Sera Nelson is a woman of many talents, she is the Executive Director for the “Charity That Cleveland Grew”, Working Animals Giving Service for Kids. Sera is a graduate of Gilmour Academy and Ohio University. She received her degree in Communications, with a focus on Marketing & Promotions. With Gilmour’s focus on community service guiding her, Sera spent her early career working in non-profit development and brand management for Higher Education. Sera was a founding Trustee and Board Member in 2004, shaping and supporting the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids mission of training and placing Service Dogs exclusively to children with disabilities in the Northeast Ohio area. At an early age, Sera’s own diagnosis of epilepsy fueled her passion and drive from a personal understanding of all the abilities that can exist in the life of a child faced with the challenges of disability.
Sera has previously served as Director of Development & Special Events for Working Animals Giving Service for Kids. In 2012, Sera left the corporate world to devote a full time effort to her niche in the non-profit sector, leading W.A.G.S.’ development team and advocacy efforts. Her success in building relationships, creating awareness and support, has statistically doubled W.A.G.S. 4 Kids paw print on the community and in the organization’s financial stability. In 2013, she created the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids Youth Empowerment Program, “Kids Who Can!” Relationships were built through 4-H clubs, The Boy Scouts of America, High School and Middle School groups, and the nationally recognized “Magnified Giving” organization. Sera’s program teaches today’s youth to participate and do the things they love in such a way that will lead to the betterment of another child with developmental disabilities who needs their help.
As Executive Director she now oversees all training aspects of the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids programs including in home interviews with applicant families, puppy selections, inmate training instruction and evaluations and transition training of specific dogs into each partner family. She is a Provider Member of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP), and a proud graduate of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, cohort 16. It is under Sera’s direction that W.A.G.S. 4 Kids continues its legacy of growing possibilities, one child at a time.
Sera has stayed involved in her community in other ways having volunteered with 100+ Women Who Care - Cleveland, City Dogs Cleveland, Cleveland Young Professional Senate, United Way’s Youth Opportunities Unlimited, and Ohio Homecoming’s CLE NYE.
Director of Program Operations
216-586-5853 ext. 3
Certified by the National School for Dog Trainers' Master Training Course, Lisa has been a professional dog trainer since 1995. Lisa came to her role as Senior Trainer at Working Animals Giving Service for Kids through her work raising and breeding golden retriever puppies with Misty Meadows Kennels. Many of her puppies have graduated the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids training program and have gone on to serve the needs of children with disabilities and families across Northeast Ohio.
Lisa has previously served as Director of Training for Working Animals Giving Service for Kids and overseen W.A.G.S.' programs since its founding in 2004, leading W.A.G.S.' service dog training program at North Central Correctional Facility in Marion, OH, Grafton Correctional Institution in Grafton, OH and Mansfield Correctional Institution in Mansfield, OH. In addition to training service animals with W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, Lisa also serves the NE Ohio animal community with her business Dog Watch of Cleveland - Hidden Fences. Her greatest accomplishment, however, is her daughter, Madison.
Director of Training, Northeast Ohio
Certified by the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids Dog Trainers' Apprenticeship Program at North Central Correctional Complex, Josh received his certification in 2008 and helped train 18 service and skilled companion dogs during his apprenticeship. Since his release in December 2011, Josh has stayed dedicated to W.A.G.S. 4 Kids assisting with our in-home transition training. As a certified W.A.G.S. Staff trainer, Josh's responsibility is to lead and execute the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids Service Dog Trainers' Apprenticeship Program curriculum at Grafton Correctional Institution and educate the Grafton Project participants.
Director of Training, Central Ohio
Certified by the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids Service Dog Trainers' Apprenticeship Program at North Central Correctional Complex, Rodney Houghton joined the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids Accredited Apprenticeship Service Dog Training Program in December of 2008 at North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, OH. Rodney has worked as a Sr. Trainer since 2009 and is now leading the expansion of the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids program to Central Ohio at Mansfield Correctional Institution in Mansfield, OH.
