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Kelly’s canine ‘mayor’ takes his last stroll

April 11, 2018 GMT

Some of Eric Seymour’s fondest memories of his late golden retriever, Burley, played out years ago while skiing into Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s most famous line: Corbet’s Couloir.

It was far from the cautious, side-stepped approach many skiers took descending into a snow-filled Corbet’s as the ski area’s 2017-18 season rolled to a close. In his day Burley hit it hard.

“He’d go in on his belly and Superman it,” Seymour said, “and he’d totally stick it every time.”

Those types of epic endeavors faded with age, as Burley’s nimbleness gave way and life’s adventures became dominated by loafing around his hometown of Kelly.

It was an existence residents of the Grand Teton National Park outpost knew well, and came to love. Burley the gregarious graying golden retriever was always there, making his rounds, jonesing for a scrap of food or lounging on the side of Gros Ventre Road.

The routine came to an abrupt end the last Friday in March.

“Burley was 12 1/2, almost 13 and was going deaf and a little bit blind, and he walked out in front of car that didn’t see him,” Seymour said. “He got hit right in front of the coffee shop.”

The collision, which didn’t result in charges for the driver, quickly took Burley’s life. When Seymour got to the scene a few minutes later his pup had already stopped breathing.

It wasn’t an unlikely spot for the accident, considering Burley was one of the most reliable patrons of Kelly on the Gros Ventre. The shop’s owner, Al Hunter, lost a good pal.

“Burley, ‘The Mayor,’ would be the first to show up at my coffee shop every morning,” Hunter said. “He was the first thing that everyone would comment on, even with the amazing view outside.”

Seymour’s wife, Jess McMillan, was skiing in Alaska when Burley was hit. Learning of her loss a few days later, she posted a tribute on Instagram that was a testament to the icon Burley became in the sleepy hamlet on the Gros Ventre River.

“Kelly will never be the same,” one local resident commented online. “He was there to see me off to work in the morning, and would be waiting for me when I came back. I like to think he was waiting for each Kelly person to come home.”

Burley’s ascension into Kelly lore started with a Christmas present. The couple’s unexpected golden retriever puppy, courtesy of McMillan’s dad, came from Burley, Idaho, but he didn’t arrive in Jackson Hole with the eponymous name.

“When Burley was given to us, my dad had named him Boo Boo Bear,” McMillan said. “I thought there was no way I could possibly have a dog named Boo Boo, so we changed it to Burley Bear.”

The etymology is less crystal clear for Burley’s nickname: The Mayor of Kelly. Seymour’s guess is that his canine companion’s constant presence earned him the moniker.

“He was always there,” Seymour said, “watching and waiting for everyone.”

Burley was an “opportunist” when he made his rounds, McMillan said, securing snacks from people but also lifting dog toys from his furry friends around town.

“We never bought him a toy,” she said, “but he always seemed to have 50 in the yard.”

Burley’s wintertime Carhartt coat also became a means of communicating with Seymour and McMillan: Neighbors and friends would slip notes in the pockets, and their roving pup would take them home. The missives came through the mail, too.

“Burley this year got more Christmas cards from Kelly residents than Eric and I did,” McMillan said.

The plan is to spread Burley’s cremated remains in the Gros Ventre, the swimming hole running through Kelly that’s short one golden retriever.