Laura O'Kane / Founder and Executive Director
Laura O’Kane founded Paws and Affection in August 2013. Laura is the Executive Director of the organization and spends her time raising funds to care for and train the P&A team of dogs, managing day to day operations, and overseeing the training department. She plans events, works with volunteers, interviews applicants, and helps with the training of dog/recipient teams. Laura has a hands-on approach to leading the team and enjoys building relationships with staff, fosters, volunteers, recipients, donors, and the community. She believes in a team atmosphere and open communication to create an environment of happiness and success. Laura is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and spent time in the classroom assisting in the training of in-home pets in basic obedience and manners prior to starting Paws and Affection. Laura has a B.S. from Virginia Tech and in September 2011, she completed the Teach the Teacher Course at Canine Assistants in Atlanta, GA under the direction of Jennifer Arnold. Laura and her husband Chad live outside of Philadelphia with their 2 children and P&A Ambassador, Rosie.
Jessica Gwiszcz / Marketing Coordinator and Facility Manager
Jess creates and maintains the P&A social media presence to keep the community up to date on the great work being done at Paws and Affection. She also manages our website, facilitates community outreach communication, executes fundraising events, and oversees facility operations. Jess graduated from La Salle University in 2018 with a B.A. in Psychology. While in school, she volunteered at P&A starting in early 2017 and completed the P&A Internship Program that summer. She then returned as an experienced volunteer for the rest of the 2017/2018 school year. In May 2018, Jess came on staff as our part time Marketing Coordinator and since then has become an integral part of the team. She is now full time and has taken on managing the facility and all that goes along with keeping things running smoothly.
Gwen Vandivere / Dog and Puppy Wellness Advocate
Gwen is responsible for overseeing the health and wellbeing of the P&A dog team. In coordination with fosters and trainers, she keeps the dogs in top shape by doing physical therapy; maintaining a healthy diet of kibble and supplements; and scheduling appointments with the vet and groomer. She also helps prepare the puppies at P&A for their service dog life by socializing them in the community and introducing them to the Bond Based Approach. Although she graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in Philosophy, Gwen has always had a passion for animal care and wellbeing. She has volunteered at shelters, fostered cats and dogs, and in June of 2020 she adopted her own rescue pup named Hopscotch. During the pandemic, she worked a handful of animal related jobs before starting at P&A part time. After only a few short weeks she was given the opportunity to become full time and happily accepted.
Julia Hopkins / Service Dog Trainer
Julia teaches our pups the skills they need to succeed as future service dogs. She focuses on the more advanced service dog tasks after the dogs turn one. In addition, she works with our recipients following placement to make sure their relationships are flourishing and their skills are staying sharp. Julia began at P&A as a volunteer and before that, volunteered at Providence Animal Shelter in Media. Julia is a Temple University graduate and also earned her certification in dog obedience training from Animal Behavior College. Julia grew up with two labs and now has a blue heeler named Bodhi for a best friend. She and her fiancé share their home with Bodhi in Conshohocken.