Jill Felice | Founder / Executive Vice President of Programming
As a child, Jill Felice started training dogs for her sister who has cerebral palsy. Jill learned from this formative, early experience how the union of two species that bond as a team can navigate the world and build the resources to achieve solutions to many challenges. Jill is a graduate of Bergin University of Canine Studies, the only accredited academic institution in the world solely devoted to advanced canine education and research. She began ADW with one dog and one client. Her embrace of positive reinforcement training to produce assistance dogs who serve with confidence and joy remains distinctive to ADW’s entire approach to training dogs without ever resorting to dominance- or punishment-based instruction.
Linda Milanesi | CEO / President
In 2006, Linda Milanesi began her career with Assistance Dogs of the West when she apprenticed to become an instructor/trainer in the school programs. She served as Vice President of the ADW board until 2011, when she was named ADW’s Executive Director. Linda oversees a whole-systems team approach for ADW. She supervises and manages policy and procedure, advocacy, board relations, finance, development and grant-writing. She is responsible for creating and nurturing donor and foundation relations and earned income projects. She produces the annual graduation ceremony celebrating the dogs that have been successfully trained for client placements and facility placements. Prior to Santa Fe, she lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and worked in Philadelphia and New York City.
Liz Napieralski | Client Liaison / Grant Writer
Liz Napieralski celebrated her tenth year at ADW in December 2019. Except for the morning coffee, there’s no such thing as an average day. She is the point person for communications with clients and prospective clients and facility teams. She coordinates the details for all ADW’s client materials, from applications to Client Placement Training, and manages the client application process. In addition, Liz puts her B.A. in English and Creative Writing to use by writing and editing ADW’s newsletters, and by writing grants.
Kyle Lephart | Director of Finance and Operations
From growing up with Labs to getting his first job in a veterinary clinic to starting work at Assistance Dogs of the West in April 2008, Kyle has always had a love of animals. He grew up in Wisconsin but after moving to Santa Fe in 2007, he found ADW through an advertisement expressing a need for help transporting dogs to various programs and appointments around town. As his affection for the animals and the work they do grew, so did the job. His responsibilities quickly expanded to include managing inventory, purchasing, veterinary needs, billing, bookkeeping, payroll and many other tasks that arise daily (including snuggling on the couch with tired puppies).
Jodie Backensto | Lead Instructor / Trainer
Jodie has an extensive background working with animals, children and people with disabilities. She had been a volunteer with ADW, received ADW Assistance Dog Handler certification and was hired as an ADW trainer in 2005. Jodie has continued her education through professional development training courses (health, education, disability awareness, autism and advanced dog training) Her responsibilities include: Instruction, training, program presentations, potential client relations, client placement training, owner self-training and curriculum enhancement. Jodie is also the staff baker and goodie-maker.
Dani Miller | Trainer
Dani Miller has loved dogs since she began training her pets in childhood. She considers it a huge privilege to be around service dogs and their clients and handlers all day long. Before joining ADW’s training staff in 2003, Dani was a volunteer puppy raiser and a trainer at a PetSmart in California. As an adult, she studied how to train dogs in a variety of disciplines including obedience, agility, flyball, herding, clicker and rally. Dani encountered her first service dog in training while living in California, and had skilled dogs who helped her son through a challenging illness. Every dog that has come into her life has had a special purpose. Every one of them keeps teaching her new things every day.
Penny Ryan | Instructor / Trainer
Penny Ryan met Jill Felice shortly after Jill founded ADW. Penny began volunteering her time in 1995. Her experience as a Narcotic Detection Dog handler and trainer helped with the inception of the ADW Diabetic Alert Dog program. Penny always told Jill, she would come work at ADW when she retired. She retired from the New Mexico State Police in 2014, and shortly after, began work as a trainer with ADW. She reports feeling very happy working with wonderful people and amazing dogs.
Denise Dumesnil | Instructor / Trainer / Grant Writer
Denise Dumesnil is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Taos, NM, where she works with several nonprofit organizations to provide Canine-Assisted Therapy to their clientele, with ADW’s serviced dogs-in-training. She obtained Clark, a facility service dog, from Assistance Dogs of the West in June 2012 to be her co-therapist – the best decision she has ever made! After experiencing the immeasurable benefits Clark brings to her work, she has worked with Assistance Dogs of the West to bring therapeutic Student Trainer and Warrior Canine Connection programs to rural Taos. ADW in Taos now provides weekly therapeutic groups to children and families at the local domestic violence shelter; military veterans; teens with disabilities as an AmeriCorps community service program; at-risk youth at an alternative middle school; and homeless youth at the local youth crisis shelter, and more.
John Todd | Operations Coordinator
An avid dog lover, John is our newest staff member and our organizational hub, helping with everything from fielding inquiries to managing marketing initiatives and daily office operations. John has 30 years of experience art directing consumer brands like IBM, AT&T, The Home Depot, Bloomingdale’s, Walmart, Sonicare and Philips Electronics. Before joining ADW, John served as Managing Photo Editor / Art Director at WebMD.com and WebMD Magazine. He holds a BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and a graduate degree from the Massachusetts College of Art.
Aimee Brown | Trainer
Aimee’s love of dogs began in her childhood and now being able to work with them every day is pretty much her dream job.
Alex Johansen | Programs Assistant
Alex’s mother raised English Mastiffs when he was a kid. His companionship with dogs only grew stronger with time. Dogs from miles away would trek across public land to find him and stay by his side. Being apart of ADW for both middle school and high school not only solidified a love for dogs, but for people as well. Alex went off to study politics at the University of California in Santa Cruz. Since returning to New Mexico he has worked on local grassroots campaigns, as well as rejoined the ADW circle of friends, family and service.