About Us

A well-trained service dog can make real and meaningful change

A well-trained service dog can make meaningful change in the life of someone with a disability, helping them to live actively and independently. Unfortunately, there are many individuals with disabilities who would benefit from a service dog but face significant obstacles in trying to obtain one. Their challenges can include organizations that only service specific populations, geographies, and dog breeds, as well as long waiting lists within these organizations due to an overwhelming need and few resources.

Our mission: Atlas fundamentally expands access to assistance dogs. We support people with disabilities to train and certify their own service dog using positive, ethical training methods. At Atlas, we believe anyone who would benefit from a qualified assistance dog should be able to have one.

To fulfill this mission, Atlas addresses unmet needs by helping people obtain and train their own service dog without relying on an organization to provide them with a dog. Atlas is bringing a quality of training and rigorous certification standards to the individual that was previously available only through larger organizations.

Our model: Atlas supports the individual who wants to and is able to be an active part of training their own dog. Our Atlas Team Facilitators are skilled volunteers who assist clients who are working to train their own service dog, either entirely on their own or with a trainer. The facilitators guide the team (client and their dog) through their final six or more months of training, working with them to refine the dog’s performance, develop the dog’s skills in mitigating the client’s disability, and prepare the team to pass our public access test and work with confidence in all settings they frequent.

We are also working to address a critical shortage of qualified service dog trainers through a comprehensive online program designed to prepare experienced dog trainers to train service dogs and work with people with a wide range of disabilities. Our courses provide training related to dogs, working with people with disabilities, and training for skills to mitigate the client’s disability.

Our Values

Humane, ethical treatment of dogs and people

We treat all people and all dogs ethically, compassionately, and as individuals. We partner with trainers, doctors, patients, and researchers to ensure that we employ the most ethical, scientific, and effective training approaches available with each person and each dog in our program.

 

Inclusion

We promote inclusion and diversity. We welcome and seek out anyone who can benefit from our services. We proudly serve people of every race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, and military status. We also welcome dogs of any breed (and mixed breeds) as long as they have the temperament and the physical ability to be an assistance dog.

Honesty, integrity, transparency

We value open and straightforward communication. We earn the trust of our constituents by delivering on our promise of providing an expanded pool of highly-skilled, certified assistance dogs. We have high standards in everything we do and set the highest bar for our certification process. What we do matches what we say. Our decisions and finances are fully documented and accurately reported.

Professionalism

We are well organized and well managed. We follow accepted best practices for management, accounting, and documentation. All communication from our organization helps to convey the message that Atlas Assistance Dogs is a serious, competent, and professional organization.

Boldness and creativity

Our heads and our hearts are fully engaged in exploring ideas, techniques, and technologies that enhance our ability to fulfill our mission. We are scrappy. We find a way.

Our Staff

Molly Neher

Director of Operations and Programs

Molly was introduced to the world of service dogs when she became in need of one herself after developing a severe seizure disorder while in college. Her service dog Reid was partially trained in a prison program, but Molly continued most of his training on her own with the help of a private trainer to ensure Reid would properly fit her needs. As a college student, Molly became an passionate advocate for people with disabilities and for service dog education and access. She has seen first-hand the benefits and the empowerment a service dog can bring, and it is her strong belief that people do not thrive despite their disabilities, but rather with them.

Throughout her college years, she worked with other local disability rights organizations and also worked to make her campus more accessible to students with disabilities through the leadership and advocacy group she was part of. With Reid by her side she graduated with a B.S in bio-anthropology and psychology.

Molly joined Atlas’ board of directors in 2017 as a means to continue her advocacy efforts and help more people like herself who could benefit from a service dog. In August of 2018, she became Atlas’ first employee and is Atlas’ Director of Operations and Programs. In this role she manages all day to day operations as well as all being the primary point of contact for all of our trainers, clients and volunteers. She maintains a non-voting membership on our board and is involved many efforts related to marketing, fund development, academy, outreach and communications. Molly is also a certified Peer Supporter and Atlas Team Facilitator.

Our Board

Jennifer Kolar

President

Jennifer has been surrounded by animals and active in their training and rehabilitation since she was a child. Just as she’s seen many a stray or shelter dog through fear and reactivity issues, they have seen her through hard times too.

