Some days my life feels like a dream. I get to train my over-the-top dogs to help save the planet and coach others to do the same around the world.

It was a long road here.

I grew up in snowy northern Wisconsin, dreaming of a life that mirrored the books on my shelves. I collected and cataloged bugs, wrote short stories, trained homing pigeons, and competed in cross-country skiing. At night, I read: Jane Goodall, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Terry Tempest Williams, Mireya Mayor, John Muir, Ed Abbey, John Krakauer. I wanted to be a tropical ecologist. Or maybe a mountaineer. Or maybe a female Steve Irwin?

My sister Ellie was very sick during my high school years; MRSA nearly took her life. After 14 surgeries and months in hospital, she recovered and is now a medical doctor. I couldn’t be more proud of her! However, her health meant I was highly independent from a young age. I spent my junior year of high school in semester-away programs, studying environmental education at Conserve School and agriculture in Panama. My parents gave me a long leash, probably in part because they were so overwhelmed emotionally and financially. I was also incredibly fortunate that Conserve School only cost $500 per semester in 2010; cheaper than feeding me at home!

I still find pure joy in big bugs, training animals, skiing uphill, and sharing my love of nature through stories.

As an undergraduate at Colorado College, I dove into studies on primate behavior, parrot cognition, comparative neuroethology, and mammalogy. Never one to sit still for long, I also co-chaired the salsa dance club, started a Nordic ski team (and qualified for nationals as a competitor), and worked at the Outdoor Education trip planning center. I spent long weekends whitewater kayaking the Royal Gorge and climbing in Moab.

But I also needed a way to pay rent, and the job at the outdoor ed center wasn't cutting it. So I started training dogs. What started as a Craigslist ad eventually became the dog behavior resource center Journey Dog Training (I sold the company in 2023). I leveraged my love of neurobiology and cognition to become an excellent trainer, specializing in high-arousal and aggressive dogs of all backgrounds. But I never stopped wanting a career in conservation.

For years, I felt stuck between two worlds.

Just before I graduated with a degree in ecology, a friend sent me a link about dog sniffing out orca scat on the Salish sea. Something clicked and I knew this is how I wanted to spend my life: training dogs to detect data for ecologists. I sent email after email asking for volunteer positions or internships; most went unanswered.I was told by one company that they didn't hire people in relationships. Another told me that they preferred to hire people without dog training experience.

I spent the next 3 years refusing to take "no" for an answer. I figured that all organizations need websites and writers, so I started freelancing on nights and weekends while working full-time as a pet behavior consultant an enormous open-admission animal shelter. Diligent editors, especially at K9 of Mine, taught me to translate hands-on dog training experience, learning theory, and neuroscience for a general audience. Meanwhile, I grew Journey Dog Training from a one-woman dog training business to an online dog behavior resource center with over 150,000 monthly readers.

I adopted a ball-crazed border collie named Barley who positively oozed potential as a working dog. I wrote a Fulbright grant and made it to the semi-finalist stage before, 3 years after starting to send inquiry emails, I landed a job within the world of conservation detection dogs. Barley, of course, was hired too. It was a dream come true. Barley and I worked on projects with endangered black-footed ferrets, invasive Dyer's woad, and invasive zebra mussels.

During a "vacation," I tried out bushcraft and survival skills as a competitor on National Geographic Wild's Called to the Wild. Looking forward to a long career, I purchased a puppy named Niffler to apprentice under Barley.

I was at Working Dogs for Conservation for 18 amazing and challenging months before losing the job at the height of COVID (check out a blog on that here).

I was broke and scared and angry and determined. I figured buying a 16-year-old van with 190,000 miles was a good idea. "Saga" would allow me to stop paying rent and eliminated the need for field housing. I moved in and spent 3 years living in "Saga" full-time. I became a reluctant diesel mechanic attending to Saga's constant break-downs, an enthusiastic adventurer, and the passionate voice of K9 Conservationists.

A central goal of K9 Conservationists: help others train their dogs to collect data.

I started podcasting. My cofounders and I launched an online mentorship group and comprehensive online course.

Between jobs in Kenya training cheetah scat detection dogs and working on the wind farms of Nebraska finding bat carcasses, I drove to the Arctic Ocean to swim under a midnight sun. I scraped by, teaching cross-country skiing and freelancing and taking relief shifts as an animal behaviorist at shelters. I worked on fellowship applications for graduate school late into the night for months on end.

While working on a wind farm, Niffler the dog adopted a hungry lost kitten. Norbert joined the family as we headed south on the Pan-American Highway. Conservation dog fieldwork was hard to come by and I still made most of my money freelance writing, so I figured I'd take advantage of the locational freedom.

I also started a vlog, which didn't last long but taught me a ton about storytelling. Check out my favorite episode below!

In El Salvador, I fell in - and out - of love with a local surfer. We climbed volcanoes in 5 countries together and made beachside fires after long days in the saltwater. While waiting on more van repairs in Nicaragua, I found out that I'd won both the NSF-GRF and the Fulbright. Rather than circumnavigating the Darien and driving to Patagonia, I'll spend the next few years getting my PhD.

And here we are.