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. Prior to starting Paws and Affection, Laura spent time in the classroom assisting in the training of in-home pets in basic obedience and manners. 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 / Director of Communication and Marketing
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 her time at school. 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 grown her role to what it is today.
Gwen Vandivere / Director of Dog Health and Wellness
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 husband Mike share their home with Bodhi in Conshohocken.
Judith Soslowsky / Applicant Coordinator and Trainer
Judith works with applicants at every stage of our placement process. She reviews applications, participates in the matching process, and is the liaison between the recipients and the organization following graduation. In addition, Judith works with our current team of dogs-in-training to get them ready for placement. Judith joined the P&A staff in September 2022 after a year of volunteering. Prior to joining P&A, she spent 10 years volunteering with horses and riders at therapeutic equine facilities. It was through this work that she became passionate about the unique bond between 4-leggeds and 2-leggeds and the remarkable ways animals support and partner with their humans. Judith is excited to be working with the P&A dogs to make a positive impact in young peoples' lives and is honored to be part of such a worthwhile organization. Judith lives in Penn Valley with her husband Lou, two kids in college, and the best kind of chocolate: their brown labradoodle Andy.
Louise Gutt / Recipient Coordinator and Trainer
Louise works with our recipients once they are matched with a dog, first helping them build a bond and then facilitating their training and learning progress. She identifies the needs of the recipient and then works with the dog and child to make magic happen. In addition, Louise works with our current team of dogs-in-training to get them ready for placement. Louise started out as a volunteer but joined the P&A staff in October 2022. She is a licensed occupational therapist who has spent her career working with children of all ages. Through her work, she has witnessed the positive effect that an animal can have on children in the hospital, outpatient, and school settings. As a lover of all animals, especially dogs, she is thrilled to be working with the P&A team. Louise lives in Narberth with her two cats and has twins who are in college.