Jennifer recognizes that working with service dog teams is at least as much about the person as about their animal. She is deeply committed to positive, ethical treatment of both dogs and people. She is excited to be a co-founder of Atlas Assistance Dogs and to redefine the notion of service dog training to benefit as many people as possible.

Jennifer has worked as a leader in technology firms for over 20 years and is Vice President of Engineering at her current company. She has volunteered with environmental, animal, and human rights organizations throughout her life. She is a volunteer at the Seattle Animal Shelter. She has more than 10 years’ experience as a professional service dog trainer and instructor.

Jennifer has a BS in Applied Mathematics in Engineering and an MS in Astrophysical, Planetary and Atmospheric Sciences. She is a Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner, Certified Behavioral Adjustment Training Instructor, Atlas Certified Trainer, Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), Diabetic Alert Dog Certified Trainer, and a Certified Peer Supporter.

man in blue shirt

Mark Nowicki

VICE-PRESIDENT

Mark is a storyteller. Whether writing essays or analyzing datasets, he finds joy in using his skills to “put the pieces together” into something meaningful. After a consulting engagement with a disability group, he learned that disability advocacy is a story that needs telling and re-telling. He understands the life-changing difference access can provide, and he understands that not all individuals have that same access. Combined with his love for animals, Atlas’s mission became particularly important to Mark. Being part of the Atlas board has been a way for Mark to use his love of storytelling to expand life-changing access.

Mark works as a consultant, providing strategic and/or analytical insights to help organizations solve their biggest problems. This work provides him with experience in all things business, ranging from market research to data analysis. Most specifically, this work provides Mark with the skills to gather information, analyze it, and present it in a way that helps clients with their goals.

Mark has a BA in English and is currently pursuing an MS in Computer Science.

Erin Petersen

Treasurer

From a young age, Erin has been interested in mathematics and finding order in the chaos of data. As a lifelong dog owner, Erin has always been amazed by the impact that a dog can make. Working with Atlas has allowed her to combine her passion for equity, servant leadership, and animal welfare with her love for solving problems using data analytics.

Erin grew up in Minnesota. She studied mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul and moved to Seattle to pursue graduate school at the University of Washington and has enjoyed living in the Pacific Northwest ever since. Erin currently works as a data scientist at The Boeing Company.

Erin has a B.A. in Mathematics and an M.S. in Applied Mathematics.

Michael Kolar

SECRETARY

Mike discovered the impact of service dogs very personally when his daughter trained a service dog for him to help mitigate his degenerative arthritis. With his service dog Turner at his side, Mike has not only been able to meet his day-to-day needs, he has maintained and regained the ability to do the physical activities that give him the most joy. This has strengthened Mike’s belief that all people should be able to live full lives, regardless of their disability. Mike is a committed advocate for people with disabilities and for the service dogs who help them thrive. Being part of the founding board of Atlas has been an exciting opportunity to do just that.

Mike retired in 2016. Through a career as marketing and proposal writer for several technology companies, Mike has developed strong communication and project management skills. Prior to working as a proposal writer, he worked as a grant writer for the city of Spokane, Washington and as a case manager helping get people off the street and into jobs.

Mike has a BA in English and a MS in Sociology.

Jessica Bhuiyan

Jessica’s dog, Brewster, is not a service dog. Still, she finds herself in awe of all of his capabilities. Further, she finds service dogs that are trained and certified to provide services for their human partners nothing short of miraculous. She believes these service dogs should be accessible for all those who need them. This thought is one of the reasons Jessica so adamantly supports Atlas Assistance Dogs.

Jessica shares her experiences and skills in the non-profit sector with Atlas. Currently, she is the Executive Director of World Without Hate, serves as consultant and coach offering interim leadership and project specific support, and is a faculty member in University of Washington’s Non-Profit Certification Program. Jessica is also a member of the City of Seattle’s Human Rights Commission, PeaceBuilder Chair for Rotary District 5030, and Donor Engagement Committee for Pike Place Market Foundation. She looks forward to using her vast network and experience in support of Atlas’s mission.

Jessica holds a BA in Theatre and Directing from Marymount Manhattan College (NY, NY), a MALS from Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT), and a Certificate in Social Impact Strategy from University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA).

