A dog gets a little nosy with me at Greenbelt Kennels.

An oral history project


I first met Jean Brown when I started working at Greenbelt Kennels in the summer of 2014. It was my first time working at a kennel, and undoubtedly the best one I had worked at. I had been hired on the spot after calling to see if the kennel needed any workers that summer. After a brief tour with Rod Bothwell, Jean’s “second-in-command,” he asked if I wanted the job. I accepted, of course.

I hadn’t met Jean during my work tour. Not until later on. She was usually upstairs in the living space of Greenbelt Kennels, whereas Rod and my other closer coworkers stayed on the lower level, keeping an eye on daycare dogs and feeding boarding dogs in the morning and the evening. Occasionally she’d come downstairs and talk with Rod or the groomer, but otherwise she and I didn’t interact very much.

As far as kennel owners go, I didn’t really know any personally before Jean. My family and I used to take my dog Reese to a Wil-A-Low Kennels when she was a puppy. The owner—whose name I recall being Brenda—had a better relationship with Reese than with me. Brenda, if I recall correctly, was younger than Jean and worked with poodles. I distinctly remember my mother driving past a “Poodle Crossing” sign at Wil-A-Low. But I never thought a kennel owner would be an elderly woman who owned Rottweilers and German Shepherds.


I gave Greenbelt daycare dogs lots of attention.

The more I worked at Greenbelt Kennels, the more I heard about Jean’s reputation. It wasn’t a bad one—an excellent one, in fact. Mostly because she had shown German Shepherds for years, learned how to groom and even trained dogs. Even a few police dogs she’d trained boarded there. I distinctly remember moments when she silenced some of those dogs—Saber and Striker—by shouting, “Nein!” They refused to listen to anyone else. But Jean? They knew she was their boss.

On other days, she would trudge down the stairs, looking exhausted and not in the best of moods. She’d say something like, “Those stupid beagles wouldn’t stop howling last night.” Still, I mostly worked with Rod and a few other employees. The staff at Greenbelt was small and tight, but Jean was her own entity. Close yet distant. Distant enough for me to consider her to interview for my project.

I decided to contact Jean for this project because I simply thought she would have interesting stories to share with me. After all, how many 75-year-old women manage kennels, let alone any business? And kennel management is not a job for the weak. It requires heavy lifting, being “fluent” in speaking dog, breaking up fights and a ridiculous amount of cleaning. Not to mention her history with training police dogs for the local forces.

And yet, her history—her story—didn’t connect so much with her work at Greenbelt Kennels or with dogs, but with her family, travels and her work life.

The Visit.

8383 University Boulevard, Clive, Iowa. The mailing address of Greenbelt Kennels. I pulled into the side parking lot, where the current employees’ vehicles were parked. I knew the workers—and Jean—would appreciate that. My other option was the pick-up lane, a driveway where people would sometimes cut through—even if they didn’t pick up their dogs from daycare. Unfortunately, that driveway was in front of the daycare windows. Whenever a car drove by, the dogs would start a barking frenzy.

I got out of my car and walked past the daycare windows, which were boarded up with what looked like a wooden fence. The dogs barked as I quietly walked by, but had I driven there, it would have been much worse. I took a left turn and walked past a pseudo-Zen garden with a dog statue that was broken at its knees. Before me, in black and white, was a painted sign with the kennel’s pick-up and drop-off hours. Luckily for me, it was Friday, one of the days Greenbelt is open from seven to six.

I opened the door into the kennel’s entrance. The scent of wet dog and cleaning supplies attacked my nostrils. I’d forgotten the pungent smell of Greenbelt—a scent that somehow made me feel at ease.

Jean was in the middle of a discussion with a customer, but regarded me with a tired smile. “Tired” doesn’t seem like the right word to describe Jean’s appearance. “Droopy” might be better. Her eyes had bags beneath them—probably a mixture of her age and not sleeping well for a few years. I normally hesitate to compare most people to dogs, but here I make an exception. Jean reminds me of a basset hound. Droopy and sort of sad looking with a few wrinkles here and there. But her arms are thick and strong. She could probably carry more weight than I ever could.

After a few minutes of waiting for the customer to walk out with his dog trailing behind him, Jean greeted me and showed me upstairs—her quarters.

During my three or so months of working at Greenbelt, I had never been up there. Only to drop off food or water dishes on the stairs for her to clean. One of her current workers must have left them there. I offered to take them, but Jean insisted that I go on ahead. She’d take care of it. I reluctantly let her stoop over and carry the stainless-steel bowls into her kitchen.

