Day 7 – Sedialia, MO to St Louis, MO to Plano, TX

We woke on Thursday morning about 7 am and broke camp at the Missouri State Fair Campground in Sedalia, MO. We rode to a Burger King restaurant and ate a quick breakfast. Next we rode 3 miles to the Sedalia train depot to catch the Amtrak train bound for St. Louis. MO.

We arrived at the train station, removed the bags from our bikes and waited for the train. The train was 20 minutes late from its scheduled arrival in Sedalia. We loaded our bikes and gear onto the train and left Sedalia about 10:30 am. The train took us across Missouri to St. Louis, MO. We arrived in St Louis around 3 pm, late by about an hour.

Since we had a layover until the Amtrak train left for Dallas, TX, we rode our bikes to a coffee shop, hung out, visited, made calls and caught up on email. We ate dinner at a Panera Bread in downtown St. Louis, then rode back to the Amtrak train station.

Amtrak Train - St Louis, MO.

Amtrak Train – St Louis, MO.

We loaded our bikes and gear onto the Amtrak train bound for Dallas, TX. The train left St. Louis at 8 pm. I was better prepared for this overnight train ride – I had my long pants, hoodie, and pullover hat to keep me warm on the cold train. And I chose the rear fo the last car on the train – not as many people walking by and also farther away from the wailing train horn located on the front engine. I wrote notes about the trip and tried to get some sleep beginning with quiet hours (beginning at 10 pm).

I awoke from a fitful night of sleep at about 6:30 am. Ate breakfast in the train’s snack car (purchased coffee cake, coffee, and orange juice). The train arrived in Dallas, TX around noon on Friday. The weather was hot in Dallas (mid-90’s) – a change from the weather in Missouri.

I purchased a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) ticket, loaded my bike and gear onto the DART train from downtown Dallas, TX bound for Plano, TX. I rode my bike from the Plano DART station to my home, arriving home about 2 pm.

Trip Summary:
Bikepacked and camped for 353 miles on the Katy Trail in five days of riding in late September 2019. Rode more miles than expected due to detours related to flood damage from the spring 2019 flood of the Missouri River.

Bikepacking the Katy Trail in Missouri.

Day 6 – New Franklin, MO to Clinton, Mo to Sedalia, MO

We woke up on Wednesday morning at Katy Roundhouse in New Franklin, MO. We left at 10 am for what I though was going to be an easy day of riding to Sedalia, MO.

There was a detour West of New Franklin for trail repair.

We rode to Pilot Grove, MO and ate at Katrina’s Restaurant – had a cheeseburger, corn fritters and apple pie, and tea. It hit the spot.

Katy Trail - Pilot Grove, MO.

Katy Trail – Pilot Grove, MO.

Lunch at Katrina's Restaurant, Pilot Grove, MO.

Lunch at Katrina’s Restaurant, Pilot Grove, MO.

After lunch I felt energized and asked my friend Bobby if I could leave him and ride ahead to Clinton, MO and back to Sedialia, MO. My friend had bike repair gear, a phone, food, and water. I left him about 12 miles before Sedalia and rode ahead at a faster pace. Upon reaching Sedalia, I dropped by bags at our Sedalia campsite location. My friend would rid into town later and set up camp. For my quick ride from Sedalia, I only took essentials – bike repair kit, snacks, water, phone, wallet, light, map, helmet. The weather was pleasant. I left Sedalia at 3:45 pm.

Katy Trail - Windsor, MO depot.

Katy Trail – Windsor, MO depot.

There was a sandy section of the trail between Windsor and Green Ridge. The riding was slower there, but I had mountain bike tires to get through the sand. I saw some riders pushing their bikes through the sandy section.

Katy Trail - Clinton, MO depot.

Katy Trail – Clinton, MO depot.

I arrived at the Clinton, MO depot at 6:45 pm. I snapped photos, ate breakfast bar and chips, filled up on water and went to restroom. Headed out from Clinton, back to Sedalia at 7 pm. I stopped in Windsor, MO and ate two slices of pizza from Casey’s General Store, a drink, and fruit snacks for dinner. Due to the length of the ride, I did some night riding. The night was filled with the sound of crickets, breeze, and an occasional nocturnal animal.

