Karen Shirk | Executive Director and Founder
Karen founded 4 Paws For Ability in 1998 after her own struggle to receive a service dog ended in rejection simply because she used a ventilator to breathe at night because in their opinion the prognosis for these people was poor and others could have a more successful life after receiving their dog. Karen obtained her own dog and trained him with the help of Jeremy Dulebohn. With ben by her side Karen returned to the workforce and dreamed of an agency where those needing dogs would not be judged, picked or denied based on the level of disability and whether those who worked at the organization felt the recipient could make a contribution to society after placement. It was this dream that led to the formation of our organization.
Karen worked her entire adult life with mentally and physically disabled children and adults. She obtained her Bachelors in Social Work from Wright State University and did Masters work at the University of Cincinnati with an emphasis on neurological disabilities like Autism. Karen’s most rewarding work before 4 Paws was her work with Autistic children and adults. It was because of this she worked with 4 Paws trainers to develop the Autism Assistance Dog as it is known today.
Karen lives just outside of Xenia with her 4 adopted children; Aaron (adopted from Bulgaria), Nerlande (adopted from Haiti), Isaiah (adopted from Haiti), and her youngest child Elijah (also adopted from Haiti). Karen was grateful for her life work in adopting Elijah who has many special needs including verbal dyspraxia, global delays, and ADHD. You can read more about Karen on the 4 Paws Story web page.
Email Karen at Karen@4PawsForAbility.org.
Jennifer Lutes | Associate Director
Jennifer and her family were among the first volunteers 4 Paws had and their relationship to 4 Paws goes back almost to the beginning. Jennifer became involved in 4H at a young age and became involved with 4 Paws when she learned of the 4H Service Dog program where she could foster a service dog in training and show the puppy at the fair. It was in 2000 that Jennifer met Karen and her service dog, Ben for the first time when she asked to foster a 4 Paws puppy. Since then, Jennifer and her family have fostered many 4 Paws dogs! Jennifer knew from the time she started working with the 4 Paws puppies that she wanted to be a service dog trainer and be an active part of the miracles 4 Paws brings to their recipients every day.
Jennifer attended college at Northern Kentucky University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human/Social Services while working part time as a trainer with 4 Paws. After graduation’ 4 Paws was excited to have Jennifer finally join us as a full time trainer and as she gained more experience promoting her to the position of Senior Trainer. Jennifer spent many years with the training staff preparing an uncountable number of dogs for their forever families. In 2015 Jennifer took on a new role as Associate Director. Jennifer continues to lead the puppy raiser and guardian home programs while taking on a new and exciting role preparing families before their adventure to 4 Paws.
Jennifer was born in Chicago and moved with her family to Ohio. She now resides in Xenia with her husband Brian, daughter Aubrey, and Newfoundland Crosley. Jennifer was awarded the Pandora Hearts of Today award in 2014, which allowed her to sponsor a 2 whelping rooms and a dog run, bearing her and her husband, her family, and her Golden Retriever, Connor’s, names.
Email Jennifer at Jennifer@4PawsForAbility.org.
Jeremy Dulebohn | Training Director
Jeremy knew he wanted a career with dogs since he was in 3rd grade. His passion for dogs began back in elementary school when a police officer gave a demonstration with his police k-9. After graduating high school he attended National K-9 in Columbus, Ohio graduating in 1993 as a professional dog trainer. After completing his education he started his own business in his hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio. Two and a half years later, with the experience he now had in teaching obedience and handling behavioral problems with hundreds of different breeds and personalities, he was invited back to National K-9 as the head trainer and main instructor. It was during his career at National k-9 that Jeremy first met our Executive Director, Karen Shirk and her service dog, Ben. Jeremy worked with Ben at national k-9 to assist Karen in finishing his training. He was taught to pick up dropped items, provide balance, retrieve the phone on command, and get a medical bag that contained Karen’s rescue medications. Over the course of the next seven years Jeremy’s experience expanded as he trained dogs to do many different jobs. Some of these experiences included training police canines and their handlers in all aspects of canine work, training service dogs and their handlers to work as a team, evaluating and working through behavioral issues with family dogs, and instructing over 500 students through their graduation as professional dog trainers.
In 2002 Jeremy decided to close his own business and accept the position of Training Director with 4 Paws For Ability. He says watching the children receive their dogs and then hearing the positive change (sometimes life-saving) in the children’s lives is an unbelievable feeling to be a part of every day. His career with 4 paws is the rewarding and successful career he had always dreamed of.
