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Jill Morstad


Walking into her house, you wouldn’t know that Jill Morstad is the owner of two large Belgian Shepherds.

There was no barking, no jumping, no licking and the dogs were nowhere to be seen. It’s not that Jill doesn’t love her dogs or is compelled to keep her house in a perpetually manicured state, actually it’s the opposite – her dogs have boundaries, because she loves them.

This is a distinction that she’s careful to make, and it comes from her more than 30 years of teaching people to train their dogs. Offering classes at dog clubs, in private homes, animal shelters and vet clinics, Jill has a broad understanding of the communication between dogs and owners. But really, she said, her job is about listening to stories.

“Everybody’s pet is a story,” she said.

And while it might sound a little strange to talk about dog training in terms of stories, Jill said people have so many preconceptions about training and even owning a dog based on their personal experiences. Things like their childhood pet, a recently deceased animal or even a neighbor’s dog can color a story very quickly, she said, and that’s natural.

But her job is to hear those stories, understand their origin and articulate their impact. She does this with her clients, and she’s done this since she was an 8-year-old who owned her first dog.

Like a lot of kids, Jill started asking for a dog as soon as she could find the words. She was fascinated by the dog books at the school library, checking them out one by one and reading them cover to cover. These books brought the dog-owning experience to life for her until her family was given a dog by a family member who couldn’t care for it any more.

Little 8-year-old Jill and her dad took the dog to a local training class where the instructor was an AKC judge. It didn’t take long before Jill was immersed in the dog training world – connecting with local trainers, reading any training book she could get her hands on and researching local dog shows to attend. It suddenly became her whole world.

As she got older, Jill said she realized why she loved training so much. It was more than just shaping an animal or making it do what she wanted, it was about communication, about understanding the void between humans and dogs and figuring out how to bridge that gap. There was something highly natural, yet philosophical about the process and Jill loved that.

When she went off to college, she studied journalism because of her fascination with communication and went on to work at a small publishing company shortly after graduation. Within a year of graduating, Jill owned a dog and started training it for competitions. In her free time she traveled around the Midwest taking her dog to obedience competitions and connecting with other area trainers.

Eventually Jill moved to Missouri to pursue her graduate degree in folklore and language and then came to Lincoln in the early 90s to work on her PhD. She taught at UNL and is now an English and writing professor at Union College.

She often asks her students, “What would you read about or think about if it was left entirely up to you?”

For Jill, the answer to that question is dog training. It’s where her passion and purpose collide and it’s a way that she feels like she can train people in Lincoln to care well for their dogs to better individual homes, neighborhoods and the community as a whole.

Jill’s days are spent vacillating between teaching English, training dog owners, hosting a weekly radio show about dog ownership, preparing for dog shows and keeping up with her own dogs during her morning run.

Communication has been a consistent part of her story.

Her two jobs are centered on using communication to relay a message and create order. For dogs, this happens through verbal commands and non-verbal signals, and with her students, she’s realized that even with the perfectly chosen words, not even the English language can be articulated 100 percent accurately.

Whether it’s the way she’s introducing a concept to her college students or how she’s working with a dog and its owner, there’s a high level of intentionality in all of Jill’s work.

Her entire story has been one of learning and sharing. It’s been about more than just a love of animals or a love of words, but a union between these two seemingly separate disciplines.

A writer of stories


Sharing your story with a someone can be challenging, humbling and even scary. Not with her. It’s more than just the frequent nods of approval and kind smile. She has a way of making you feel comfortable, both with yourself and your story.

Somehow you have the confidence that she’ll take the tangled web of facts and short stories and craft something articulate and beautiful. You can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, but you can tell she genuinely cares about you, values your story and has a sincere desire to tell it well.

Meet Asha (like Tasha without the “T”). Don’t worry if you mispronounce her name. She gets it.

If you were to take a quick glance at Asha’s story, it might seem pretty standard for a Nebraska girl. But look a little deeper and you’ll find that her story is more than you might have expected.

