Mara Velez, Ivy and Nala-3.jpg
Mara Velez, Executive Director, MA, CPDT-KA

Mara Velez is the Executive Director of the Shelter Playgroup Alliance and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.  Prior to co-founding the Shelter Playgroup Alliance, Mara was a behavior and training consultant for several years at Contra Costa Animal Services (CCASD), an open-admission county shelter.  At CCASD she collaboratively designed, developed, and implemented behavior program structures, including a robust volunteer training program, the behavior evaluation, and  the canine enrichment and playgroup guidelines.


In addition to working with canines, Mara enjoys training  other species because it expands her training and observation skills. She has worked with cats, rabbits, wolves, foxes, guinea pigs, coyotes, buffalo, donkeys, goats, alpacas, chickens, parrots, corvids and other 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.  She also completed University of the Pacific Animal Shelter Management Program and the Summer Shelter Institute. Mara has also completed 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 1,400 hours of continuing education.

Kiem Sie, Operations Director, CPDT-KA,
SA Pro Trainer

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 at BACS, she trained incoming volunteers and provided adoption counseling.

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, and other shelter necessities. She has also been a part of local rescues helping in various capacities, from coaching potential fosters, adoption counseling, fostering, training, and community support at pet health and wellness events around the Bay Area.

In 2016, Kiem was asked to join the Behavior and Training unit at the Contra Costa Animal Services (CCAS) where she conducted behavior evaluations, implemented behavior modification plans, and trained dogs using positive reinforcement.

Ally Verba, Social Media Manager, CPDT-KA,

Ally Verba, CPDT-KA, CSAT, FFCT, is the Social Media Manager for Shelter Playgroup Alliance as well as an original contributor to the SPA Guidelines. Her career in the Behavior + Training world started in 2010 when she attended Dog Training Internship Academy. Ally has since worked alongside multiple animal shelters throughout the nation including her role as Behavior Supervisor at Asheville Humane Society, as well her role as a Behavior Consultant with Contra Costa Animal Services and East Bay SPCA. She currently resides in Portland, OR where she runs her own Behavior Consulting practice.

Board of Directors

Marissa Martino, Board President,

Marissa Martino, CTC, CPDT-KA is the board president and has worked for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Boulder, CO as their behavior & training coordinator, the East Bay SPCA, as the Director of Behavior and Training, and the Behavior Manager at Dumb Friends League in Denver.  She has developed and implemented a behavior modification programs for shelter dogs with various special needs: such as fear, separation anxiety, resource guarding and dog-dog aggression.   Marissa has also presented at several shelter-focused conferences, including the HSUS conference and the Animal Care Conference.  As part of her role at Dumb Friends League, Marissa provides technical assistance to other shelters across the country. 

Lisa Colvin, Board Secretary, MA, MS

Lisa Colvin is the board secretary for the Shelter Playgroup Alliance and is the Senior Product Manager, Computational Programming at Pandora. Lisa has extensive experience in managing large, complex projects and has a background in computational linguistics, data science, and ontology engineering. Lisa brings her project management and critical analysis to the board. Lisa shares her home in Oakland with her four cats.

Andee Connors, Member-at-Large, BA

Andee Connors is a board member-at-large for the Shelter Playgroup Alliance and is the Manager of Catalog and Creator Services as well as the head of Metal and Punk Programming at Pandora SXM. Andee studied at UC San Diego, focusing on art and literature before leaving to pursue a career in music. He’s been a touring and recording musician ever since (30 years and counting) and currently plays in three bands. He’s been a music writer, a promoter, ran a record label, is a photographer and is the previous owner of Aquarius Records in San Francisco. Andee has a love of all animals, but cats in particular. While he plans to start his own animal rescue, he currently shares his apartment in San Francisco with three cats -- TONY HARRISON, LUGBURZ, and TUNGSTEN.

Nicole Kohleriter-Perelman, Member-at-Large,

In 2015 after 15 years of leading communications efforts for nonprofits, Nicole Kohleriter-Perelman founded Mission Critical PR to help mission-driven organizations achieve their goals. Kohleriter- Perelman excels at helping organizations define their brand and communications strategy, and then achieve high visibility media opportunities. With her experience, connections, and background in public policy, Kohleriter-Perelman and her associates are equally skilled at helping organizations develop successful partnerships, especially with funders, elected officials, and public policy experts.

Jennifer Phillips, Member-at-Large,

Jennifer is a professional, certified dog trainer and behavior consultant.  She has played many roles in the animal industry:  zookeeper, wildlife rehabber, docent, and educator.   After adopting two fearful/reactive shelter dogs, she began her educational journey to become a professional animal trainer.  Her passion is educating owners about environmental enrichment, training, and helping people develop deep and meaningful relationships with their animals. 

She currently shares her home with two mixed breed dogs, Green Aracaris (small Toucans), African Grey parrots, and Poison Dart Frogs.  In addition to training animals, she is an avid theatre goer and docent for the Los Angeles Zoo.