Jeremy lives in Wapakoneta, Ohio with his wife of 20 years and their three children, Zak, Tyler, and Colby. They enjoy spending their time together at sporting events, family outings, and vacationing. He has his faithful companion Cody by his side every day as he works at 4 Paws as well as at home and also has two more furry family members, Angel a Golden Retriever retired from service dog work and Zoey, a Corgi mix.
Email Jeremy at Jeremy@4PawsForAbility.org.
Peg Bernert | 4 Paws Alaska Head Trainer
Peg has had a lifetime passion for all things pertaining to dogs, but it wasn’t until her three-year-old autistic son Leo was lost and presumed drowned that she entered the service dog world.
That day, after her son was found safe and her heart had recovered, she realized that a trained dog could have tracked her son. That’s the day she found 4 Paws for Ability. Since receiving her son’s service dog in 2007 Peg has been affiliated with 4 Paws as a client, foster puppy parent, and finally completed a training internship at 4 Paws in August of 2011. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband Dave, her four kids, and, of course, many dogs.
Autism is a rocky road,” says Bernert. “Our service dog Halo evens out that road for us. She keeps our son safe, she comforts him, and she brings peace to our family. By training dogs in Autism Assistance, Seizure Alert, Hearing Alert, and Mobility Assistance, I hope to bring the magic of 4 Paws to other families and help to even out their rough roads.”
Peg Bernert completed more than 1000 hours of training under the direct supervision of our Training Director, Jeremy Dulebohn, at 4 Paws headquarters in Xenia, Ohio.
Email Peg at Peg@4PawsForAbility.org.
Jessa Kenworthy | Head Trainer
Jessa was born and raised in Ohio, on her parent’s Arabian horse farm. She received her bachelor’s degree in Animal Photography from Bennington College in Vermont. Through her college experience she has been involved in many internship programs: working with wolves in NM, Sea mammals in Coney Island, and wild horses in ND. Jessa has always loved animals, but it was her experience at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary which inspired her to seek a career working with animals which ultimately led her to 4 Paws. She joined 4 Paws in 2008 and is involved in training the service dogs in a multitude of tasks, in addition to coordinating the ever expanding university program. Jessa lives in Xenia, OH with her menagerie of animals which includes her golden retriever, Coda. In her free time she sings in a choir, practices and competes in freestyle (“doggie dancing”) with Coda, and is always fostering one of the 4 Paws service dog’s in training.
Email Jessa at Jessa@4PawsForAbility.org.
Brit Insley | Senior Trainer
Brit never thought that she would build a career revolved around animals but she knew from an early age that she did love dogs. She remembers always being surrounded by dogs and cats and going around the neighborhood looking for them. Brit received her B.S in rehabilitation services from Wright State University. After graduation, she worked at Goodwill of Columbus where she was a supportive living manager working with adults with a variety of disabilities. Brit has also worked as a juvenile probation officer in Clark County. During her time working as an officer, she started volunteering at the local humane society and Speak for the Unspoken, a rescue dedicated to deaf and blind dogs. That is where she got her forever dog Ninja-deaf/blind Australian Shepard. The other members of her furry crew include Bentley-Australian Shepard/Newfoundland mix, Brew-Laborador, Paige-Golden mix and Pretti-cat. When Brit started bringing home lots of fosters, her husband told her it might be a good idea to start looking for a job centered around animals and that is how she came across 4 Paws. Brit currently resides in Springfield, Ohio with her husband Matt, her one-year-old son Lincoln and her and her husband will soon be expecting their second child. When she isn’t at 4 Paws, Brit loves to work out and run half marathons and marathons.
Kelly Camm | Development Director
Kelly Camm oversees the identification, solicitation, and development of community, corporate, local, and national funding sources. She manages fundraising, cause-related marketing, and completes grant research and proposals.
Kelly first encountered 4 Paws in 2006 while working on her MBA at Thomas More College. After graduation, she started volunteering as a fundraiser for 4 Paws, primarily working on a cause marketing plan she had developed during her studies. She then joined the board of trustees and eventually became vice president and then president of the board. In 2010, she left the board and became an employee of 4 Paws.
Kelly has over 20 years of experience in marketing, brand management, product development, planning, communications, cause marketing, and public relations. She also volunteers her time for the Reel Abilities Film Festival.
Email Kelly at Kelly@4PawsForAbility.org.