The first thing I saw in her home was a piano with several books of sheet music on top of it. And then all of her decorations—mainly shot glasses and various other knick-knacks.

“Where do you want to sit?” she asked, gesturing to a sofa or to a kitchen barstool.

“Whichever you find most comfortable,” I said.

The barstool it was. We sat in silence for a few moments before I hit the “record” button on my phone. And then her tale began. What is written here is our conversation, most of which is directly quoted or paraphrased from what Jean told me.

I could only hope to die like that.

Jean grew up on her parents’ 80-acre farm in Glee Township in Madison County, Iowa. Her father farmed in two locations: his farm and a 400-acre contract farm. “I had to go do whatever dad had wanted me to do that morning. I was the oldest child, so I got to help him a lot. And I liked that. I like to be outdoors.”

Judging by the change in verb tense here—past to present, “liked” to “like”—being outdoors was important to Jean and still is, in this moment. Even though we were sitting inside in her kitchen face to face as she spoke reverently about her father, I could sense there was something important about being outdoors. Being in constant motion.

Doing “whatever” her father wanted her to do depended on what was needed to be done. When she wasn’t at school (a 50-minute bus ride—and that was only one-way), that usually meant feeding animals, milking cows, gathering eggs from beneath the pecking beaks of hens, driving the tractor and mowing the lawn.

“It was just what needed to be done to [pause] to make life work well for the family,” she said. “And if I wanted to eat, I had to be a part of that.”

So all of this moving, all of this work, was a means of survival for her and her family.

I wondered if knowing some of the animals she raised were going to slaughter ever bothered her. She raised cattle and showed them for 4H as a child—had it ever been difficult or upsetting for her? Curiosity got the better of me. I asked about that.

“It was not difficult for me. I always understood that’s what it was, and that’s what it was,” she told me. Straight to the point without much emotion. She answered most of my questions in that manner.

I pressed further: “Why?”

“I don’t know.” Jean grew quiet for a moment. “I’ve often wondered that. Some people don’t believe you should eat animals at all.” Silence once again. “I don’t think we need to just go overboard in doing anything, but…” she trailed off before finally answering. I think God gave us animals for food. And work and whatever else they’re capable of doing.”

Work. There was that word again. “Would you say that all animals—or even we, as humans—have different callings? A purpose?”

Her reply was a simple, “Yeah.”

“What’s the purpose of a dog, as opposed to a horse? From your experience, how are they different?”

For Jean, dogs tend to be more of a companion animal. Growing up, horses were both companions, but also working animals. She trained them to show as well as ride and work. Her grandfather, who lived roughly four miles away from her family’s farm, showed Hackney ponies. But as for Jean and her immediate family?

“We all just had riding horses. That was what we also did to run the cattle. But I just liked to get on the horse and ride.”

“What was your horse’s name?” I asked, realizing she never gave me its name.

“He didn’t have a name,” she replied. “My animals didn’t have names. My brothers and sisters all had names for them.”

The very notion of not naming a companion animal took me aback. “Why?”

Jean provided me with the very helpful answer of, “I have no idea.”

It was then I wondered just how close she was with her horse—or her own dogs.  Any animals, really. But maybe, just maybe, that stemmed from raising animals for slaughter. From birth to the dinner table. Maybe she had to emotionally distance herself from her animals. Our companion animals—horses, dogs, or cats—have a shorter lifespan than ours. Not only that, but caring for so many of them? Dogs come and go through the doors of Greenbelt. Some stay one night and leave; others are regular customers. Kennel workers can’t afford to get too attached to the guests they care for.

But Jean has cared for more than the average canine. She looked to one of her sofas for a moment. “Jerry, my daughter, just moved out.” Jean’s voice wavered with a touch of emotion. “She’s really sick. And she lived here with me for two months. I enjoyed having her here but I’m glad she’s gone.”

She explained to me that Jerry has a rare blood disorder: pure red cell aphasia—meaning Jerry’s body does not make red blood cells. “She has to have a transfusion every week.” Jean—usually direct with her answers as well as her eye contact—muttered at her phone, trying to find a photo she took, as if it might distract from her fears, her concerns, about her daughter.

“Because the transfusions then put too much iron in her blood, she’s got take this medicine overnight in a pump-type setting, which is really annoying, but if she doesn’t do it, then too much iron builds up in her system and that ruins her liver and kidneys. I’m trying to help take care of her.” Jean went quiet, as did the kennel below—save for the yapping of dogs and the groomer shouting at them to behave. “But just because I’m trying to help take care of her doesn’t mean she can’t live in an apartment by herself.”