Associate Dog Trainer and Family Liaison
Michelle proudly hails from Round Rock, TX, holds a master’s degree in signed language interpreting from Gallaudet University, and is a nationally certified signed language interpreter. Upon her husband’s retirement from the Air Force in 2017, she and her family settled in Cleveland to be closer to his family.
After making the move to Ohio, Michelle found W.A.G.S. 4 Kids and was hopeful they would be able to help her daughter Aubrey, who was two years old at the time. Aubrey has multiple diagnoses, including anxiety, hypermobility syndrome, speech apraxia, and global developmental delays. Seeing the immediate and sustained difference that Aubrey’s wonder dog, Claire, has made in both Aubrey and the family’s life, Michelle began volunteering and helping with W.A.G.S. events, including the Wonder Run, annual gala, and presenting to schools and groups about service dogs and their work.
When COVID-19 effectively suspended their normal training protocol, W.A.G.S. 4 Kids found themselves in a bind and needed foster homes who would take in their puppies and begin the training process. Over the course of the next year, Michelle and her family fostered nine puppies, and Michelle began envisioning joining W.A.G.S. 4 Kids in a more permanent role. With a goal to help other families along their journey, Michelle now serves as both a W.A.G.S. Associate Trainer and Family Liaison. She gives guidance within the inmate training program on tasks that families need their service dogs to perform and provides families with insight on how to incorporate a service dog into their lives.
Development and Marketing Associate
216-586-5853 ext. 8
Saundra Smalley translated her lifelong love for animals into a career in marketing. Saundra got her start in marketing in the pet supply industry. First working for Ohio-based dog toy company Jolly pets before taking her talents to pet supply company Prevue Pet Products located in Chicago where she resided for three years.
In 2021 Saundra decided she wanted to shift her career focus from the private sector and focus on finding a non-profit organization that aligned with her values which is what brought her to WAGS 4 Kids. Saundra is a graduate of Kent State University where she majored in Merchandising. She brings to WAGS 4 Kids numerous digital marketing skills, including graphic design, social media marketing, email campaigning and analyzing digital data.
For the last five years, Saundra has also been a well known and frequently requested pet sitter in her community, and looks forward to joining the WAGS Foster Team! In her free time Saundra also skates for the Cleveland Burning River Roller Derby team under the derby name Killin’ Me Smalls.
Wendy brings a lifetime of experience to W.A.G.S. 4 Kids. A second generation dog breeder and trainer, Wendy began participation in Junior Showmanship at the age of ten. Over fifty years later, she has never stopped her involvement in the rearing, training and caretaking of dogs. Her training experiences include both pure and mixed breed dogs, wolf hybrids and behavior modification training for problem behaviors and rescue dog socialization issues from trauma or mistreatment in group classes and as a private instructor.
In 2006, Wendy authored "Dog's Don't Speak English", a training manual that helps the layman pick a puppy and teach it to be a service dog, skilled companion animal or simply a tremendous pet. Her book has been the core protocol for The Accredited Apprenticeship Service Dog Training Program of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections in Grafton, Ohio. In 2013 it was named “Best Inmate Program in Ohio” by MTC. After years of putting into practice this successful program and training methods, her new expanded training program, including W.A.G.S. innovative Autism Spectrum Disorder Service Dog Training , “Step By Step”, will be published in 2016.
Wendy oversees all training aspects of the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids programs including in home interviews with applicant families, puppy selections, inmate training instruction and evaluations and transition training of specific dogs into each partner family. She is a member of the Delta Society, a Provider Member of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) and was chosen by the American Kennel Club as a registered evaluator for their Canine Good Citizen's qualification certifications. It is under Wendy's direction that W.A.G.S. 4 Kids has taken shape with a very specific agenda. The animals we train will meet the specific needs of children : to aide and assist, to involve and engage, to give opportunities for social interaction and emotional support, and to bring joy !
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