Kevin Corcoran, DVM | Veterinarian
Dr. Kevin Corcoran joined 4 Paws for Ability as a full-time veterinarian in September 2012.
He holds three degrees from The Ohio State University (BS, MS and DVM). He is also board certified by the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine.
In 2000 Dr. Corcoran retired from the US Army Veterinary Corps after assignments in Colorado (twice), the Philippines, Maryland, Thailand and Ohio. He then worked 10 years for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati.
At 4 Paws for Ability, he uses his experience in preventative medicine to help ensure the health and wellbeing of the dogs in all of 4 Paws’ programs.
He lives in Xenia Township with his wife, Del. Their home includes several goats as well as beehives, as Dr. C. is a novice beekeeper when not at 4 Paws for Ability. Together, he and his wife have three grown children.
Ruth Keller, DVM | Veterinarian
Dr. Keller joined the 4 Paws family in November 2015. Originally from Illinois, she graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011. After graduation she worked in a few different clinics in both Illinois and Ohio. Dr. Keller is currently residing in Dublin, OH with her husband Zach and their 4-year-old cat. In her spare time, she likes to spend time with her husband playing tennis and she is very active in her church. She always knew she wanted to be a veterinarian for most of her life because of her love for animals. Dr. Keller thought that 4 Paws was the perfect combination of her veterinarian career and giving back both to animals and people.
Erin Bittner | Genetics and Socialization Director
Erin has always known that she wanted to be a part of 4Paws from the first time that she started fostering. She did not have any dogs growing up so she found 4 Paws when looking for volunteer opportunities for college. A native of Dayton, OH, she was a waitress at Applebee’s for 5 years while she was in college. Erin graduated with an associates from Sinclair Community College and a bachelor’s degree in history from Wright State University. After graduation, Erin planned to use her history degree, but when she was interviewing for jobs she realized that she would have to give up fostering dogs and she knew that would not be an option. So instead she applied to 4 Paws and became a part of the team just 2 days after graduation. She has done a variety of jobs throughout 4 Paws which has led her to her current position. Erin says she has met some of her best friends through 4 Paws and currently has two fabulous flunkies, Kailani-3-Golden Retriever and Draconis-5-German Shepard. When Erin isn’t working, she likes to spend times playing with her dogs, hiking, kayaking and having game nights.
Brian Arney | Operations Director
Brian found 4 Paws by chance in 2012 when he was looking for a full time job. He got his B.S in Business management in 2011 from Wright State University and was working at a retail store part time while in school. Born and raised in Kettering, OH, he found his love for dogs when he started volunteering at Sicsa, a local shelter that promotes the welfare and adoption of companion animals. Brian loved dogs and knew he wanted to be a part of an organization that gave back to people with disabilities since he lives with a disability himself. 4 Paws was the perfect fit. Brian lives with his wife Daniele and their furry children Finn-7-Austrialian Shepard, Oliver-4-Australian Shepard, and 2 cats Jackie and Spooky, both 2. Outside of work, Brian likes to spend time with his wife and go outdoors, especially if it is fishing, camping or going to the North Carolina beaches.
Board of Directors
Independent, Voting Board of Directors – as of February 2017
Amy Wilcox | Board Chair
Amy’s family was forever changed by 4 Paws for Ability in June of 2013 when their son Joel received Flame, his seizure alert dog. The peace and comfort Flame has brought to her family is beyond measure.
Over the last several years Amy’s family has volunteered at 4 Paws through the breeder foster program and the service dog in training program. Over a dozen 4 Paws Service-Dogs-in-Training have lived in the Wilcox home. Joel and Flame, as well as Amy have made several appearances at local businesses and high schools on behalf of 4 Paws for Ability. In 2014, they shared their story with Medikidz (medical comic book for teens) to help get the word out about epilepsy and 4 Paws for Ability seizure alert dogs.
Amy holds a Bachelors in Business Administration from Ohio Dominican University. She has been at Safelite AutoGlass for 22 years and is currently a Claims Management Project Manager in Strategic Planning and Analysis.
Amy joined the 4 Paws for Ability board in April of 2016, and is volunteering on the Program Committee.
She lives in Blacklick, OH with her husband Jeff, three children, Alex, Joel and Ava and 4 dogs, Flame (famous seizure alert dog), Bella Blue, Ghost (service dog breeder), and Minnie Mouse.
Helena joined the 4 Paws Board in December of 2014. In her professional life, Helena works at Convergys, a global call center provider, as the senior vice president of corporate development. She is in her 27th year of service with the company.