Jean quickly changed the topic. “There’s the flower,” she said as she pushed her phone my way.

I wanted to ask more about Jerry, but I felt doing so in this moment would’ve been insensitive. Jean was almost always direct with her replies. In this moment, she wasn’t even looking at me. Her eyes were fixed on her phone. And she was quick to move the topic forward. Maybe it was a way for her to move on from a painful subject.

Instead, I merely nodded and exclaimed, “Wow, that turned out really nice!” And it was really nice. I was in complete awe at this gorgeous flower picture she’d taken.

Jean shook her head and sighed. “It’s a weed!” Apparently, Jerry and I shared the same reaction—praising the gorgeous photo of that flower (or weed, according to Jean).

Instead of asking more about Jerry, I decided to ask general questions about her family. She has three children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild—one of whom is Jerry’s daughter, Elena.

Jean has a soft spot for Elena, who, like her mother, struggles with her health. Elena, now 24 years old, was born with cancer and has been fighting it all her life. “She’s on dialysis now. And will be. She had one kidney transplant and her body, it didn’t take it.”

According to Jean, Elena’s a bit of a problem child. At her age, she wants to go out and do things most young women her age do—not be stuck on dialysis.

Although her kidneys are functional, Jean knows a lot about dialysis. Her husband Jim developed kidney problems in his mid-50s. “He was on dialysis for four and a half years. And the doctor told me to never, that if we needed help at home, we needed to hire a nurse and Jim wouldn’t have that. He made me quit working so that I could take care of him.” And so Jean did. “He had dialysis three times a week, so if it was Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday were doctor appointments, so we still—I had to drive him into town to get him somewhere. But we still had fun together.”

Perhaps caring for her ill family members is why she feels the need to keep working, learning—to be mobile.

“The last thing I want to do is sit in a wheelchair for 20 years. So I think it’s more a case of…” she trailed off. “Not that I’m afraid I’m going to die or quit moving, but that the quality of life that I’m going to have while I’m alive. I think I want to be like my grandmother. She was almost 96 when she passed away. And she still lived in her own time, still shopped for her own groceries, she still cooked her own meals, she probably would still be using her hands when she died.”

Jean shooed a fly away from the general vicinity. By no means is Greenbelt Kennel disgusting or filthy, but animal excrement—something unavoidable in kennels—does tend to attract flies. It probably didn’t help that the boarding dogs have constant indoor and outdoor access. No other kennel I’ve worked in has had both indoor and outdoor runs, which allows the boarding dogs more movement, more freedom. Naturally, flies and other insects share that same access. I asked for a spare fly swatter. Might as well give Jean a hand while I was there.

As she handed me the fly swatter, Jean continued on as she continued to swipe at the buzzing little pests.

“She’d walk to the library and they would let her take out 20 books. She had this little grocery cart thing she wheeled so she wouldn’t have to carry all of those things. She’d take them home and read them, then take them back, and they’d let her take 20 more. There were still library books laying on her table when she died that we had to give back to the library. She answered the door one day. One of her friends, who worked at the courthouse, decided to stop by to see how she was doing. She came out to the door, opened the door to let him in, turned around, took about five steps back inside the house, and—” She paused, perhaps for effect. Or maybe for reverence, out of respect for her late grandmother. “Died. I could only wish I die that way.”

75 years old, working 50 hours a week and wouldn’t have it any other way.

That sentence sent a chill down my spine. Though it sounded like a morbid statement, it also wasn’t. Jean wanted to die with dignity. And for her, dignity was in her work and mobility.

“I’ve seen too many people my age retire and just sit down and die.” Her voice was brittle. “So many of my friends were so looking forward to retirement, there were going to retire when they were 60, or when they were 65, or whenever. They were going to do all those things they wanted to do all their life. They retired, and within three months they were dead.” Jean reached out for a box of tissues and muttered about her allergies. I thought she was trying to cover up tears, but when she blew her nose, that wasn’t the case. Allergies really were the issue at hand here.

This moment was similar to her using her phone as she talked about her daughter. She tried not to get emotional. Maybe that’s why Jean came off as cold or harsh to some people. But I realized that for her, changing a painful subject with a comment or an action was a way to move the conversation forward.

