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The Great Pet Heist

Illustrated by David Mottram



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About The Book

Ocean’s Eleven meets The Secret Life of Pets in this “classic caper” (Booklist) following a ragtag group of pets who will do whatever it takes to avoid being sent to the pound.

Butterbean knew she wasn’t always a good dog. Still, she’d never considered herself a BAD dog—until the morning that her owner, Mrs. Food, fell in the hallway. Admittedly the tile was slipperier than usual, mostly because Butterbean had just thrown up on it.

Now Butterbean and her fellow pets have to come up with a grand plan to support themselves in case Mrs. Food is unable to keep taking care of them. When they discover a mysterious man in their building who seems to have lots of loot, they plan a heist. Oscar the mynah bird is the brains of the operation. Walt the cat has the necessary slyness and slink. Marco and Polo are the reconnaissance rats. And Butterbean...well, no one would ever suspect a cute little wiener dog, right? Can these animal friends can pull off the heist of the century?


Chapter 1 1

BUTTERBEAN KNEW SHE WASN’T ALWAYS a good dog. But until the morning of Tuesday, October 20, she’d never considered herself a BAD dog. And she definitely never thought that by Wednesday, October 21, she’d be a member of an International Crime Syndicate.

“The Fall,” as they all described it afterward, happened at precisely 10 a.m. (Oscar was watching the clock. His shows were coming on.)

The tile in the kitchen had always been a little slippery, but on Tuesday, October 20, it was much more slippery than usual, mostly because Butterbean had just thrown up on it.

To be fair, she’d spent most of the morning chasing her tail, and she’d actually been feeling pretty proud of herself for barfing on the tile instead of the cream-colored carpet.

But that was before everything changed.

At precisely 9:59 a.m. Central Time (one minute before The Price Is Right), Mrs. Food emerged from her office and started down the hallway for her second cup of coffee. Exactly forty-five seconds later, her foot made contact with Butterbean’s former breakfast. And at 10 a.m. on the dot, she hit the floor.

The crash was so loud and it scared Butterbean so badly that she tried to wedge herself into the gap under the couch. (She was not successful.)

It was so loud that Walt stopped her morning grooming ritual and sat frozen for a full minute with her tongue out and her leg poised in midair.

It was so loud that Oscar squawked and puffed his feathers out in a very undignified way. (Oscar denies this.)

Then there was a terrible silence.

No one moved.

Finally Walt lowered her leg and glared at Butterbean. “Way to go, Pukey.”

Butterbean ignored the comment. It was hardly her fault that Mrs. Food had decided to take a nap. It wasn’t even unusual for Mrs. Food to lie down—she did that all the time. Sure, she usually did it on the couch or on her bed or someplace squishy. But Butterbean wasn’t one to judge.

Butterbean did wish that Mrs. Food would get up, though. Butterbean had never seen her lie on the floor quite like that. It seemed wrong, somehow.

“Mrs. Food?” Butterbean said.

Mrs. Food didn’t respond.

Butterbean frowned.

Usually Mrs. Food got cranky when Butterbean tried to chat during her naptime. Sometimes she even threw pillows or socks, which was huge fun. But this time she just lay there. She didn’t even look comfortable.

A terrible thought crossed Butterbean’s mind.

Maybe this wasn’t a nap.

“Mrs. Food?” Butterbean said again, but louder. “Are you dead?”

Still nothing from Mrs. Food.

“Is that a yes?” Butterbean said after what she thought was an appropriate amount of time. She wasn’t sure how long dead people usually took to respond. She was willing to be patient.

“Check her vitals,” Oscar said from his cage overhead.

“Yes. Her vitals. Of course.” Butterbean went cautiously over to Mrs. Food and began inspecting her carefully, starting with the butt. “Where would those be, exactly?”

Walt snorted from the top of the bookshelf. Which was not particularly helpful, in Butterbean’s opinion.

Oscar fluffed his feathers in irritation. The shows he watched made it very clear that the vitals were important, but unfortunately, they weren’t very clear about the specifics. Like location, for instance. Not that he wanted to admit that. He was obviously a very well-informed bird, and well-informed birds knew about things like vitals.

“In her mouth,” he said after a moment. He was pretty sure that was right. And it wasn’t like Butterbean would know either way.

“Got it.” Butterbean stuck her nose as close to Mrs. Food’s mouth as physically possible. “Her vitals smell like… coffee and… something minty. Is that good?”

Oscar hesitated. He’d never heard anyone on his doctor shows use the word “minty” to describe vitals. Minty only came up in the commercials, but it was generally positive. That must be good, then. Oscar nodded confidently. “Yes, minty sounds good. Now wake her up.”

Butterbean nodded. Obviously this was not a situation where low woofs and intense staring would do the job. This situation called for more drastic measures. Serious stuff. The Big Guns. It was time for licking up the nostril.