I rode into the Missouri State Fairgrounds Campground, took a shower and went to bed in my tent. The campground had water, restrooms, and hot showers. The campground was in town, was lit very bright at night time and was next to a a very loud factory (an Owens Corning factory  across the street from the campground). Due to the lights and the loud factory across the street, I did not sleep very well.

I rode 118 miles that day (including detours due to flooding damage).

Day 7 – Sedalia, MO to St Louis, MO to Plano, TX

Day 5 – Tebbetts, MO to New Franklin, MO

We woke up at 7 am Tuesday morning and ate breakfast in the Turner Katy Trail Shelter in Tebbetts, MO. We packed up our bikes, saddled up, and began riding westward about 8:30 am. We stopped at the North Jefferson trailhead depot to fill our water bottles, eat a snack, and take a break.

Katy Trail Depot - North Jefferson, MO.

Katy Trail Depot – North Jefferson, MO.

We rode to Hartsburg for lunch,  but nothing was open. We took a break at Hartsburg and enjoyed the chimes of a church bell (many small towns along the Katy Trail have church bells that chime on the hour). We rode on. I got a flat on my rear tire west of Hartsburg. I changed the flat in 20 minutes and rolled on.

Repairing a flat tire on the Katy Trail

Repairing a flat tire on the Katy Trail

Around Wilton, MO, we met a gravel rider who lived in Columbia, MO. He was out riding gravel roads on his gravel bike. He rode with us about five miles and told us about the flooding, trail conditions, and local detours. The trail was muddy in places and it was slow going.

Katy Trail - Cooper's Landing.

Katy Trail – Cooper’s Landing.

We ate lunch east of Easley, MO, at Coopers Landing. The establishment was located on the banks of the Missouri River. It had significant flood damage and the owner was still working to repair his establishment before he could open for business. We sat at picnic tables and ate from supplies on our bikes (trail mix, breakfast bars, water, etc). The river  was high stage (still running swiftly with high volume, even months after the spring floods).

Katy Trail - Rocheport, MO Depot.

Katy Trail – Rocheport, MO Depot.

We rode west, following a major detour from Rocheport to New Franklin. Our gravel-riding friend from Columbia, MO informed us that that section of the trail was impassable – sections of the trail had silt five foot deep where the river had covered the trail and dumped large volumes of mud and silt. We followed paved highways (highways 40 and 240) in our detour from Rocheport, MO to New Franklin, MO. We stopped to get dinner and supplies at a Casey’s General Store in New Franklin, MO.

Then we rode to our camping destination – Katy Roundhouse in New Franklin. It was $10 per person per night to tent camp at Katy Roundhouse. This cost included drinking water, hot showers, and restrooms. We visited with John, the owner while he was out mowing grass on a riding lawn mower.

Katy Roundhouse stage - New Franklin, MO.

Katy Roundhouse stage – New Franklin, MO.

Camping on the Katy Roundhouse stage - New Franklin, MO.

Camping on the Katy Roundhouse stage – New Franklin, MO.

We inquired about his unique covered stage. He told us he built it for the Pedaler’s Jamboree. It was decorated with various items found in his barn. It also held some hay for their horses. The weather forecast called for a significant chance of rain – so we asked if it would be okay to pitch our tents under the roof of his stage. He said that would be okay. So we pitched our tents on the stage and avoided rain showers that night. We ate dinner, took showers, and went to bed about 9:30 pm.

Camping on the Katy Roundhouse stage - New Franklin, MO.

Camping on the Katy Roundhouse stage – New Franklin, MO.

Katy Roundhouse - New Franklin, MO.

Katy Roundhouse – New Franklin, MO.

Katy Roundhouse - New Franklin, MO.

Katy Roundhouse – New Franklin, MO.

Katy Roundhouse - New Franklin, MO.

Katy Roundhouse – New Franklin, MO.

We rode 67.2 miles for the day (including several detours that added 10 miles to day’s ride).

Day 6 – New Franklin, MO to Clinton, Mo to Sedalia, MO

Day 4 – Marthasville, MO to Tebbetts, MO

We arose about 6:30 am on Monday morning, ate breakfast from our supplies, and got some hot coffee from a convenience store in Marthasville. We broke camp, packed our bikes, got on the trail by about 8:15 am.

