Meet Our Training Class Instructors

Sarah Babcock, CTC, CPDT-KSA, CBCC-KA, CDBC 
Advanced Agility Classes

While she was working at IBM, Sarah found, adopted and began training a dog named Crosby. Crosby inspired Sarah to pursue additional education in animal behavior at the University of Richmond where she completed 3 years of graduate work in psychology and neuroscience.

Sarah joined the staff of the Richmond SPCA in 2001, soon after graduating valedictorian and with honors from Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers at the San Francisco SPCA.

The dogs who share Sarah’s home have competed in canine agility, trained in tricks, done commercial work for local and national brands, appeared on the cover of Bark magazine and visited local retirement communities as part of the Richmond SPCA’s Paws for Health® program. Her Henrico County farm is also home to cats, chickens and miniature horses, all of whom have benefited from some degree of clicker training.

Jacob Burnheimer
Canine Manners, Surviving Adolescence

Jacob believes each dog has a different set of skills and strengths that are unique to that dog’s personality. He likes to use each dog’s individual skills and strengths to help with training, rather than prescribing the same routine to each dog he works with. Jacob is currently pursuing his PCT-A (Professional Canine Trainer – Accredited) certification through the Pet Professional Guild.  

Jacob has three adopted pets at home: a 9-year-old hound dog named Floyd and two Richmond SPCA alumni, a 4-year-old black cat named Frankie and 1-year-old Gracie, a Maine Coon mix. 

Mariah Dudley, CPDT-KA
Good Start Puppy 1 & 2, Puppy Socialization and Play, Surviving Adolescence, Canine Manners

Mariah became interested in behavior and training in 2017 when she rescued her first dog. She then interned at a local dog training facility and began teaching her own classes in 2019. Mariah started her own dog training business in 2020 and joined the Richmond SPCA as a class instructor in 2021. She earned her CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed) certification through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) in 2021. Mariah is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) and a supporting member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). She is passionate about continuing education and is always seeking opportunities to learn more about canine behavior.

She shares her life and home with her rescue dogs, Sadie, a Husky/Shepherd mix, and Opie, an Australian Shepherd/Rottie mix, her rescue cat named Simba, a very patient partner and her active toddler.

Julie Fields
Surviving Adolescence, Canine Manners, Street Manners, Private Lessons

Julie started training as a member of the Richmond SPCA’s Green Team in 2012. Green Team members are trained in teaching the dogs in our care skills that will help prepare the dogs for adoption, while providing them with physical exercise and mental stimulation. She quickly realized, “The best dog in the world is the one you are with right now!” After working with shelter dogs and assisting in all levels of classes, she joined the training staff in 2019. Julie greatly enjoys the interactions with students and their pets and wants to help students achieve their goals in training.

She lives with her husband, Lee, and two dogs, Max and Hercules.

Hannah Fuqua, CPDT-KA
Canine Manners, Surviving Adolescence, Managing a Reactive Dog, Building Confidence

Animals, especially dogs, have always been Hannah’s passion in life. After graduating from Auburn University with a major in zoology, Hannah moved to Richmond and landed her dream job at the Richmond SPCA as a behavior and training associate working with the shelter dogs. She now teaches various classes, volunteers with the Green Team and works full time as head trainer for a local company. She believes dogs are the best thing about life and wants to help you find harmony with your own pup.

Hannah has four dogs of her own: Keller, Capri, Iris and Domino. She enjoys hiking, training and cuddling with them in her free time. 

Anne Grier
Agility A, B

Anne has been an instructor at the Richmond SPCA since 2018. Her classes are designed to introduce dogs and their handlers to the wonderful sport of agility. She strives to strengthen her students’ connections to their pets by fostering play and a sense of fun while building effective communication between dog and handler.

Anne served on the Richmond SPCA’s board of directors for many years, including terms as chair of the board. She was honored to receive our Ellen Glasgow Award for Humane Service in 2005.

Anne has five dogs of her own, three of whom play agility with her.

Lesley Gurule, CPDT-KSA
Good Start Puppy 1 & 2, Puppy Socialization and Play, Canine Manners, Surviving Adolescence, CGC Prep

After volunteering in shelters for 10 years, Lesley began her dog training adventure as an apprentice with Amanda Gagnon Dog Training, NYC. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge and Skills Assessed. Lesley is an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator, a member of the Pet Professionals Guild and a supporting member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. 

Lesley shares her home with two cats, Chet and Albee, and her dog, Tammy, a Richmond SPCA adoptee.

Mel Hardwick
Agility A, B, B/C, C, Canine Manners, Managing a Reactive Dog

Mel joined the Richmond SPCA as a training class instructor in the summer of 2017.

Mel is actively involved with many local humane organizations. She specializes in working with dogs exhibiting fearful and shy behaviors and reactive dogs. She also is skilled in helping dogs master that ever-challenging teeter on the agility course!

Mel believes pet training should be an exercise in fun and fostering mutual respect, while being a bridge to understanding between pet and parent. She has five dogs of her own (Bean, Shepherd Book, Brooke, Elli and Kaylee) and one former alley cat turned couch potato (Washburne), plus a rotating assortment of foster dogs.

Meghan Kleppinger
Cat Behavior Specialist

Meghan is a long-time Richmond SPCA Blue Team volunteer who recently joined the staff as a cat behavior specialist answering the behavior helpline. She continues to volunteer helping scared or under-socialized cats adjust to the shelter environment and gain confidence to help them find homes. Working exclusively with the feline species, she specializes in helping guardians solve the diverse behavior challenges that often arise with cats due to fear, anxiety and stress (FAS). Meghan is a Certified Feline Training and Behavior Specialist (CFTBS), Fear Free Professional Certified Animal Trainer, Fear Free Shelters graduate and a current postgraduate Clinical Animal Behavior student at the University of Edinburgh’s veterinary college.

She shares her home with four felines, including Maestro, who often assists in demonstrating clicker training skills during virtual consultations, Birdie, Charlie and Ace, a diabetic Richmond SPCA alumnus.

Emily Neal
Intro to Flyball

Emily has been professionally teaching flyball since 2014 and joined the Richmond SPCA’s staff in 2018. She is an R+ (positive-reinforcement) trainer who believes playing sports with your dog should be all fun!

Emily’s flyball team was first runner-up for Region 15 Multibreed in 2017. Her team was also the 2015 Regular and Multibreed Champion. Her dog Mordecai is recognized as the number four all-time Greyhound in the North American Flyball Association.

At home, Emily has three dogs who participate in flyball (Blanche FGDCH50K, Mordecai FM and Axton) and a snake named Killian.

Janet Velenovsky, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP, Service Dog Coach, Fear Free Certified Professional
Cat Behavior Specialist

Janet has been a class instructor and animal behavior consultant in Central Virginia for 20 years. She has achieved certifications from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) and the Karen Pryor Academy Certified Trainer Partner (KPA CTP). She is a service dog coach through Cooperative Paws and a Fear Free Certified Professional. She is a graduate of Purdue University’s 2004 DOGS course and holds a counseling certificate from the San Francisco SPCA’s Academy for Dog Trainers.

Janet was honored with the “Animals as Other Nations” award at the third annual International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) conference held in Houston in 2009. She is a past president of the IAABC and served as chair of its Working Animals division. Janet has earned certifications such as Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) and Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) with IAABC and is currently a supporting member.

Partnering with her canines, Janet has participated in therapy and crisis response work and competed in nosework, agility, rally, dock diving, fast CAT and obedience. She shares her home with three wonderful felines, occasional foster kittens, five fabulous dogs and her patient husband of 30 years.

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