On the board, Helena is a member of the Operations Committee, which focuses on ways to support the organization in the streamlining of various workflow processes, so the organization is prepared for future growth. In her personal life Helena is the mother of two children, a daughter in medical school, and a son who works in the finance group for a company in Cleveland. Her husband’s sons are also grown, and live on opposite coasts, one in Rhode Island, and the other in Los Angeles. Helena also has an autistic niece who is now an adult, and Helena realizes what a great help a 4 Paws dog would have been in her childhood had Helena known about the organization.
With the children grown, Helena and her husband share their home with two rescue dogs, a chocolate lab and a miniature dachshund.
Ralph Brueggemann | Operations Committee
Ralph joined the 4 Paws for Ability Board of Directors in the summer of 2017. He is the Chair of the Operations Committee. In his professional life, Ralph managed commercial and application software product development and quality improvement projects for local, national, and international corporations. He was formerly a Director in the James Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence at Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center. He has taught part-time at the University of Cincinnati for over 40 years. Ralph is the faculty advisor to the student organization, 4 Paws at the University of Cincinnati that socializes service dogs in training. Ralph graduated from Miami University and the University of Cincinnati. He is a Tae Kwon Do Blackbelt and a former marathon runner who now competes in 5K races.
Ralph is married to Diane and has three sons. Kyle, the youngest is a student who is a recipient of the Eagle Scout Award based on a project that was done in support of 4 Paws and service dog awareness. Erik is an employee of the Hamilton County Public Library and is married to Colleen, and they have three children, Lena, Eliot, and Isabel. Kurt is an ER physician and is married to Tonya, and they have daughter, Eloise.
Ralph’s family has socialized three service dogs who all had the same father: Gliss (Dagny & Zeke), golden doodle, was adopted during her advanced training and is a great family dog. Frigga (Dot and Zeke), golden doodle, was trained as a tracker and placed with a child with autism, and Nasreen (Dot & Zeke), became a seizure alert and tracking service dog.
Occupation: Deputy Director, Cincinnati Library
Jessica Heaton holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Entrepreneurship and International Relations from Syracuse University.
Jessica began her career with Fifth Third Bank in the Operations Leadership Program, where she spent two years rotating through different areas of the organization focusing on People Leadership and Operational efficiency. Jessica is currently an Officer of Fifth Third Bank and holds the position of Legal Operations & Fulfillment Manager. She is responsible for the Operations Division that fulfills Legal Orders served upon the Bancorp.
Jessica has always been an avid animal lover, and joined the 4 Paws for Ability board in September 2015.
Jessica was born and raised in Cincinnati and enjoys spending her spare time supporting Cincinnati and Syracuse sports.
John Jolley | Fundraising Committee
John developed a love for animals growing up on his family’s horse farm in central Ohio, which included a small herd of cattle… and dogs! In addition to the family dogs, which were often his partners in crime and adventure, his family also spent a number of years fostering for a Seeing Eye Dog Program. After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Actuarial Science and Applied Mathematics from The Ohio State University, John enlisted in the United States Armed Forces. During this time John became fascinated with the capabilities of military working dogs, specifically the German Shepherd Dog (GSD). After leaving the Armed Forces, he went on to earn an MBA and to establish a career in strategic consulting, including technology. In the early 2000’s the family found their first GSD from a professional K-9 breeder and had the opportunity to work with an experienced K-9 trainer (and officer) to train Gus in personal protection and volunteer early responder tracking. The Jolley family quickly fell in love with the breed. John currently owns his own business and technology consulting firm based in a central Ohio suburb. He is husband to one and father to five (three human and one all black, partially coated GSD, Max). John currently serves as a 4 Paws board member and chairs the Fundraising Committee.
Occupation: Tax Manager, Ernst & Young
Eddie Young | Expansion Committee
A graduate of United Way’s BOLD Program Eddie has been on the Board of Directors for four years, focusing on helping 4 Paws build the new facility.
Professionally, Eddie is Senior Vice President, Sales for Freshpet. Eddie was with Sunny Delight Beverage Co. 11 years prior to joining Dean Foods., Eddie was in sales planning and strategy with Coca Cola’s Minute Maid Company. Eddie began his career with Nestlé in sales after graduating from The University of Oklahoma.
4 Paws is a family affair for the Young Family as Eddie, wife, Kristi, and three daughters participate in the fostering program, puppy socialization and other opportunities to introduce more people to the magic of 4 Paws.