We headed west out of Marthasville on the Katy Trail. Some of the Katy Trail follows Lewis and Clark’s expedition in the 1800’s (their exploration after the Louisiana Purchase). As we rode along, we saw trail signs marking the path of Lewis and Clark’s expedition. The trail was shady and beautiful.

We intended to stop for lunch in Rhineland, but it was Monday and the only restaurant in town was closed Mondays. So we filled up on water and rolled on toward Blufton. We stopped at the Steamboat Junction campground (located right on the trail). The Steamboat Junction owner keeps a refrigerator inside a shelter. The refrigerator is stocked with snacks and drinks (chips, Gatorade, water) with prices marked. There is a drop slot for your money – it is unmanned and on the honor system. We bought some items from the refrigerator and ate lunch from our supplies, sitting under the shade of a tree in chairs provided by the Steamboat Junction owner – right next to the trail. It was a beautiful day – we felt rested after eating lunch and sitting in a nice place in the shade.

We got back on our bikes and rolled west. Just west of Portland, MO to just east of Steedman, MO, there was a detour. The spring rains had caused a large landslide where some earth had detached from a bluff and had covered the trail. We took the detour using paved highway 94.

Standing Rock on the Katy Trail near Steedman, MO.

Standing Rock on the Katy Trail near Steedman, MO.

We intended to eat dinner in Mokane, MO. Bit it was Monday and the Mokane Bar and Grill was closed on Mondays. The Mokane Market was open (a convenience store on the main street in town). We ate there. The store’s owner told us about the devestation caused by the spring 2019 flood. We saw the flood’s water lines on the side of brick buildings as we rode through town.

Katy Trail depot - Tebbetts, MO.

Katy Trail depot – Tebbetts, MO.

We rode on to Tebbets, MO, arriving about 6:00 pm. We found our destination – the Turner Katy Trail Shelter Hostel. It was a large building that had been a store, and was donated to a charity to provide a place for Katy Trail users to stay overnight. The shelter had many bunk beds, hot showers, restroom, a refrigerator, air conditioning, indoor lighting, power plugs, a bike repair room, and bike racks to park/lock your bike. We were the only people using the shelter that night. We took our showers, did some bike maintenance in the bike repair room, and discussed our next day’s riding plan. We went to sleep about 10 pm an slept well on the bunk bed mattresses. We paid for our stay there using the drop box and left an extra donation to support the shelter.

Turner Katy Trail Shelter in Tebbetts, MO.

Turner Katy Trail Shelter in Tebbetts, MO.

Bike repair room in the Turner Katy Trail Shelter in Tebbetts, MO.

Bike repair room in the Turner Katy Trail Shelter in Tebbetts, MO.

We rode 57 miles that day (including trail detours for flood damage).

Day 5 – Tebbetts, MO to New Franklin, MO

Day 3 – St Charles, MO to Marthasville, MO

We woke on Sunday morning about 6:45 am, packed up, and rode out of our hotel in St Charles, MO about 8 am.  We rode through St Charles to the Katy Trail trailhead and headed west, Our riding objective that day was Blufton Barn – it was going to be a long day’s ride – more than 75 miles.

The trail was beautiful – trees overarching much of the gravel packed trail. At each town that had been a stop on the old Katy Railroad (MKT Railroad), the Missouri State Parks Department had constructed a covered train depot. Each covered depot had the name of the town, benches, trail maps, points of interest in town, and a history of the specific town. Some depots had water, some had restrooms, and some had bike repair stations. These covered depots made for a good place to stop and rest along the Katy Trail.

We made good time riding that day. We had several detours (trail closures due to spring 2019 floods). The trail closed west of Matson and was closed west of Augusta.

We were watching the weather as the forecast indicated an afternoon thunderstorm. At about 1:15 pm we made it to Marthasville where we stopped for lunch. We ate at Philly’s Pizza restaurant in Marthasville, MO. We checked the weather on our phones and saw that the storm was rolling through Marthasville from west to east about 2:30 pm. Due to the storm, we made the decision to stop for the night in Marthasville.

Marthasville, MO Depot on the Katy Trail.

Marthasville, MO Depot on the Katy Trail.

