grieve too. Kate overheard my phone conversation.

Kate: Oh Belle Belle! You’re so cute! Yes, you are! You’re so cute and so alive! You’re alive, Belle! Give me some kisses!

Leaving the house is different. Our routines are broken. I spoke to a black jacket on the floor before I took Kate to school. Come on, Bay!

Kate: Ha! It’s a jacket! Mommy, you called the jacket Bailey. That was crazy. She’s dead.

Dumping the vacuum cleaner out makes me tear up. Her fur is still there.

Me: Scott, guess which room had the most Bailey fur? Kate’s!

Kate: Dead hairs!

Scott: KATE. You need to be nice. Bailey was my friend. We will never see her again. Stop talking like this.

Kate: But she’s not here.

Scott: She was still my friend. I lost one of my best friends forever.

Kate: (gives Scott a hug. Looks at me from the corner of her eye. Snaps at me.) I’m going to my room now.

Me: Wait. Kate, are you sad Bailey isn’t here? It’s ok to feel sad.

Kate: (pauses) Yes.

Scott: Are you?

Kate: Ugh, just stop talking about it. (Runs to her room)

I had to buy Belle more food at PetSmart. I knew it would be difficult walking out with just one small bag of dog food. I brought Kate with me on purpose. She would be my rock.

Kate: Let’s go look at the fish!

Me: Ok.

Kate: I wish I was a fish.

Me: No, you don’t. You would di…uhhhh. Hey, let’s go look at the cats now.

Kate: Yay!

Me: Should we get a cat?

Kate: Yeah, let’s get one. I like the orange one.

Me: I do too. Oh no. A black friday special. Already declawed with shots and ready to go for $50 bucks! And he’s a year old and loves to cuddle! Damnit. Kate, I can’t. Daddy will be upset. We need to wait a little bit before we get another pet. Daddy misses Bailey too much right now. A cat won’t help him.

Kate: Why did Bailey die?

Me: She had a thing called a brain tumor. She wouldn’t have remembered us if we brought her home. She was a different Bailey when we brought her to the hospital. She was dying. The vet can make her go to sleep. She didn’t feel pain when she died.

Kate: Oh. Bailey probably remembers us now. Heaven is where you remember people.

Me: Yeah. She knows who you and Emma are. Ok, let’s get a toy for Belle and get her food and go. Maybe we’ll get a cat another day.

I walked out of PetSmart with Kate.

Ok, she gets it. Her way of dealing with grief is different than most of us. She has accepted. She has tougher skin, that’s all. I can’t wait to tell Scott she’s not a serial killer.

Kate: We will get to see Bailey when we’re dead too.


How do you deal with death? Have you ever had to tell a child about death? How did they handle it? Do you have a pet that is running around with Bailey? 



She’s still the best one.

Our labrador retriever, Bailey, had a seizure this weekend.

This isn’t a sad post. Bailey is alive and snoring at my feet. I have my sweatshirt over my nose and my eyes are watering because I can taste her farts in my mouth.

Bailey was born to retrieve birds. The name of her breed says so. Her pedigree is filled with generations of ribbons and trophies. Bailey’s mother and father produced a bird hunter’s dream dog. Bailey was born in Friendship, Wisconsin, ten and a half years ago. She’s 73 now.

She was picked by her master, a man she would know as Scott. “I want the one chasing all those kittens.”

And me, Scott’s wife of two weeks. “That one? Not only is she a bitch but she’s a real bitch!”

She later peed on me twice during the drive back to Kansas.

For the past ten years, the second weekend of November belong to Bailey and Scott. It’s pheasant season. Northwest Kansas is invaded with men in orange vests, guns and retrieving dogs. Most dogs don’t listen. Some are left at home because they are gun shy. Not Bailey. She will retrieve anything under her master’s command.

She has spent her life waiting.

She has been waiting for a bird to fall from the sky.

Then it happens. Her eyes set on the spot. She listens and waits for his voice.


She’s off. A thorn in her eye. A bloodied up paw. Bailey has endured the worst of the fields she has ran across over the years. She doesn’t feel pain. She picks up the bird with her mouth, careful not to puncture the bird with her teeth. She races back to the spot she left and she sits. And she waits. The bird is still in her mouth. Bailey waits for his hand to appear in front of her. And then she listens for his voice.


“Good girl.”

My phone rang this weekend. I heard his voice.

“Bailey is retired. She had a 10 minute seizure in the field. She collapsed at my feet. She got the first bird and collapsed…..

….she’s still the best one.”

My eyes are still watering.

Bailey, at 73, with her final bird.
Bailey, at 73, posing with her master, Scott.