Lawyer Life Lessons from a Labrador Retriever

There is an old expression about aspiring to be the person your dog thinks you are. Most of us don’t come close.

Yesterday, Stella, our 11-year-old Labrador Retriever, died. Fortunately, she didn’t suffer long. The pictures of her below were taken less than two weeks ago. She could still go for relatively long walks and jump on the bed (unless someone was around to help, in which case she would offer a sad look). Stella had some troubles getting around on Sunday and Monday, but nothing that was super alarming. On Tuesday she had increasing paralysis and the next morning, our veterinarian came to our house and put her down. By then, she was in a coma and probably would not have lasted more than a couple of hours, but I was still glad to have spared her another trip to the veterinarian’s office. The one the day before had been rough on her – and me.


Although she had no American Kennel Club papers, Stella was all lab. Swimming, rolling in mud and eating just about anything were her exquisite pleasures. Stella’s origins were humble. My son bought her on his 20th birthday when he was in college. She was born in a trailer park near Pickens, South Carolina, and sold on Craigslist for $25. That was probably the best $25 anyone ever spent. Stella had all the good traits of her breed and then some. She was the sort of dog who everyone liked, even those who didn’t like dogs. (It’s hard for me to believe there are such people, but that is a discussion for another time.) She made friends with almost anyone she encountered. More than once while taking her for a walk, we would run into a young child who would spontaneously give her a hug – sometimes to their parent’s horror – and Stella might respond with a big face lick – again to the occasional horror of parents.

Stella was technically my son’s dog, but like many pets acquired by college students, the lines were blurry. She lived with us for a couple of years when she was about three and then, about a year and a half ago, she came to live with us full-time again. In between, she always spent a lot of time at our house. When my daughter who lived in Washington DC came back to Richmond at the start of the pandemic, Stella instantly adopted her. Stella slept with her and was at her feet every day as she worked remotely. That dog always knew who needed a friend and she would be there. Years before, she had done it for me. I suppose I would have gotten through that rough time without her, but I am not sure how.

Most dogs are the epitome of unconditional love and loyalty. On her last night, she couldn’t get up, but when my son got to the house, Stella raised her head and wagged her tail. She was there for him, even at the very end - which was also his 31st birthday, eleven years to the day after that puppy first went home with him. The whole family was gathered and there was not a dry eye in the room.

What does this dog obituary have to do with a law firm blog? Well, Stella and our other lab, Maggie, were regulars at the office. They loved going there and I think everyone enjoyed their company, but that is incidental. Stella’s passing is a reminder to all of us that life can change in an instant - and we can’t rewind the tape. Good lawyers are focused. They work hard. Often, we don’t take the time we should for our friends and families. We miss out on things. Sometimes those sacrifices are necessary. That’s true in any profession that matters. However, we should always remember that there is a cost to those sacrifices, and we need to work at keeping our lives balanced. Doing so will make you a better lawyer – and a better human too.

Maybe that expression about being the person your dog thinks you are is wrong. Perhaps we should try being more like our dogs. Love and loyalty are good things, even for us cynical lawyers.