She didn’t even hesitate to move on to her education and work history from there. Out of her family, Jean was the first to earn a college degree. She began at Drake University, but since she was an adult student, they refused to give her a degree. After taking classes for a year and a half at Drake, she transferred to Simpson College, which allowed her to earn an accounting degree. After graduating from Simpson, she worked for a couple years. She decided to sit for the CPA exam, but realized that wasn’t what she wanted to do—well, sort of. “I wanted to do that work, but I guess I was being a little bit of a chicken, and I really didn’t want the responsibilities of being a CPA.”

So Jean packed her schoolbag and returned to Drake for a Master’s degree in public administration. How did someone with her qualifications end up running a kennel?

For starters, Jean’s only managed Greenbelt for the last 20 years. Before that, she worked at a CPA firm, which lead her to working for Massey-Ferguson for 20 years.

“Ten years in their purchasing department, and then another ten years in their tax department,” she said wistfully. It seemed she missed that work to some extent. She didn’t think she’d work anywhere else for another 20 years—so why not retire? Before Jean could do that, a friend’s husband hired her to work for him. She worked there for a second set of 20 years.

“Investment banking, both public and corporate finance.” And now she’s nearing a third set of 20 years at Greenbelt.

“I can’t say I know too many people who’d retire after two 20-year jobs and decide to start a kennel,” I said. “What made you decide on opening a kennel?”

“My husband had passed away, and I was too young to sit at home and do nothing,” Jean stated, as if it were nothing more than a fact. Technically, it was a fact. But the way she said this confirmed my thoughts about she lacked emotion. Working was an escape from returning to an empty home. A way to move on and keep her mind and body occupied with other things.

“I thought about going back into the investment banking world. I had a lot of customers that were just great people. But they had all gone somewhere else. That was about an eight-year period where I’d been off work. The government had changed all kinds of rules and regulations. And I thought I’m too old to take the time getting all of my customers back and learning all the new rules and regulations to treat the customers right. So I was driving down University one day to go home.” Pause. “Well, that’s the building they said was for sale, the kennel they said was for sale, so I turned around and came back in. The lady that had it was trying to sell it but she never put a for sale sign up for it.”

With the more than reasonable asking price, Jean thought she could do that, even with the state of the building. “We spent a lot of time and money, even making it as nice as it is now,” Jean said. “It still isn’t as nice as I would like for it to be. But we’re getting there.”

Getting there? Since I worked at Greenbelt three summers ago, the kennel had gone under some renovations. And they looked great. One of the most obvious ones was crystal clear from the moment I had entered the kennel earlier that day. The “smalls,” that is, the small dog daycare area, was now separated from the lobby by a clear sliding door. When I worked there, no such door existed. But “getting there,” as Jean said to me, implied that there was always going to be repairs. Dogs aren’t exactly the cleanest of creatures, so kennels often use strong cleaning supplies that can be harsh on various surfaces. Then the occasional teething puppy will gnaw on just about anything. And some dogs will eat anything. One thing the film Marley and Me nailed: Marley eating dry wall. Where there are dogs, there will be consistent cleaning and fixing.

Something Rod—Jean’s “second-in-command,” as I liked to think of him—had told me came to mind. That the kennel industry was not profitable. Most of the money went back to renovations, back to the dogs. Something I’d learned not all kennels do. And sometimes, that hurt Greenbelt’s reputation—but also, it didn’t.

“When they [customers] see a brand-new building they automatically think everything is one-hundred percent. The building’s only a tenth of it. It’s the people, the care of the dogs and a few other things. So they walk into our building and think, ‘Woah, this is a one-hundred-year-old building.’ It’s alright. We love the dogs, we take care of the dogs, we do a good job with the dogs, and most of them who finally decide to board here come back again.”

Jean swelled with pride at this—and I couldn’t blame her. I’d learned that from personal experience from working at her kennel. I wouldn’t want to take my dogs anywhere else, even though Greenbelt wasn’t as nice as the other kennels I’d worked at. The people did, in fact, make a difference.


A certificate Jean and Rod made for me on my last day at Greenbelt.

“Oh!” Jean exclaimed. “I was going to give you this.” She slid a couple sheets of paper across the table.

“This” was a list of places she’d worked at over the years—a resume, of sorts. It was structured clearly so that I could see where she worked and her accomplishments over the years. The other sheet, was a quote. A quote she said she added to the Greenbelt Kennels website.

“It says, ‘There’s no end to education. It’s not that you read a book, pass an examination and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you’re born to the moment you die is a process of learning.’ And it tells a bit about the guy who wrote that.” This guy, as Jean referred to him as, is Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher, speaker and writer. “But that’s been my philosophy for most of my life. You just can’t quit learning. You can’t quit.”

