Meet the Puppy Program Team
Puppy Raisers are supported by our Puppy Program Team – a group of passionate staff members who love puppies and have a wealth of knowledge of all things puppy. Collectively, they have seen just about everything when it comes to puppy behaviors and training issues, and they help our team of volunteer raisers troubleshoot and learn so puppies have the best chance of success in our puppy program.
Interested in becoming a Puppy Raiser? Visit our Puppy Raising page for more information or to apply.
National Puppy Program Manager
Hello, my name is Hannah and I am the National Puppy Program Manager here at Dogs for Better Lives. I have been lucky enough to work with dogs and animals for most of my working life, from veterinary offices, grooming salons, boarding kennels and so on. Before coming to DBL I had my heart set on going into natural disaster relief/search and rescue to help rescue animals who have been left behind in natural disasters and to then reunite them with their families.
However, my life took an unexpected turn and brought me to Oregon, and eventually to Dogs for Better Lives. I was instantly inspired by the mission, and it checked all the boxes I was looking for in a career – helping to make a difference in others’ lives while also working with animals. I have now been with the organization for almost 8 years and am still in awe of what we do and why we do it. Shortly after being hired, I was given the opportunity to create the puppy program. So now, not only was I able to take part in something much bigger than myself, I was afforded the opportunity to work alongside some of the most dedicated, hardworking, and selfless volunteers I have ever met.
From midnight potty runs, endless training sessions and town outings, fear and teenager phases, these amazing volunteer puppy raisers do it all in the hopes that one day the puppy they raise might go on to help someone in need, all while living their normal and busy lives might I add! This is such an incredible gift that our volunteers provide to our clients, they really are the heart of our organization. We have also come such a long way from starting our puppy program in Oregon and expanding to now operating in 17 states and having volunteers nationwide dedicated to our mission of helping others.
From birth to placement and everything in-between, these program puppies touch so many lives leaving quite the impression. It has been such an honor and humbling experience to work alongside such an incredible staff and community of volunteers. I am so thankful for this journey and look forward many more years of changing lives one puppy at a time.
Puppy Program Coordinator, West Region
Hello, my name is Donna Bachek and I am the Puppy Program Coordinator here at Dogs for Better Lives, the West Coast region. I have only been here for about 6 weeks now and I have to say, I truly love it! I got involved with DBL as a puppy raiser over 2 years ago. I am currently raising my 4th puppy, Orion.
Working for a service dog organization has been a dream of mine for many, many years. And at the end of 2022, I made a major career change and fulfilled that dream by coming to DBL. I love being a part of the puppy program because not only do I get to work with the most adorable little creatures ever, but I am also privileged to help our puppy raisers develop the skills to give their puppies a solid foundation on the road to becoming a well-needed service dog.
I believe in our mission because we not only care for the people we serve, but equally as important, there is a lifelong commitment to the dogs. DBL makes sure that every dog that goes through their program is safe, well and happy throughout its entire life! They take back any dog, for any reason, so they can be sure it is taken care of. And the idea that we are able to provide a loving, supportive four-legged friend to help a person live a safe and independent life, is just simply amazing!
My favorite part of working with volunteers is not only getting to know each of them individually, but also recognizing how big their hearts are. They have all made the personal decision to raise a small 8-week-old puppy to its adulthood teaching them manners, socialization skills and basic obedience. That is a huge commitment of their time and care! And after a year of having this puppy as part of their family, they willingly say goodbye and send them onto becoming the best they can be! Talk about a selfless act of love and kindness to be able to help others. Makes me very proud to be a part of these wonderful volunteers!
Program Field Representative
My name is Laura Encinas, and I am a Program Field Representative in California. I am responsible for our clients, applicants, and volunteers in the southwest region of the U.S. I started my career with DBL in December 2014 as a certified trainer. Prior to DBL, I came from a guide dog organization and have trained over 200 service dog teams in my career.
I have been involved with the puppy program since its inception approximately 6 years ago. DBL acquired two labs from a breeder in CA, and my husband and I raised one of those pups. She was not able to complete training, she liked people too much! She was adopted by my family and lives at my home as a pet. I am more directly involved with puppy raisers in CA since 2020, when I made the move to California. I now directly support and help train the raisers and pups and have had ten puppies raised in this area since I have been here. My favorite part of working with the volunteers is the relationships I have built with the raisers, as I have three who are repeat raisers! I also enjoy watching the pups grow into successful Service Dogs.
I believe in our mission because we change lives! I have seen firsthand the effect that our dogs have had with our clients. It is incredibly rewarding to know that a dog I trained, or help train, gives someone companionship, safety, and security. This mission has been at the heart of my 30 year career with service dogs.
Puppy Program Coordinator, Northeast Region
Throughout my life, I always found myself drawn to working in the world of animals and those in need. After years of being a vet tech, working on a farm for a local breeder, and having a large variety of animals myself, when I learned about Dogs for Better Lives and their mission, I couldn’t help but want to be a part of it. I was excited to bring my knowledge and passion to a place that shares the same values and expectation of care for dogs.
Shortly after joining the organization, I took on the role of Northeast region puppy program coordinator. Since I’ve been involved with our puppy raiser volunteers, it has only expanded my joys of working with DBL. Our volunteers are such an important asset to the training of our dogs, and the love and joy they share with our puppies is infectious. I am so grateful for all the volunteers that I get to work with daily, we really couldn’t do it without them!
Being in the puppy program means I get to see our dogs’ journeys from day one, and nothing can compare to seeing a little puppy, supported by so many wonderful humans, go on to change and support the life of one of our clients!
I’m the Area Coordinator for the Puget Sound Region. I work with our puppy raisers and fosters, getting their young charges ready for their future jobs as Assistance Dogs here in Western Washington. I’ve been at DBL for 7.5 years, spending 4 of those years on the West campus as an Assistance Dog Trainer prior to moving to Washington State. I’ve worked directly with recipients of the dogs DBL trains, and I know how life changing our dogs are for our clients. I’ve seen firsthand the autistic child with their furry best friend sleeping in their own room for the first time ever, a deaf client who is now safer at home and more confident in public, and the special education classroom that is now the cool place to be because there is a facility dog in that classroom.
I love that I now get to work with volunteers to help them raise the best helper dogs they can to change even more lives. And the volunteers who commit to raising a puppy for a year are some of the absolute best people you could find- I feel lucky to know them.
Program Field Representative
I am a Program Field Representative for Dogs for Better Lives and have been with DBL for almost ten years. I started the Northeast Puppy Program back in 2021 and it has been wonderful to see the program grow with more puppies and raisers. I love bringing the new puppies to the raisers and watching the raiser fall in love with the puppy, thinking about the life that the puppy will someday go on to change. As a Program Field Representative, I often get to place those puppies with the clients when they become Hearing dogs, Autism Dogs or Facility Dogs. Seeing the process come full circle is very rewarding.