George HaynesActing CEO
George was retained by the SDF Board of Directors in early 2016 to orchestrate the transition to the Petco Foundation Canine Pavilion at the National Training Center and to guide a strategic planning process. He is an organizational change consultant who has worked in non-profit and for-profit environments for more than twenty-five years.
Debra ToschExecutive Director
With 19 years of experience in Search and Rescue, Debra served as a FEMA-Certified Canine Search Specialist with her SDF-trained Search Dog Abby as a member of California Task Force 1. She was deployed to the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the La Conchita mudslide near Santa Barbara. Debra also deployed on other urban and wilderness emergencies while acting as SDF Program Director. She served 10 years on the FEMA Canine Sub-Group and as a FEMA Search Team Testing Evaluator for 15 years. In 2005, Debra retired from active emergency service to succeed Wilma as SDF’s Executive Director.
Serenity NicholsExecutive Assistant
Serenity is responsible for assisting the Executive Director, maintaining SDF’s financial expenditures, overseeing human resources, and is the primary liaison for the National Training Center project. She also supports the Board of Directors and is the principle liaison for the Innovative Readiness Training program partnership with the military helping to construct the NTC campus. Serenity joined SDF in 2010 with a passion for helping people and animals, and enjoys working for an organization whose mission aligns with her personal values.
Jim WigginsNTC Facilities Manager
Jim is the Facilities Manager for the National Training Center (NTC) and joined the SDF family in 2012. Jim maintains and monitors the water treatment system, and as a certified mechanic performs all scheduled maintenance on SDF vehicles. He is responsible for the upkeep of all buildings and land on the NTC’s 125 acre site. His background and experience in the trades have been most valuable for the upkeep of the NTC and development of ongoing projects.
Will BrownNTC Facilities Manager Assistant
Will is a Santa Paula local and joined the SDF family in 2014. He works with the team at the National Training Center and works alongside the Facilities Manager to assist with site maintenance, vehicle and equipment fleet maintenance, building maintenance, landscaping and the many other duties associated with the upkeep of the NTC’s 125 acre site.
Kate HorwickProgram Manager
Kate joined the SDF Program team in 2011. She is the Search Team Liaison and oversees program marketing, handler selection and case management. Kate is also responsible for guiding Search Team retirements and the Search Team fund program, in addition to coordinating Program communications.
Dave LindeeProgram Assistant
Joining the SDF Team in 2016, Dave provides assistance to the Program Manager, canine trainers, search teams and Lifetime Care families. His service with the Navy and years teaching and training in government and nonprofit sectors are beneficial to his work at SDF.
Sylvia StoneyCanine Recruitment Manager
Sylvia has worked with canine teams throughout her career prior to joining SDF in 2015. She began at SDF as a Canine Care Specialist and is now leading the charge as our Canine Recruitment Manager to find those elite canine athletes that will become the next generation of Search Dogs. Sylvia also oversees the Canine Care program. As a 10-year member of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Volunteer Search and Rescue Team, Sylvia brings both wilderness and urban search and rescue experience to SDF, as well as 20 years of corporate management experience.
Sonja HeritageMaster Trainer
Sonja joined the SDF Training Team in 2012 after serving for 15 years with the Fairfax County Urban Search & Rescue Team in Virginia. As a FEMA instructor, trainer and handler, Sonja brings a wealth of experience to SDF. Her numerous deployments to national and international disasters include the U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya, the earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan in 1999, the 2001 Pentagon attack, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, Hurricane Katrina, and the Haiti earthquake. Sonja leads the training of new Search Dog Candidates at our National Training Center and oversees the training of our Search Teams locally and nationally.
Lyz GregoryCanine Trainer
Lyz joined the SDF Team in 2010 as a canine recruiter. She has worked in the animal industry as a trainer, zookeeper and veterinary technician over the last 18 years. In 2012 she joined the SDF Training Team, utilizing her broad work experience to not only train canine candidates and their handlers, but also serve as medical advisor for the kennel. Her work experience has been beneficial to the variety of needs at SDF.
Emily FiskCanine Trainer
Emily began training and handling dogs in various dog sport competitions more than 15 years ago and joined the SDF Training Team in 2014. In addition to training the canine candidates and certified Search Teams, she also manages SDF’s Lifetime Care program, finding homes and career change opportunities for the canines who do not complete search dog training. Emily’s prior work experience as an Animal Control Officer, professional falconer, and 911 dispatcher is advantageous to her work at SDF.
Jami ByrdLead Canine Care Specialist
Joining the SDF Canine Care team in 2015, Jami works as a Lead Canine Care Specialist for our Canine Care Team. She works closely with the Search Dog candidates with a focus on the day-to-day kennel operations. Jami graduated from the Animal Behavior College as a Certified Pet Dog Trainer and is currently studying to become a Licensed Veterinary Technician. Having several dogs of her own she knew she wanted to be a part of the organization the day she first learned of SDF.
Alex HillCanine Care Specialist
Alex’s passion for working with animals led him to volunteer at the Search Dog Foundation in 2015. After several months of volunteer work he was brought on as a Canine Care Specialist team member. Alex has a great appreciation for SDF and thoroughly enjoys caring for the Search Dogs in training.
Samantha MangiapaneCanine Care Specialist
Samantha joined SDF in 2016 as a Canine Care Specialist. She graduated from the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College. Samantha is an active Marine Corps Reservist, having served for the past 6 years. She has a strong desire to aid in the training and care of the search dogs, knowing that they are ready to save a life when a disaster strikes.
Jenn MuellerCanine Care Specialist
Jenn joined the Canine Care Team in 2016 as a way of combining her passion for rescuing dogs and helping people. Not only is SDF’s mission close to Jenn’s heart but she also has firsthand experience with the incredible value of training dogs to benefit society as the proud handler of a Diabetic Alert Dog named Jae.
Rhett MauckDirector of Development
Rhett serves as the Director of Development and is responsible for management and oversight of SDF’s Estate Program and donor relations. Rhett joined SDF in 2009 and wanted to work for an organization that deals with his true passion: rescuing dogs.
Denise SandersCommunications & Development Officer
Denise joined SDF’s team in 2008. After overseeing the agency’s program for six years as Program Supervisor, Denise became the Grants & Communications Manager in 2014. She now manages SDF’s publications, communications and outreach, and provides support to the Director of Development.
Celeste MatesevacCommunity Relations Officer
While working with local nonprofits, Celeste met Wilma Melville and her Search Dog Murphy and was inspired to join SDF in 2003. As Community Relations Manager, she leads SDF’s Sponsor Program and is the liaison for Corporate Giving and community groups throughout the country. Celeste also orchestrates the SDF volunteer program.
Kristina StewartDevelopment Officer
Kristina joined the SDF team in 2016. As Development Assistant she supports all fundraising and donor relations activities. Kristina has worked with nonprofits in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and the Santa Ynez Valley and has almost 20 years of fundraising experience. Passionate about rescuing dogs, she is honored and delighted to support SDF’s mission.