The passion in Jean’s voice was unmistakable. Full of determination and fire. That sort of determination, perhaps, is what makes her so stubborn—and well-known, in some respects. She’s trained dogs for the local police force—including a dog no one thought would make a good police dog.

“We trained one dog for a city about a hundred miles from here. First thing they said was, ‘I want you to train my lab, my hunting dog lab, to be a police dog.’ And he had contacted four or five people, and they told him no. You can’t do that, it’s not possible. So we took the dog and trained it to be a police dog.” Jean chuckled. “We worked with the officer quite a bit to get him on board. Took the dog back home and in was less than a month the officer called back, and he says, ‘Well you did a really good job. The dog’s already got one busted. Held up in court.’” She started to laugh even more.

I couldn’t help but laugh along with her. “Wow, you sure showed them.” The image itself was amusing. A Labrador Retriever working as a police dog, as opposed to the typical German Shepherd, Jean’s favorite breed. “Have you learned anything from working here, at Greenbelt?”

Her laughter ceased. “Working with dogs is an education in itself. Dogs will teach you.”

And vice versa, it seemed. Jean enjoyed training dogs—just not her own, interestingly enough. She tended to prefer larger dogs over smaller ones—German Shepherds (like the ones on the canine units) and Rottweilers in particular. I asked her why, but she wasn’t really sure why that was. But I also noticed the distant relationship between her and her animals come up again.

“I used to do a lot of training and showing dogs, and I loved to do that,” Jean explained. “And maybe that was more of the distance type aspect of it because a lot of those dogs, even, I knew once I got through showing them, I probably would never see them again. I would watch and see if they were in some other show or did something else, so I kind of followed them a little bit, but I wasn’t really there with them.”

Sometimes people needed help showing their dogs—so Jean would go help them. “You get really attached to the dog, but then you don’t see them again. I’ve had some of my own dogs I’ve gotten fairly attached to. They were all really nice dogs. The last two, Luna and Leise were pretty special.”

I remembered Luna and Leise alright—a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler, respectively. Jean choked up a little when she brought them up. She asked if I had known they’d passed away over the last year. I had known that thanks to the Greenbelt Kennels Facebook page. Her reaction made sense since their losses were relatively recent.

I nodded, unsure of what else to say, aside from “I’m sorry for your loss.” I have yet to experience a dog’s death—a reality I know I will soon have to face myself, with a 16-year-old dog back home.


Reese (age 13) tagged along for daycare at Greenbelt.

“But I’ve had to realize, too, that like people, dogs get old and they pass away. That’s just the cycle of things.”

A cycle. There was a cycle occurring here, in our conversation. Topics associated with education, work and death kept popping up.

I had an epiphany of sorts. “There’s some sort of connection between being able to do what you’re doing, working, educating yourself—“

Jean cut my sentence short. “And to help others. I have a sick daughter and sick granddaughter. Somebody’s got to help them. And I would like to as long as I can physically do it.”

And there it was. “Jean, could it be that for you, owning a kennel is also a way for you to help other people? Not just their animals.”

“Honestly, in the beginning, it was,” she replied. As her customers and friends have grown older over the years, sometimes they fall and hurt themselves or need last minute surgery—and many of them own dogs. Jean felt that ensuring their dogs had a place to go to, even if it was last minute, was important. She knew how great it was to have a place from her own personal experiences.

“When I was traveling, I had to leave my dogs somewhere,” Jean said. “I had to take them in a day early because I had to leave before they opened the next morning. I had to pick them up a day late—sometimes two days late because I couldn’t get to their place before they closed, which meant there was more expense. In that situation, the dogs weren’t even really taken care of. They were all outside; runs were all outside with just a dog house at the end they could get in and out of for shelter or weather if they needed it. But mine were all shepherds. Nobody would take care of shepherds. So yeah, I think opening the kennel was almost just a challenge to…” she trailed off a little, but continued on. “To be here for the dogs’ owners, not just for the dogs. Be here when people needed me to be here.”

38 countries and 50 states.

Jean clearly understood the important of ensuring that dogs had a place to stay during travels. She’d traveled when showing dogs, but also on her own time. When she wasn’t caring for dogs—or working elsewhere, she traveled. “People probably think I’m an alcoholic,” she joked. Judging by the countless shot glasses decorating her entire living area, it’s easy to see why people might get that impression. “When I travel, I collect shot glasses because they’re small and tiny but representative of where I’ve been.”

