COARSEGOLD — Graydon Kennels has been family-owned and operated since 1975, but with the untimely passing of longtime owner Michael Steen in January 2018, his 30-year-old twin daughters — Amanda and Alison — were left with the challenge of keeping the family business running.
“It’s been a stressful time for us but we’re trying very hard to carry on my father’s legacy,” Amanda says. “It hasn’t been easy but my dad prepared us well for this job.”
Michael Steen, who was just 62 when he died of cancer, was eastern Madera County’s version of the ‘dog whisperer.’
“My dad was really well known and loved in this community,” Amanda says.
“Training dogs was his specialty. People from all around the area would bring their animals to him. He was quite involved in police dog work, too.”
People would joke about wanting to purchase his ‘magic leash,’ Amanda remembers.
“What he did, the ability he had with animals was talent. He understood their minds. A lot of times, he could communicate with them without even saying a word.”
The Steen sisters were raised by their father on the 11-acre hillside property that also houses the kennel.
“Over the years, we watched my dad build up an amazing clientele,” Amanda says.
Her father, a single parent, and his father, Amanda and Alison’s grandfather, came up with the name for the business.
In its more-than four decades in business, hundreds of area pet owners have boarded their animals at Graydon.
After Michael Steen’s passing, the Steen sisters were forced to make some changes. The kennels’ business hours have been shortened slightly –“and we are no longer offering dog training services,” Amanda says.
“We shortened our hours when my father became ill and we’ve decided to remain with those hours so we can focus on pets in our care,” Amanda says.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual at Graydon, which boards dogs and cats at its climate-controlled facility just off Highway 41.
“Alison and I are doing our best to honor my father’s memory and continue running the business the way we think he would have wanted us to,” Amanda says.
Both of the Steen sisters graduated from Yosemite High and Fresno State and then pursued careers of their own. After their father died in 2018, Amanda chose to leave her previous job to oversee the kennel.
Alison continues to work as an inspector for Madera County and supports her sister when needed.
The business office is now open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to noon, Friday to 4 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Tours of the facility are given by Amanda during office hours and proper footwear (no open sandals) is required for “a disinfectant foot soak” before viewing the facility, she says.
The kennel offers clean, spacious 4′ by 20′ and 8′ by 20′ dog runs, each with its own “sleeping box” attached. “We don’t co-mingle animals from different owners,” she adds. “We have separate runs for each animal if necessary.”
The facility also features high-tech surveillance and an attendant on the property 24/7.
The business can board as many as 45-50 dogs at time, Amanda says, and also has a “catery” inside the main office facility with room for up to 15 feline guests.
“Even when our office is closed, we are checking on the animals at all times,” Amanda says. “We’re not taking care of an item here. These are living, breathing creatures that need proper care and supervision.”
The Steen sisters, who have been surrounded by animals their entire lives, see their mission at Graydon as not just carrying on their father’s legacy, but also staying connected with his spirit through the animals they care for.
“When they board with us, we treat these pets like they’re one of the family,” Amanda says. “That’s how my father always did it. That’s what made him — and this business — so special. That’s something very important to my sister and me. We’re doing our best to keep making our dad proud.”