Dogged determination: Son steps up to keep family business running after accident

Mike Vriesema spends some time with Brownie at Confederation Kennel. The 12-year-old stepped up to take over the day-to-day work of Confederation Kennel’s when his mom suffered a head injury.

Mike Vriesema spends some time with Brownie at Confederation Kennel. The 12-year-old stepped up to take over the day-to-day work of Confederation Kennel’s when his mom suffered a head injury.

When Mike Vriesema opens the door to Confederation Kennels, 16 dogs meet him with a chorus of barking.

The 12-year-old greets most of the dogs by name as he lets them out for a run. As he opens the cage of one dog which takes a flying leap at him; Vriesema’s face lights up as he gives the dog a hug and a pat before it heads out the door.

Vriesema has always liked animals so when his parents started talking about opening a kennel, he was excited. “I was hoping to help,” says Mike. “Mom wanted to make me the manager or the assistant manager.”

And he did help his mom, Julie by dealing with the day-to-day business. Then she had an accident. Julie fell on ice suffering a severe concussion. She hasn’t been able to work for six weeks and it will be some time before she can get back to work.

Her husband, Chuck, says for a while they considered whether they should continue running the kennel while Julie was recovering. “Julie said, ‘don’t book anymore dogs. We’re going to shut it down.’ But I said, ‘we’ll keep it going for now and we’ll see.’”

Chuck and Mike stepped up, with the 12-year-old doing most of the leg work, meeting new customers, letting the dogs outside, making sure they have food and water and mopping the floors twice daily to clean up any accidents.

And so far, Mike says he’s loved almost every minute of it.  “I have the occasional day that I don’t want to go to do the kennel – once every two or three months,” he says adding that only happens “when it is really annoying and they’re peeing in the kennel a lot.”

Vriesema’s dad says Mike is a natural at the work. “He loves animals and that makes all the difference,” says Chuck. “He does better at it than we do because he’s the one who walks away with all the tips,” he adds with a laugh.

“We’re still there making sure everything is done properly…but we give him enough independence as he willing to take.”

The young man has immersed himself into the work, studying a dog encyclopedia he received for Christmas to get even more insight into each breed. Vriesema’s enjoying his new job so much, he hopes to make a career of it one day.

“My mom is hoping to expand,” says Mike. “Once my mom is too old to do it anymore, I hope to take over and make a business for myself.”

-Heather Wright

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