We rode over to the the Marthasville Community Club Park – a city park with a covered pavilion situated between two baseball fields. The storm began as we sat under the covered pavilion. We had searched the internet for a way to register and pay for an overnight stay in the park, but found no information. Buddy, a maintenance person, was working in the park and  helped us to register and pay (in person) for our overnight stay at the Community Club park. We pitched our tents on the cement floor of the pavilion and set up camp while the rain was falling on the tin roof. The facility had hot showers, restrooms, and power plugs.

Under the tin roof of the covered pavilion at Community Club Park in Marthasville, MO.

Camping under the pavilion at Community Club Park in Marthasville, MO.

Parked under the covered pavilion at Community Club Park in Marthasville, MO.

We ate dinner in town at Philly’s Pizza. While we were eating, we discussed our week’s ride – the rain had stopped us well short of our day’s riding objective. We needed to shorten the trip and decided to cut off the ride all the way to Clinton, MO, planning to stop in Sedalia, MO instead. Later that evening we showered and went to sleep about 10 pm.

We rode 41 miles for the day.

Day 4 – Marthasville, MO to Tebbetts, MO


Day 2 – St Louis, MO to St Charles, MO

Our train was 2.5 hours late arriving at St. Louis, Missouri on Saturday morning. My quick internet search showed that Amtrak’s on-time percentage was low – apparently due to the fact that Amtrak does not own the track on which it operates. Amtrak shares the track with the freight train companies that own the track. Freight trains often receive priority over the Amtrak train – we pulled off to a siding on multiple occasions to let freight trains pass through. Thus, we arrived late in St Louis.

I claimed my bike from the baggage car and wheeled it off the train platform into the St Louis station. We went to the restroom, changed into riding clothes, and attached our bikepacking gear to our bikes. At about 10:30 am, we left the Amtrak station, riding our bikes. We rode through downtown St. Louis to the famous Gateway Arch where we stopped to take photos.

Gateway Arch - St Louis, MO

Gateway Arch - St Louis, MO Gateway Arch - St Louis, MO

Then we headed out of St. Louis on the Riverfront Trail, following the West Bank of the Mississippi River. It was a bit difficult to follow the Riverfront Trail in urban St. Louis – the route in town was very industrial with old abandoned factories, brick warehouses, riverfront docks, and riverfront offloading operations. Once we navigated the industrial urban section of the trail, the trail became somewhat easier to follow. We rode across the Mississippi River to Illinois using the McKinley bridge. On the Illinois side of the river, we rode the Madison County Transit Confluence Trail.

McKinley Bridge over the Mississippi River

Crossing the Mississippi River from Missouri to Illinois on the McKinley Bridge.

My friend had a mechanical breakdown before we arrived in Hartford, IL. His new rear bike rack lost two of its attachment screws. The “shake and bake” of riding gravel roads apparently loosened the screws and they had dropped somewhere on the trail. He had no replacement screws. So we replaced the screws using zip ties and bent safety pins to create a temporary attachment (zip ties of various sizes, safety pins, and electrician’s tape work wonders for temporary bike repair – don’t leave home without it).

Then we got on our phones, located a bike shop in Alton, IL and rode there. We arrived at The Alton Cyclery about 3 pm. They guys at the bike shop recommended a sturdier bike rack. My friend bought the recommended bike rack, and a few extra attachment screws. The guys at the bike shop were super helpful and installed the new rack on the spot. We thanked the bike shop guys and rode to a Panera Bread restaurant in town and ate “lunch” around  4 pm. Now that we had completed a two hour, 8-10 mile detour (to fix the broken bike rack), we rode out of Alton, IL and crossed the Mississippi River back in to Missouri. We rode across the river, from Illinois to Missouri, on Highway 67, using the Clark Bridge. Vehicle traffic on the bridge and the highway move at high rates of speed, so we were careful as we rode the highway.


Arriving back in Missouri.

It was evening as we rode towards the eastern end of the Katy Trail and found the trailhead in Machens, MO. Almost immediately after starting our ride on the Katy Trail, we ran into trail closures. The temporary signs announced the closure, but the signs had no suggested alternate route. Being behind time for the day (due to a mechanical breakdown), and with no suggested alternate route, we rode past the signs onto the closed trail. The first closure was a 200 meter section that had apparently washed out in the spring floods. We bushwhacked around it and rolled on.

