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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 3,000 hours of continuing education.

Kiem Sie, Operations Director,

For more than a 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,

Ally Verba 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 Arizona where she runs her own Behavior Consulting practice.

Yona Rappaport, Social Media Coordinator,

Yona got her start working with dogs at Metro Dog Daycare and Boarding. She excelled as a playgroup handler, off-leash group walker, trainer-in-training, staff trainer, client liaison, and ultimately became the facilities manager before transitioning to contract work as a behavior professional at Contra Costa Animal Services, then to Pasadena Humane Society where she currently works. There, she discovered her love of working in a shelter setting. Having the chance to focus on improving her ability to read body language and mechanical skills through various programs and attaining two certifications, she has had the pleasure of handling and working with thousands of dogs over the past ten years. One of her favorite activities is teaching volunteer classes and now volunteers with Shelter Playgroup Alliance to continue coaching volunteers and shelter staff while still focusing on furthering her education. Yona is the owner and operator of Science at Play Dog Training, Behavior and Gear. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge of effective, ethical training with clients and their dogs. Along with selling typical dog leashes, she designs and tests specialty equipment for use in a number of settings such as shelter specific leashes designed to reduce stress on dogs and increase safety for handlers in a kennel setting.

Board of Directors

Lisa Colvin, 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 three cats.

Andee Connors, 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.

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