She selected a couple shot glasses and allowed me to inspect them. They were from her most recent trip, which was with her daughter. One glass was from an Amish settlement in Pennsylvania with rather vulgar names. Another she’d purchased from a restaurant at Virginia Beach. “Every one of those tells a story—from Europe and everywhere.”

More specifically, as I found out, “Europe and everywhere” was a total of 38 countries and all 50 states.

“And spent quite a bit of time in each one of them,” Jean proudly declared. “Seen a lot of things, and then, see, we’ll go again and take a different road and see different things.”

She’s seen enough to have lost track of how many times she’s driven through certain states, like Idaho. On that trip through Idaho—another one she took with her daughter—they drove off of the main highway. There was a sign for a place called Craters of the Moon National Park. Jean had never heard of it. Naturally curious and eager to learn more, Jean and Jerry followed the signs to what was actually the remains of a volcano and lava. Hundreds of acres of lava rock. She and her daughter really enjoyed their time there.

But Jerry isn’t the only person Jean has traveled with. After she married Jim, she traveled more than she had before. Her love of traveling, of movement, of freedom, only grew during their 10-year-long marriage. But only six of those years did they travel. “He got me interested in traveling more.”

During that time, Jerry was an exchange student in Australia, who insisted they fly out to visit her. Jean and Jim packed up their suitcases and flew out there, staying for two months. Jean’s favorite part? The island of Tasmania, the native island where Tasmanian devils reside. “They’re nasty little animals,” Jean said.

She and Jim had visited Alaska twice, and all over the United States. “He enjoyed the same kinds of trips I did to a certain degree.”

“To what degree?” I asked.

“He would get a little impatient sometimes,” Jean said wearily. “Like when we were going out to Rocky Mountain National Park, which neither one of us had seen, and there were two or three things I wanted to see in-between. And as he’s driving by, he’d say, “Did you see such and such?” And just keep right on driving.”

Though Jim doing that got on her nerves, she didn’t let that get to her or ruin her trips. It seemed moments like that actually motivated her to travel even more. She went to Alaska twice with Jim, but returned on her own—mainly to get a picture of Mt. McKinley. When she and Jim went together, luck wasn’t on their side. Clouds covered the mountain the first trip. On the second, smog and smoke from a recent forest fire made it nearly impossible to take a clear picture. But as they say, the third time is a charm.

Jean recalled telling herself, “‘I am not leaving until I get a picture of Mt. McKinley.’ After about fifteen days in the park, I was getting tired of walking the same trails and doing the same things, I got in the car and headed for Fairbanks, which is north. And as fate would have it, they were doing some work on the road, so you had to take this tiny detour and then you went around a curve. As I was going on the curve, I looked out my rearview mirror, and here was Mt. McKinley with nothing but blue sky. I pulled off to a little area on the road and took a whole bunch of pictures of Mt. McKinley. If you’re patient enough, you can eventually get what you want.”

And with that, we decided to close the interview. Before I could make my way to the stairs, Jean eased herself up out of her chair and asked me to look at her pictures of Mt. McKinley. My phone was buzzing with updates for my journalism capstone class. Apparently, something I’d posted on the website had gone haywire. Instead of responding to say I would fix it, I silenced my phone to see photos of the tallest mountain in North America.

Jean was right. It had been worth the wait. Her photos of the mountain were breathtaking. The Alaskan skies were foggy and gray, but that didn’t make the mountain any less beautiful.

I felt a pang of envy—I’d always wanted to go Alaska. Part of that “want” came from one of my favorite movies. Balto was an animated film loosely based on the events of a 1925 diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska. It wasn’t told from the perspectives of humans, but that of a wolf-dog and his friends. The movie was one that struck me to the core as a child. I watched it so many times my grandparents simply gave me their VHS copy.

The other half of that “want” also came from something my Grandma Leanna had wanted to do. She and I always talked about going on an Alaskan cruise together. But unfortunately, our plans never came to fruition. Leanna died unexpectedly in 2007—and her loss was not one I handled well. Although Jean came off as “cold” and some might even say “heartless” in how she dealt with loss, I respected her for it.

I had always respected Jean—as my boss—but now, I had an even deeper, profound respect for her. Moving on from losing someone—whether through death or cutting someone out of my life—has never been an easy thing for me. Even leaving Greenbelt Kennels behind had been difficult for me to do. But I needed work the following summers. Whether I wanted to or not, I had to move on.

And as a senior in college this year, the concept of moving forward still scares me. But I’m going to do my best to follow Jean’s example. Keep moving on, keep learning and never stop.