The second closure was a few miles down the trail. Same story – a temporary sign announcing the closure with no alternate route suggested. We rode on the closed trail – a longer section of a mile or so. The closed area appeared to have been flooded in the spring rains and was being regraded and resurfaced. The closed trail was soft – a mixture of damp mud and gravel. The mud was lightly soft and tacky, but did not stick to tires. It was tougher going, but we made it through.

The sun set and we rode in the dark toward’s our night’s destination – TownPlace Suites (a Marriott hotel property) in St. Charles, MO. We rode into the outskirts of St. Charles at about 8 pm and stopped at a Canes Chicken restaurant for dinner. We rode to our hotel, arriving there at 9:30 pm. We checked in, showered, discussed the next day’s riding route, and got to bed about 11 pm.

We rode 66.5 miles that day.

Day 3 – St Charles, MO to Marthasville, MO

Day 1 – Dallas, TX to St Louis, MO

About 2 pm on a Friday afternoon, I took the Dallas Area Mass Transit (DART) train from Plano, TX to downtown Dallas, TX. I hung my bike up on the train, stowed my gear, and took a seat near my bike.

Bike hanging (for transport) on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) train.

Bike hanging (for transport) on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) train.

I met my friend, Bobby Adams, at the Dallas Amtrak station, located on downtown Dallas.

We checked in at the Amtrak check-in desk and got a baggage claim tag for our bikes (similar to a airline baggage claim tag). We wheeled our bikes and gear out to the Amtrak train platform and to the baggage car.

amtrak train

Amtrak train at the station.

Amtrak trains have limited bike mounting stations. You can purchase a ticket to bring your bike aboard (bike transport is an additional cost to your ticket). In the baggage room, your bike is stored hanging from the wall by the front tire, or (alternatively) may be strapped to the wall standing upright. Take care to make sure that the Amtrak train personnel load your bike in a secure manner (I watched them load my bike, to make sure that it would not shake too much and that it would not get friction on any parts that could not handle friction (brake rotors, painted metal, etc).

We had pre-purchased coach class tickets and I used the email confirmation as my boarding pass (I showed the email to the Amtrak train personnel for proof of ticket). I boarded the Amtrak train at Dallas Union Station headed for St. Louis, MO. The train left on schedule at 3:40 pm.

Amtrak does not have assigned seats for a coach class ticket. We boarded and found open seats. I moved to another seat after an hour on the train – the passenger in the seat diagonally across the aisle was loud – an incessant talker, on the phone often, with his phone making loud, unnecessary sounds (beeps and chimes) because the phone’s sound was turned up to maximum volume. The incessant talker  did not seem to grasp the the concept that the train’s observation car was where you should go to have loud phone conversations.

Amtrak keeps their trains at a very cool temperature. I put on my long pants and a jacket. Most people had brought a blanket aboard to keep warm. Meals were available on the train – either a sit down meal in the dining car, or in a snack bar. I ate one breakfast in the snack bar – the rest of the meals I ate were food and snacks that I had brought onboard).

amtrak train snack bar

Amtrak train snack bar in the dining car.

Amtrak trains have an observation car where people can sit, talk on their phones, and visit at all hours. I used it the observation car when I talked on the phone. Quiet hours in the passenger cars were from 10 pm- 7 am, at which time passengers in the passenger cars were encouraged to engage in quiet activities (sleep, read, listen to music on headphones, watch a movie with audio playing through headphones, etc). Amtrak personnel lowered the lights and did not make announcements during quiet hours.

Amtrak coach sears were spacious and allowed for adequate sleep (bring a blanket or items to stay warm). I brought a inflatable travel pillow and was glad I did. I also brought a pair of earplugs to soften the noise (the ever-present train horn blowing at each rail crossing, train car bouncing and creaking, passengers talking, etc) when I was sleeping. I slept in short naps throughout the night, but it was not a deep restful sleep.

Day 2 – St Louis, MO to St Charles, MO

Bikepacking the Katy Trail in Missouri

Katy Trail Missouri - Katy Roundhouse

I bikepacked the Katy Trail in Missouri in September 2019.

