Staff Bios

Staff Bios


Karen Shirk

Karen Shirk
Executive Director and Founder

Karen founded 4 Paws For Ability in 1998 after her own struggle to receive a service dog. She was told she was “too disabled” to receive a service dog; the agencies she contacted believed that, because of her poor prognosis, another recipient with better recovery chances would be more deserving of a service dog. After finally finding a dog, Ben, and finding a way herself to train him, Karen began dream of creating an agency of her own. This agency would not turn away an applicant because someone else was more worthy and could better contribute to society after a service dog placement. It was this dream that led to the formation of 4 Paws for Ability. The initial placement of 2 dogs in 1998 has grown into around 100 service dog placements per year across the country and all over the world.

Karen has 4 internationally adopted children (Aaron, Nerlande, Isaiah, and Elijah) and lives just outside of Xenia, near the organization she created and loves so much.

Read Karen's Story
Karen@4PawsForAbility.org

Jennifer Lutes

Jennifer Lutes
Associate Director

Jennifer has been a part of 4 Paws since she started volunteering at age 14. Her passion for the 4 Paws mission led her to begin a career with the organization; she started as a part-time trainer, and in 2015 moved to administration as Associate Director. She works closely with client families to support them through the entire service dog placement process, from the initial application to assistance after the dog is settled in the client’s home. Jennifer lives in Xenia with her husband, Brian, and her two children.

Jennifer@4PawsForAbility.org

Training Staff
Jessa Kenworthy

Jessa Kenworthy
Training Director

Jessa stepped into the position of Training Director in mid-2020 after 12 years with 4 Paws. An Ohio native, Jessa spent her formative years on her parent’s horse farm and has spent her life surrounded by, and working with, a variety of animals. Jessa helped develop the rapidly-growing university program at 4 Paws, working with two dozen local universities to pair students with service dogs in training for socialization and basic obedience.

Jessa lives in Xenia with her husband and menagerie of animals – including dogs, of course.

Jessa@4PawsForAbility.org

Peg Bernert

Peg Bernert
Training Director, 4 Paws Alaska

Peg Walsh Bernert has had a lifetime passion for all things pertaining to dogs, but it wasn’t until her 3-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.

Peg@4PawsForAbility.org

Veterinary Staff
Ruth Keller

Dr. Ruth Keller, DVM
Veterinarian

Dr. Keller joined the 4 Paws family in November 2015. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Valparaiso University in 2007 and she graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011. After graduation she worked in a few different small animal clinics in both Illinois and Ohio before joining the 4 Paws team. Dr. Keller lives near Columbus, OH with her husband Zach, their cat, and their fabulous 4 Paws flunky. In her spare time, she likes to spend time with her husband playing tennis and she is very active in her church. She also enjoys rooting for the New York Yankees and the Green Bay Packers. 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.

Vanessa Wolf

Dr. Vanessa Wolf
Veterinarian

Dr. Vanessa Wolf joined 4 Paws for Ability as a veterinarian in August 2020. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Saginaw Valley State University in 2016 and graduated with honors from the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2020.

Dr. Wolf first fell in love with the mission of 4 Paws for Ability after volunteering for a week on an alternative spring break experience during college. She immediately knew that 4 Paws would hold a special place in her life. She completed a veterinary externship at 4 Paws during her clinical year and joined the veterinary department on staff one year later. Her passions of science, animals, and giving back to the community come together perfectly in her role as a veterinarian at 4 Paws for Ability.

Dr. Wolf’s professional interests include surgery, preventative medicine, and theriogenology. In her free time, she enjoys working out and spending time with her golden retriever, Copper.

Administration Team
Kelly Camm

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.

Kelly@4PawsForAbility.org

Erin Bittner

Erin Bittner
Genetics and Socialization Director

Erin is a Dayton, Ohio, native who fell in love with 4 Paws as a volunteer trainer during her college years. Instead of following a career path with her history degree, she joined the 4 Paws team immediately after graduation. Erin oversees the in-house 4 Paws breeding program, which ensures our future service dogs have the health and temperament necessary to be successful when placed with a client family. Her in-depth knowledge of the dogs in the program aids her when evaluating dogs for our advanced training program. As a result, a high percentage of our dogs are successfully placed as task-trained service animals.

Brian Arney

Brian Arney
HR/Operations Director

Brian found 4 Paws for Ability by chance while looking for a full-time job after graduating from Wright State University with a B.S. in Business Management. He loved how much of a positive impact a service dog could make in a child's or veteran's life. Having years of experience volunteering at SICSA, a local shelter that promotes the welfare and adoption of companion animals, Brian thought 4 Paws for Ability would be an exciting opportunity and was hired as a Kennel Manager in November 2012.

Brian assumed the role of Operations Director in 2015.

Brian lives with his wife, Daniele and son, Liam in Centerville. They have two dogs, Oliver and Finn and three cats, Jackie, Spooky and Nemo. Brian is a big sports fan, with football and basketball being his two favorites! Brian enjoys traveling, fishing, exercising, playing video games and most of all, spending time with his family.

KaLynn Clark

KaLynn Clark
Director of Volunteer Engagement

KaLynn joined 4 Paws to combine her three passions: working with dogs, helping children, and volunteering. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in counseling at Grace College, she began working in volunteer management at nonprofits such as the Appalachia Service Project, the Humane Society of Greater Dayton, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Miami Valley. KaLynn loves engaging people in a rewarding volunteer experience.

When KaLynn is not working, she loves to play board games, go hiking, and spend time with her husband, family, and friends. KaLynn is also a Volunteer Trainer and loves socializing service dogs in the 4 Paws training program.

Jennifer Daws

Jenny Daws
Social Media and Web Coordinator

Jenny’s 4 Paws journey started on the campus of Wright State University, where she worked as a full-time employee and a part-time non-traditional student. The campus organization connected with 4 Paws asked her to serve as staff advisor, and for three years she worked closely with the student volunteers and the 4 Paws dogs on campus. When she left WSU in 2018 to pursue a career as a technical writer, her relationship with 4 Paws continued as a volunteer and guardian home for a future breeder.

In the summer of 2020, Jenny joined the staff of 4 Paws, managing the organization’s social and revising the 4 Paws website. This “dream job,” as she calls it, allows her to connect with 4 Paws staff, volunteers, and client families to spread the 4 Paws mission and share its stories with an ever-growing audience.

Jenny and her husband, Jason, live in Fairborn with a pack of 4 Paws “Fabulous Flunkies” (aka 4 Paws dogs who were removed from the program).

JennyDaws@4PawsForAbility.org