Jenny Kachnic

Jenny has been a lifelong volunteer working in various capacities including as a service dog trainer/raiser for over ten years and also as a certified therapy dog handler. She is a past president of The Grey Muzzle Organization which provides grants to animal shelters and rescues nationwide for senior dog programs.   Jenny is a volunteer Humane Policy Leader for the Humane Society of the United States working to advance federal, state, and local animal protection policies.  

Jenny’s background encompasses the corporate and nonprofit worlds. She has held leadership positions in the commercial construction industry as well as in animal welfare nonprofit. Her roles leverage her energy and expertise in marketing, development, philanthropy, and project management.

Jenny studied psychology at Arapahoe Community College and has earned a Certification in Nonprofit Leadership and Administration.

woman in hat in a tree with blonde medium hair dog

Joanna Mantello

Ever since she can remember, Joanna wanted a dog. So, when she had the chance to adopt a retired therapy dog, she jumped at it! Later, while working with the disabled refugee population in Israel, she was able to better understand some of the challenges facing people with disabilities, and the ways in which service dogs can help make life easier and richer. 

A few years ago, Joanna and her husband adopted an incredible pup named Indiana Bones. In training her, they immediately saw the benefits of positive, ethical training methods. Upon learning about Atlas, Joanna knew she wanted to lend her skills in strategic planning and operational excellence to the effort.  

Joanna spent almost a decade living and working abroad. She then spent six years as a civil servant at the United States Agency for International Development, ending her tenure there as Deputy Chief of Staff. In 2018, Joanna and her husband made the jump to the Pacific Northwest and she now serves as Chief of Staff at Vulcan Inc., the late Paul Allen’s technology and philanthropy engine. 

Joanna holds a BA in International Studies from the University of Toronto and a MA in International Development from American University. 

woman with Havanese dog in lap

Beth Mantis

Beth is from North Bend, WA and has had a variety of careers: she had a tax and accounting practice; raised and homeschool her two daughters through high school; coached children’s competitive gymnastics; taught and trained equestrians and equines in competitive and team sports, with local and regional leadership roles in United States Pony Club.

Then in 2007, Beth had an equine related accident with traumatic brain injury, resulting in hearing loss in one ear with related decreased proprioception on the same side of her body. Her doctor recommended a service dog to help. Since acquiring her dog Harvey and finding Atlas to train for specific needs, she developed increased confidence and assurance for her personal safety in awkward and anxiety producing situations.  

Beth went to Portland State University, is a Licensed Massage Therapist with certifications in several other energetic modalities. She has worked with animal behavior and movement for 30+ years and is licensed to practice in Oregon and Washington.  She is a certified KinesioTaping therapist for humans, horses, and dogs with a focus in kinesiology and biomechanics. 

woman in hat holding binoculars

Meryl Redisch

Meryl’s career path has led her from her roots in NYC to the Pacific Northwest with a stopover in Utah. Regardless of where she settled, she has utilized her passion and academic credentials to work in the fields of parks, recreation, community forestry, and environmental education. Throughout her career, Meryl has initiated and collaborated with others to develop programs and opportunities that made it easier for people to connect with nature, particularly in urban settings. She has an undying desire to help everyone, regardless of their abilities, access the natural environment in safe, fun, and healthy ways. She is excited to bring her skills in resource development, strategic leadership, and community engagement skills to advance Atlas’ mission and vision for the future.

Meryl retired from her position as executive director of Portland Audubon after 11 years and now enjoys all the Pacific Northwest’s outdoor amenities: biking, hiking, skiing, gardening, and birding.

Meryl received her B.S. in Environmental Science and Forestry from Skidmore College, and a B.S. in Geography. She no longer has a dog but lives with her partner Scott and Maxi the cat.

woman holding a dachsund

Rachel Sigler

Rachel has two great passions in life: removing barriers that limit an individual’s access to care and dogs. And what better way to combine those two passions than working with Atlas Assistance Dogs? Having spent over five years in the recovery industry, Rachel knows firsthand just how dire of a need there is to help individuals with disabilities get the tools and resources they need to live healthy, independent lives.  

Rachel grew up in Virginia but currently resides in Toms River, NJ with her dogs Rigby and Riggs. She is the Head of People Operations at Better Life Partners, a community-based Medication Assisted Treatment provider focused on delivering high-quality care to individuals suffering from Substance Use Disorder. 

Rachel has a Master’s in Human Resources Management from the University of Richmond and a BS in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University.  

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