The Katy Trail (for the most part) travels along the Missouri River in a east/west direction, following the old MKT (Missouri Kansas Texas) railroad. The trail is a “rails-to-trails” trail, built on the old abandoned railroad bed. The Katy Trail is a Missouri State Park, and is run and maintained by the Parks Department of the State of Missouri.


I rode with a friend, Bobby Adams. This was his first bikepacking trip, so we rode at an  easier pace than I might have ridden by myself. We rode the trail for five days, from from east to west, beginning on in St Louis, MO. I rode 353 miles (which included extra mileage for many trail detours and extra mileage for riding off the trail to get to local restaurants, grocery stores, and other places of interest located in towns along the trail).

Generally, the trail is an easy, well-marked, and well-maintained trail (a great introductory trail for first time bikepackers). Trees line many parts of the trail, providing a significant amount of shade for riders. As the trail is an old rail line, it is very level and does not have any difficult inclines or declines. There are many small towns along the Katy Trail that allow for resupply (food and water). It is possible to ride the trail and and to stay in hotels and/or bed-and-breakfast type inns along the way. For our trip, we bikepacked and camped in tents at various campgrounds and camping points along the trail.

When we rode the trail in September 2019, the trail had suffered significant damage due flooding from the Missouri River during the  spring of 2019. The river had left its banks and had covered the trail in many places, covering the trail in mud and silt, destroying many bridges, and causing landslides from steep bluffs collapsing and falling across the trail. By September 2019, the river had receded, but was still running high. At the time of my trip, the Missouri Parks Department was still reeling from the devastating impact of the spring flooding and had not completed repairs to the trail – there were many trail closures and many detours associated with the flooding. I anticipate that by summer 2020, most of the trail will be repaired and will be in adequate condition.

I grabbed a free trail map on the trailhead on the first day. Free paper trail maps are available at each trailhead (at the trailhead in each town along the Katy Trail). The paper map was very useful for quick reference while riding the trail.

In addition here are some useful websites for trip planning…

Here is my daily trip report with photos (click on the links)…

Day 1 – Plano, TX to St Louis, MO

Day 2 – St Louis, MO to St Charles, MO

Day 3 – St Charles, MO to Marthasville, MO

Day 4 – Marthasville, MO to Tebbetts, MO

Day 5 – Tebbetts, MO to New Franklin, MO

Day 6 – New Frankin, MO to Clinton, MO to Sedalia, MO

Day 7 – Sedalia, MO to St Louis, MO to Plano, TX



The Pet Reduction Program

The Pet Reduction Program (a small part in a father’s parenting strategy)

Disclaimer: this article is written by a pet apathist – the author is apathetic about pets. Not everyone in the world loves pets and has deep feelings about them. I know that many pet lovers may find it difficult to deal with this concept. Pet apathy is real – and don’t write me angry letters about it. (smiley face)

I have three daughters and I love them dearly. When you are a father, you find yourself performing mathematical computations regarding the future. Some of those computations can be alarming – calculating the timespan of years when the teen-aged female hormones of three daughters might be in play, calculating the college years (and the financial savings required),  and estimating the years my daughters might be getting married (more savings for multiple weddings). Fathers perform many estimations and calculations throughout their lives.

I was performing my fatherly estimating one day when yet another calculation popped into my head – namely, the number of pets with which I might be left when the girls left for college. We had allowed the girls to have pets – a momentous parental decision. It all began with a beta fish named Freddy. It was my oldest daughter Julie’s sixth birthday and my parents-in-law gave her a beta fish. You see, I am not a pet person. I was holding out as long as possible against the crushing pressure of the inevitable “Can I have a pet?” dialogue from my children. But my in-laws trumped my fatherly authority – they hauled off and got my daughter a beta fish, a fish bowl, and some fish food. The fish quickly became known as Freddy, and thus, we began the slippery slide down the pet roller coaster. The slow slide down the pet roller coaster picked up speed when we acquired more fish and an aquarium. Then, using their allowance, my daughters bought crabs (momentum accelerating toward full speed). Then a dog. Then things really got out of hand with an unstoppable pet avalanche – the girls got gerbils, followed by a second set of gerbils, and a parakeet bird.

