We have client scholarships for WA Veterans!

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 a 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.

Rosa Garcia Arreola

program support coordinator

Animals have had a strong presence in Rosa’s life. As a child, her family in Mexico had livestock, a dog named Blueberry (Capulin), and many neighborhood cats. As an adult, she volunteered with a non-profit organization that focused on dog advocacy and also adopted a dog whom she shared custody of for many years. These days, she has a cat who brings a lot of joy and excitement to her life.

Helping bridge the gap between resources and the access to them is a focus point for Rosa who is excited to assist Atlas continue our hard work with our clients and assistance dogs.

In her free time, Rosa spends time with her daughter, enjoys baking, trying all the pizza places in Portland, urban sketching with Urban Sketchers PDX, and spending time with family that live near and far.

Our Advisory Board

We are honored to have these industry experts as advisors to the work we do.

a blond woman with 3 small dogs on her lap

Mikkel Becker

Lead Trainer, Fear Free pets and fear free happy homes

Mikkel Becker is the lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. She specializes in reward based training and behavior modification with dogs, cats and occasional other species, including horses, pigs and orangutans. 
 
Mikkel is a Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP), a graduate of the rigorous San Francisco SPCA Dog Training Academy with Jean Donaldson with a certificate in training and counseling (CTC), a Certified Behavior Consultant Canine (CBCC-KA), a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and a Certified Dog Behavior Counselor (CDBC). Mikkel also majored in communications and minored in sociology at Washington State University. 
 
Mikkel is regularly featured in publications that include USA Today, today.com, Woman’s Day, Real Simple and a nationally syndicated newspaper pet column. She was the resident trainer at vetstreet.com and now is the lead animal trainer at fearfreehappyhomes.com and fearfreepets.com Mikkel has coauthored six books, including the most recent release, From Fearful to Fear Free. 
 
Mikkel lives in Spokane, WA with her daughter, Reagan and the love of her life- a Puggle named Indiana Bones. The rest of the critter crew includes an adorably naughty rescue pug mix, Otis, a rescued stray cat- Mylo, and a cuddly, teddy bear of a horse, Chili. 

Ken Ramirez

EVP & Chief Training Director, Karen Pryor clicker training

Ken Ramirez is the EVP and Chief Training Officer for Karen Pryor Clicker Training where he helps to oversee the vision, development and implementation of training education programs. Previously, Ken served as EVP of animal care and training at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. A 40+ year veteran of animal care and training, Ramirez is a biologist and behaviorist who has worked with many zoological organizations and dog programs throughout the world.

Ken’s work has included guide dogs, service dogs, law enforcement, search and rescue, film and television, and countless private clients. He is past president of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association and has been active in various leadership positions within IMATA for over 30 years. He hosted two successful seasons of the TV series Talk to the Animals. Ramirez authored the book ANIMAL TRAINING: Successful Animal Management through Positive Reinforcement in 1999 and most recently The Eye of the Trainer in 2020. He taught a graduate course on animal training at Western Illinois University for 20 years. He currently teaches at ClickerExpo every year, offers hands on courses and seminars at the Karen Pryor National Training Center (the Ranch), and teaches online courses through Karen Pryor Academy. 

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 now works as a software engineering, building world-class products and services. This technical background, combined with his prior business background, provides him with experience in all areas ranging from market research to data analysis to technology infrastructure. Most specifically, this work provides Mark with the skills to push an organization further through both strategic and technical means.

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.

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.

Tara Kelly

Tara is a curious rebel, award-winning author, and obsessed with all things branding. Storytelling is her superpower. Tara is proudly neurodivergent, and she does what she can to advocate for others with disabilities and neurodifferences, which is what brought her to Atlas Assistance Dogs.

She has over a decade of experience leading creative and marketing teams and developing brands that embrace change, from large nonprofits and healthcare organizations to resilient womanpreneurs ready to find their superpower. She’s probably one of the most linear creatives you’ve ever met. Her curious mind has allowed her to develop deep expertise in brand and communications strategy, identity design, messaging, video production, and web development/UX. In her spare time, she’s a multi-published author with Macmillan who writes about misfits (Oregon Book Award Winner, American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults). She also teaches writing workshops and volunteers at local animal shelters.

Tara has a B.A. in Film and Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz and a certification in brand management from Cornell 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. 

Vicky Nann

Vicky is a communications professional and life-long learner who has a strong desire to serve. She specializes in helping individuals and organizations build their brand and has both corporate and nonprofit experience. Vicky has always been a dog-lover, and she is eager to do more advanced training with her own dog Cynar.

Vicky is honored to help support the mission of Atlas Assistance Dogs. As an experienced editor, writer, and public speaker, she is excited about the opportunity to join others in spreading the word about Atlas’ programs to help more people lead more satisfying lives.

Vicky holds a BA in the Classics from the University of Toronto, an MBA with specializations in marketing and organizational behavior from The Ohio State University, and an MA in Germanic Studies for the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is currently a PhD student in the School of Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University.

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.

Stay in touch with Atlas

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Menu
Donate