** Disclaimer : Asha did not write this story. You’ll get to enjoy her wonderful writing again next week, but this week you get to learn more about the writer herself. **

Although Asha herself lived most of her life in Omaha, her father was born and raised in India and her mother is from a small town west of Lincoln. Before meeting each other in the Philippines, her parents traveled and lived in other exotic places like India and Israel. But even after settling down in Nebraska, those distant cultures, food and people remained a significant part of their life.

Asha can remember being called upon as a child to help prep and serve home-cooked food to people visiting from around the world. There was always the expectation to stay around to hear stories and take part in conversations with their guests.

Visitors would share tales about dangerous travels, risky border crossings, strange foods and the difficulties of living abroad. Listening to and sharing stories was a big part of Asha’s childhood experience and when it came to writing them down, she was a natural.

Growing up, teachers would tell her that she had a talent for writing, but it wasn’t until a journalism class in high school that Asha began to see what her talent had to offer. When she showed an interest in writing, her parents encouraged her to get involved. Soon Asha found herself as the editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper.

She attended journalism camps, entered competitions and won awards. But as high school was drawing to a close, Asha had a decision to make. Would she study medical science like her two older siblings, or would she buck the trend and go on to study journalism? The decision might sound like a no brainer, but it was complicated.

Choosing a career in medicine would be the practical, responsible and slightly more acceptable decision. But the idea of experiencing adventure, travel and stories for herself… maybe that could be practical too? She told herself she would need a plan.

Asha purposed to find as many internships and real-world experiences during her college studies in order to land a job after graduation. She wanted to take things seriously and her “plan” somehow made the impractical choice more practical – giving her the confidence to say yes.

Asha took advantage of every opportunity for real-world practice in journalism. International trips and internships around the country were expected realities.

She was doing it. Asha was doing what she loved – traveling, experiencing diverse cultures, meeting new people and still maintaining a laser focus on her career.

Asha figured she was set. With her awards, recognition and experience, she wouldn’t have any problem landing a job and traveling the world. Everything seemed to be going as planned.

Then… life happened.

Asha met a guy – Michael. She fell in love and got married. They decided to settle down in Lincoln and the decision was a surprisingly easy one. They already had friends, family, favorite places to eat and a great community. Asha and Michael had grown attached to their city and knew Lincoln would be a great place to start a family.

The first step in settling down meant starting a career and shortly after being married, Asha landed her first real-world job. But it wasn’t what she expected. She went to work in advertising. That’s right… advertising.

Instead of traveling the world, Asha would be helping businesses find their message, writing copy for websites, video scripts and interviewing people on camera. Initially she was a bit out of her element, but it didn’t take long to get the hang of things and excel.

A short time later, she was approached with an offer. Asha was asked if she would be interested in helping start an advertising agency focused on storytelling. It sounded intriguing, even exciting. But it was definitely a risk. Did she really want to stay in advertising?

Eventually she said yes and agreed to come on board to help start StoryHook.

Fast forward to today. Responsible for almost 52 stories, Asha is the creator, writer and photographer for this wonderful series we call Stories Matter. She has been instrumental in building StoryHook and injecting well-crafted storytelling into the community. People from all over have read and loved the stories she writes each week.

Being in advertising wasn’t exactly part of the plan and if you were to ask high school Asha about her future self settling down in Lincoln and working in advertising… she might be a little disappointed that she isn’t the traveling journalist she maybe thought she would become.

Instead, high school Asha should be encouraged by the surprise of adventure. She married a loving husband, has a growing family, is surrounded by a supportive community and directly impacts the lives of people through her writing.

Asha’s story is one of tough decisions, unexpected outcomes and surprise blessings. She didn’t give up on her dreams. She found a better one. With people she loves.

Asha isn’t a great writer because of her childhood experiences, her travels, or her education – though those have uniquely shaped her into the writer and person she is today. No, Asha is a great writer because when she writes about you, you’re more than just a story. You’re a person, with immense value. To Asha, your story matters… because it’s yours.

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