The small animals were tolerable, but the dog was entirely different dog. A dog is a big animal that takes a lot of time, care, and money (delaying my savings for three college educations and for three weddings). When my daughters began to ask about getting a dog, I would say, “A dog is a big responsibility. You have to be very responsible to get a dog.” I carried on with the dog-responsibility response for several months, and it seemed to stop the children in their tracks. But then, my six-year-old daughter Rachel, a persistent can-we-have-a-dog-asker, posed the following question to me – “Dad, what does it take to be responsible?” I replied, “You have to make your bed, help set the table, brush your teeth, and do other things to show us you can take care of yourself and help others. Taking care of a dog requires much work.”

So the next morning, six-year-old Rachel was up bright and early before school. She made her bed and set the table for breakfast. That girl was motivated. She said, “Dad – am I responsible now?” My reply, “Making your bed once and setting the table once is good, but you have to do that over time to show me that you are responsible.” And so it began – each day before school, her bed was made, the table was set, and her teeth were brushed after breakfast. This went on for about a month. Then Rachel asked me another question, “Dad – how long do I have to be responsible?” At that very moment, my wife Susan made intense eye contact with me  – the kind of eye contact that said, “We need to talk later.” Susan pulled me aside later and did not mince her words, “You had better come through on this dog thing. Rachel and the girls have been doing what you asked. You will be toast (as a father) if you don’t come through with a dog.” It was at that point during the we-want-a-dog onslaught that I realized I had just lost the battle. If we never got a dog, my word would mean nothing to my children. It was game over (from the we-aren’t-getting-a-dog stance). I had lost the battle.

So my wife and I researched dog breeds and agreed that a Brittany Spaniel would be the right kind of dog for our family. Brittany Spaniels were supposed to be good with children, did not shed much hair, and were purported to be energetic (a euphemism that can mean hyperactive). I bought a Brittany Spaniel puppy and surprised my daughters. They loved that puppy immediately and named him Patch. In their minds, he quickly became a family member. I am glad that they loved him, but that dog was just a dog to me. We spent thousands on that dog – veterinary fees for shots, fixing the dog, obedience training school, boarding when on vacation, pet food, pet toys, leashes, etc. One summer, he had some random malady (the dog was lethargic and wouldn’t eat).  We took the dog to the veterinary for diagnosis. Over a thousand dollars later, the veterinary determined he had some kind of allergy and needed some shots. Naaarghhh!!! I wanted to put the dog down and end my financial misery. It was just a dog, not a family member. My wife and my children felt differently – they wanted to keep the dog and treat him for allergies. I lost that battle. It was known as the “thousand dollar summer of the dog”.

My daughters with Patch the dog

My daughters with Patch (the much beloved dog).

Now, fast-forward a few years – the girls are now in their late elementary school to middle school years. I began thinking… “My daughters will be leaving home in a few years. And meanwhile, it appears that I will be left holding the bag on the pet menagerie while they waltz off to college.” Then the reality began to sink in – I would be left as the zookeeper to care for all the pets they left behind. And I didn’t want any of those pets in the first place. This would not an good thing. I needed to prevent this from happening.

A plan crept slowly into my mind. What if we allowed the pets to die off through the years and did not replace them? I began researching the average lifespan of each pet we had acquired – Brittany Spaniel dogs (14-15 years), gerbils (4-5 years), parakeets (5-10 years), and so on. Given some of the pet’s lifespans, it appeared that I might still be hung out. It was time to stop the pet madness. Thus began the “Pet Reduction Program”.

I called my daughters together to let them know of this new plan. “Girls”, I said, “I am introducing a new concept in our home. I have been doing some math – when you leave home for college, it appears that you may leave some of your pets behind. I don’t want to be left with your pets. So beginning today, we are instituting the Pet Reduction Program in the Johnson house. It is simple – no new pets, and if a pet dies – no replacement pets.” Silence followed…. I let it sink in. It did not go well. In 30 seconds I went from hero to zero (in my children’s eyes). “What?” they exclaimed, “Are you trying to kill our pets?” “Do you hate Patch?” “No new pets? Why???” If you could have seen the look in their eyes – they must have thought that I was Satan himself. Dad – the pet killer.

It was a tough couple of days in the Johnson home, but I hunkered down and stuck to my guns. Clearly, the rest of my family members were not pet apathists like me. But I wasn’t planning on taking care of the pet menagerie when my daughters left home. I am a “take it or leave it” kind of guy with regards to pets (a pet apathist), and there was no way that my children were going to leave their pets with me.