Butterbean got herself into prime nostril-licking position. She was just deciding which nostril to try first when Walt jumped down from her bookshelf and pushed Butterbean aside.

“Oh no you don’t.” Walt sat on Mrs. Food’s chest, tail twitching. “We don’t have time for a nostril probe.”

Butterbean blinked. There was ALWAYS time for a nostril probe.

Walt raised a paw and soundly bopped Mrs. Food on the nose. “Hey! HEY!” She bopped three more times in rapid succession and then shook her head. “No good. She’s out cold.”

Oscar sighed. “Well, we’ve done all we can.”

“Now the nostril probe?” Butterbean said hopefully.

Oscar shook his head sadly. “If Walt’s paw bop didn’t do it, nothing will, I’m afraid. It’s hopeless.”

Walt narrowed her eyes. “Not quite. We could use the secret device.”

Butterbean gasped.

“You wouldn’t dare!” Oscar screeched.

The secret device was a small plastic box with a button that Mrs. Food wore on a cord around her neck. She always said that if anything happened to her, the device would save her. (Although from what Butterbean could tell, it hadn’t done much so far in the way of saving.) What the device was had been the subject of much debate. Oscar maintained that they didn’t need to know what it was, and Walt just wanted to push the button. Because, you know, buttons.

“WE DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THE DEVICE DOES!” Oscar screeched again, raking his beak against the bars of his cage.

Walt just watched him, calmly twitching her tail.

“We don’t know what it does,” Oscar said, visibly trying to calm himself. “I’ve seen shows on the Television. It could destroy us all.”

“Destroy us all,” Butterbean echoed.

“It could mean the end of the world,” Oscar said ominously.

“End of the world,” Butterbean echoed.

“Of course,” Walt said, batting the box with her paw.

“We’ll figure out another way,” Oscar said. “Right?”

“Right,” Butterbean said.

“Right. Of course. We shouldn’t push it,” Walt said, pushing the button. “Oops, too late.”

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!” Oscar shrieked, flinging his wing over his face to protect himself, as Butterbean dove for cover under the couch (unsuccessfully again).

There was silence.

“Apparently nothing? Nothing is what it does?” Walt said, swatting the button again. “It’s a button that does nothing. Mrs. Food must’ve been making a joke this whole time.”

“It’s not a funny joke,” Butterbean said, backing away from the couch. She was starting to get a bald spot on the top of her nose from jamming it under the couch so many times. “Not funny ha-ha, anyway.” Although to be fair, sometimes Butterbean didn’t get Mrs. Food’s sense of humor. She’d never been a fan of the hilarious “we’re going for a fun ride, oh wait, it’s actually a trip to the vet” joke that Mrs. Food seemed so fond of.

“We’re just lucky we weren’t blown to smithereens,” Oscar said smugly. “We could’ve all been killed. We need a new house rule about button pushing.”

Walt licked her paw and shrugged. “I pushed a button. Sue me. No harm done, right?”

It was then that they heard the sirens.

About The Author

Photograph by Sonya Sones

Emily Ecton is the author of The Great Pet Heist series as well as a number of middle grade books published under the names Emily Ecton and Emily Fairlie. She is also a former writer and producer for Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the Peabody Award­–winning comedy news quiz on NPR. She lives in Virginia, with Howdy, a dog who dreams of someday going to a supermarket. Visit her at

About The Illustrator

Dave Mottram is an illustrator living in Ohio who worked as a graphic designer for many years, which led him to pursue his passion for illustration. He paints traditionally and digitally with color and layers and line. He loves tacos, animals, tikis, and nerding out over art supplies. Visit him at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (May 11, 2021)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534455375
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 520L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

“It’s amusing just to watch the merry band of misfit pets navigate the wide world of the eclectic high-rise apartment, but there’s enough true suspense to keep the larger story moving. This classic caper may have young readers looking sideways at their own pets when the story is through.”

– Booklist

"Ecton creates a strong personality for each animal, from the hyper dog Butterbean to the know-it-all bird Oscar, and pet lovers will be sure to enjoy the banter between them. . . . Adorable illustrations from Mottram help readers visualize the characters and add an appealing visual element. A story sure to charm children who like to imagine what their beloved pets are up to when they are away."

– School Library Journal

"Bantering dialogue, the distinct personalities of the pets (expressively illustrated by Mottram), and the whimsical premise make for an exciting caper."

– Kirkus Reviews

Awards and Honors

  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Intermediate Title
  • Beehive Award Master List (UT)
  • Maine Student Book Award Reading List
  • Children's Sequoyah Book Award Master List (OK)
  • Sasquatch Book Award Nominee (WA)
  • Horned Toad Tales List (TX)
  • Minnesota Book Award Nominee
  • Magnolia Book Award Nominee (MS)
  • Sunshine State Young Readers Award, Grades 3-5 List (FL)

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More books from this author: Emily Ecton

More books from this illustrator: David Mottram

More books in this series: The Great Pet Heist