The Shelter Playgroup Alliance (SPA) is a collaboration among shelter staff and behavior experts. We have developed a framework that supports safe and “healthy play” and limits the use of aversives to manage playgroups.  You can read more about the Shelter Playgroup Alliance at this IAABC Journal article published in the 2019 Winter editionClick here to download a copy of the article.


Visit our YouTube channel for videos that support our guidelines.


For a list of volunteer contributors to this effort, visit the contributors page.

The SPA Leadership Team provides leadership for the organization, as well as event planning and management of the the annual Shelter Playgroup Summit.

Lisa Mullinax
Board President
Lisa Mullinax is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and Behavior Manager at the Dumb Friends League in Denver.


She has been working with dogs and their owners for 15 years and specializes in fearful, reactive, and aggressive behavior.  Lisa also provides consultation and staff training for shelter, rescue, and veterinary professionals.

Lisa runs the popular 4PawsUniversity Facebook page, as well as writing blog articles which are shared by dog lovers in over 40 countries and have been featured by other behavior professionals.  

Over the course of her career, Lisa has worked with over 4,000 dogs, earned four certifications in behavior and training, and has accrued more than 450 hours of continuing education through some of the top training and behavior professionals in the industry.  

Lisa has also served as an expert witness in dangerous dog and civil cases, assessing dog bite cases and providing behavior evaluations.

Mara Velez
Executive Director

​Mara Velez is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer who worked at Contra Costa Animal Services Department

Mara specializes in training fearful dogs; helping families with dogs recently adopted from a shelter; managing and training leash reactive dogs; and modifying fear-based aggression behaviors.  At CCASD, Mara trained new volunteers and has collaboratively developed behavior program structures for the shelter, including the behavior evaluation and playgroup guidelines.  She has completed University of the Pacific Animal Shelter Management Program and the Summer Shelter Institute.

Mara also enjoys training  other species because it expands her training and observation skills. To date, she has worked with cats, bunnies, wolves, foxes, guinea pigs, coyotes, buffalo, donkeys, goats, alpacas, chickens, birds, and a fish.

Mara holds both a bachelors and masters degree in psychology and completed all of the course work for a doctorate in education.  In addition to completing KPA, LLA, and several other animal behavior and training-related programs, Mara continually develops her skills and knowledge of canines by attending seminars and reading science-based canine literature.  To date, she has completed over 1,300 hours of continuing education.

Kiem Sie
Operations Director

Kiem Sie is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and is skilled in educational technology and dog behavior.

For the past decade, Kiem has been working across two sectors: animal welfare and higher education.  Her commitment to assisting open-admissions shelters started when she was an active volunteer at Berkeley Animal Care Services (BACS).  While there she trained incoming volunteers, provided adoption counseling, performed home checks, and took dogs awaiting adoption to BACS-BADRAP.org’s Pit Ed training classes. These classes are aimed to strengthen the relationship between adopters and their pets while, learning basic obedience, leash handling skills, and training and support.

Kiem also served as a board member with Friends of Berkeley Animal Care Services, where she helped raise funds for educational and enrichment programs, adoptions, medical care, equipment, BACS-BADRAP.org’s Pit Ed training classes, and other necessities. She has also been a part of local rescues helping in various capacities, from vetting and coaching potential fosters, adoption counseling, fostering, training, and community support at pet health and wellness events around the Bay Area.

Three years ago, Kiem was asked to join the Behavior and Training unit at the Contra Costa Animal Services where she now conducts behavior evaluations, implements behavior modification plans, and trains dogs using positive reinforcement.

Kristin White
Strategy Lead

Kristin White is an engineer, shelter volunteer, and behavior enthusiast.


Kristin is a volunteer for the Sacramento SPCA behavior department and helps with a variety of areas including administrative functions, fostering, and behavioral modification for shy and fearful pups.  Prior to volunteering at the Sacramento SPCA, Kristin volunteered with other organizations in the Sacramento area where she trained volunteers, fostered, worked with potential adopters, and assisted in play groups. 

In her non-shelter life, Kristin works for the federal government helping to manage water and power operations for one of the largest water storage and transport systems in the world. Kristin holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering and a Master of Engineering degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in water resources. 

Kristin has a passion for animal behavior, as well as a passion for event planning and project management, making her an indispensable member of the SPA Core Team.   

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