So began the Pet Reduction Program. Time passed on and pets began to pass away. We did not get any new pets or replace any pets that died. Patch, the beloved dog, passed away the summer before Lauren’s (my youngest daughter) junior year in high school. By the time Lauren left home for college, we had one animal left – a parakeet named Bongo. The parakeet lasted another two years and was the final pet to die. I was glad that my children loved their pets and I was thankful that they had positive experiences with pets. My children took great joy in their pets. But I was pleased to be finished with that phase of life.  The Johnson Pet Reduction Program was complete. Over the years, the Pet Reduction Program has grown to become a part of the Johnson family lore (starring myself as the calculatingly ruthless villain, and my children as the keepers of all that is good in the world).

Now, fast-forward several more years – my wife and I (now in our empty nest years) were in a church life group (a small community group) and were sharing parental strategies with others in the life group. I shared about the magic of my Pet Reduction Program – beginning with my general apathy regarding pets, the build up of the Johnson pet zoo, my animal lifespan calculations, the realization of an impending personal disaster, the hatching of the plan, how I communicated the plan to my children, and its completion. The Pet Reduction Program got lots of laughs, was the subject of additional  questions from the folks in the life group, served to promote a healthy discussion of pets, and became a vehicle for discussion of parenting strategies. And almost every time the group has met, someone would bring up the Pet Reduction Program. It has become so popular that the group gave it an acronym (The PRP). I am thinking of trademarking the Pet Reduction Program (PRP). Or perhaps I will write a book about parenting strategies with a chapter solely dedicated to the Pet Reduction Program.

Questions to ponder:

What (about this story) made an impression on you? Why?

Where do you stand with regards to pets (having pets and keeping pets)?

How have you taught children responsibility? What strategies and tools have you used?

Would you have done things differently? Why?

What character traits are you important to pass on to your family? Why?

Becoming a CASA

A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is an advocate for a child who has been removed from the home by Child Protective Services (CPS). The court assigns a guardian to the child – the CASA is the “guardian ad litem” (which means guardian for this time) for the time that the child is away from his parent.

Judge Cynthia Wheless presided over my swearing-in ceremony as a CASA volunteer in July 2018.


Judge Cynthia Wheless and Mark Johnson at the CASA swearing-in ceremony – July 2018.

When a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, the court assigns the child a CASA/guardian ad litem. The CASA works with the child to understand his background, his story, and his needs. The CASA works with many parties (attorneys, the court, parents, family members, foster parents, CPS caseworkers, doctors, teachers, psychologists, counselors, and other professionals) to protect the best interests of the child. In the state of Texas, parents have rights to their children. When a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, the state sues for temporary parental rights of the child. This is a civil law proceeding that can last anywhere from 6 months to years (depending on the circumstances). There may also be a related, but separate, criminal proceeding associated with the abuse or neglect.

The state always attempts to reunite a child who has been removed from his home with his family. To do this, the state works to ensure that the danger or neglect in the home is removed, addressed, and corrected – this may include activities such as drug/alcohol cessation activities for the parent(s), parenting classes, home improvements, and the like. But if the child cannot be reunited with his family in a reasonable time, the state will sue to permanently terminate parental rights. Then the child becomes available for adoption.

In Collin County, Texas, the CASA is the child’s guardian ad litem until one of three things happen…

  1. The child is reunited with his family.
  2. The child is adopted.
  3. The child ages out of the system (he becomes an adult).

There is a great need for CASA’s. I felt God leading me to become a CASA. So I applied to be a CASA in Collin County, Texas. I went through the vetting process (applications, background checks, driving records checks, criminal history checks, reference checks. and personal interviews). Once vetted by the CASA of Collin County organization, I attended a set of training sessions that covered many areas – signs of child abuse or neglect, types of abuse or neglect, intro to the Texas Family Code (law), the CPS process, the court process, the case working process, family dynamics, cultural competency, medical advocacy, educational advocacy, legal advocacy, and investigative techniques.

After vetting and training completion, I was sworn in by the judge.

I received my first case as a CASA in August 2018. Due to privacy issues, CASA’s may not share information regarding the specific child, the specifics of the case, or the specifics of family dynamics associated with the case.