Our Team

Meet the team behind the Action

Board Members

Deborah Wilson, M.D.

Board member, Chair of the Board
Phoenix, Arizona

Deborah is a board-certified Gynecologist in Scottsdale, Ariz. with a specialty in advanced laparoscopic surgery. In practice for 32 years, she attended George Washington University Medical School and completed a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Josephs Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been voted an Arizona Top Doc for the last 10 years and is nationally recognized as an authority on laparoscopic hysterectomy. She is an instructor for Olympus America, teaching surgeons laparoscopic surgical skills nationally.

Deborah owns a farm animal sanctuary in Prescott Valley Arizona, Circle L Ranch Rescue and Sanctuary, which is a permanent home for abused or abandoned horses, burros, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, ducks, geese, and dogs.

Annie Harvilicz, D.V.M. CVA

President, Animal Wellness Foundation Board member, Animal Wellness Action

A veterinarian, Annie Harvilicz is the founder and chief medical officer of Animal Wellness Centers in Marina Del Rey, California. She has authored several studies on evolutionary genetics and biology including Species-specific impacts of grazing amphipods in an eelgrass-bed community, which contributed to understanding the root causes of deterioration of the Chesapeake Bay. In 2012, she conducted an unpublished study using an animal’s own blood to harvest iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells) to treat cancer.

She’s appeared on the Discovery Channel’s Animal Precinct television program during her tenure at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City.

Dr. Annie graduated with High Honors in Research Biology from The College of William & Mary in Virginia and received her DVM degree from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine where she served as president of the school’s chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and her CVA from the Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine. Dr. Annie has been licensed to practice veterinary medicine in California, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Sherry Kellett

Board Member, Treasurer Clyde, North Carolina

Sherry, a resident of western North Carolina, retired after a career in business where she served as a controller and executive focused on accounting and financial management responsibilities.

She’s also served on for-profit and not-for-profit boards where she’s led oversight on finance and governance issues.

She received her undergraduate degree from Duke University in chemistry and later took courses in accounting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She spent 19 years at BB&T Corporation and retired as Senior Executive Vice President & Corporate Controller. She was an auditor at Arthur Andersen & Co. She’s served and led on board committees focused on Audit, Risk, Compensation, Compliance and Corporate Governance. Her primary hobby is caring for her dogs, and she’s devoted to protecting all animals.

Candis Stern

Board Member

Candis Stern grew up in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and then moved to San Diego where she spent 15 years.  She spent a large share of her life subsequently (31 years) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she was very active with ballot measures to ban the target shooting of mourning doves and to forbid trophy hunting and commercial trapping of wolves – both winning measures. She then moved to Las Cruces, N.M., and has been there for 12 years. She is there year-round now. 

She was born into an animal-loving family, with cats and dogs. She also had a horse and is today a guardian for three cats and a dog. She worked in development for Planned Parenthood and the University of Michigan Business School and as editor of the alumni publication at the U-M School of Public Health.

She served on the board of the Humane Society of Huron Valley for 6 years and helped raised the money for its new state-of-the-art shelter which opened in 2009.  She also served on the City of Ann Arbor’s Animal Ordinance Committee.  She was the Washtenaw County (where Ann Arbor is) representative for an animal protection political action committee in the 1990s.

She served on the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation Distribution Committee, the Washtenaw Community College Foundation board, and the Soundings board (a non-profit for displaced homemakers).

More recently, she served on the board of Safehaven, a no-kill shelter in Las Cruces.

She is deeply committed to the mission of Animal Wellness Action and has been a supporter of the 501(c)(4) and also AWA PAC.

Staff Members

Wayne Pacelle

Chevy Chase, Maryland

Before joining the Animal Wellness groups, Wayne Pacelle was the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, tripling the budget and net assets of the organization. He founded the Humane Society Legislative Fund and prior to that, he was executive director of The Fund for Animals. The Non-Profit Times named him seven times as one of the nation’s top 50 non-profit executives, and in 2005, he was named executive of the year.

He wrote two New York Times bestselling books:  The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals and Our Call to Defend Them. and The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming the Lives of Animals. Wayne has led efforts to pass 1,500 state laws for animals, more than 100 federal laws and amendments, 30 ballot initiative, and 500 corporate agreements. He is a graduate of Yale University.

Marty Irby​

Executive Director
Washington, D.C.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action. Irby worked in the United States House of Representatives for Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) serving as Communications Director and Animal Protection and Agriculture Policy Advisor. He is a former president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association, where he led the charge to bring an end to the painful practice of “soring” walking horses.

Irby is a Heritage Foundation Congressional Fellow, former director of equine protection and rural affairs at the Humane Society of the U.S., and native of South Alabama who grew up on a horse and cattle farm.

He graduated from the University of South Alabama with a degree in Communications, attended Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and was named by The Hill as one of nation’s Top Lobbyists for 2019. 

Penny Eastman

Deputy Director of Federal Affairs

Penny previously served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in numerous senior positions including the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration, Chief of Staff and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Social and Humanitarian Affairs, U.S. State Department and Deputy Press Secretary to the Secretary of Interior. Penny also served as Congressional Relations Officer for the Department of Commerce and Deputy Press Secretary for the Department of Transportation.

Eastman also spent five years on Capitol Hill and brings more than 25 years of government and lobbying experience to the AWA team

In addition to her extensive government experience, Penny held several senior positions in the private sector including Legislative Affairs Director at the law firm of Mayer Brown; President of Shipbuilders Council of America; and Vice President of Government Relations at L-1 Identity Solutions. Penny represented the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) before Congress and served on AWI’s Board. Penny also served on the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Political Advisory Board and is active with several local rescue groups including Homeward Trails and Pets Bring Joy.

A native of Washington, D.C., Penny graduated from Georgetown University with a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Public Policy/International Affairs. She has a second Master’s degree in Leadership and Management from Marymount University.

Joseph Grove

Director of Public Relations

Joseph Grove is a writer, journalist and editor whose involvement with the Center began in 2019, when he co-developed the Animal Wellness podcast for companion organization Animal Wellness Action. He continues to serve as host. Grove is the recipient of multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and a former media and communications advisor for The Arrow Fund, a Louisville, Ky.-based organization focused on rescuing severely abused and neglected animals.

He shares his life with an infamously misanthropic Chihuahua named Apple.

Scott Edwards

General Counsel

Scott has been deeply involved in educational, environmental and animal advocacy for over 30 years, leaving behind a career working with disadvantaged youth in alternate outreach programs in New York City, to pursue a law degree with a focus on environmental and community protection. For the past two decades, Scott has worked tirelessly to advance and enforce our system of laws that safeguard our airways and watersheds. Since 2000, he has also worked extensively to hold accountable our fundamentally inhumane and unsustainable factory farm method of meat production, where tens of thousands of animals are held in horrendous conditions, producing mountains of waste that are dumped indiscriminately on nearby fields, poisoning local rivers and streams.

In addition to a domestic body of work, Scott has also engaged on community protection internationally, working alongside activists in India, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, Mexico, Canada, Europe and elsewhere to further environmental protections. He has written numerous articles and blog entries and his worked has appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, and several other outlets, as well as making appearances on several news outlets, including Fox News.

Scott lives just north of New York City with his family and 3 dogs and, every summer, hundreds of endangered Monarch butterflies that hatch from the waystation he and his wife maintain in their backyard.

Jennifer Skiff

Director of International Programs
Perth, Australia and Mount Desert, Maine

Jennifer Skiff brings to Animal Wellness Action a lifelong focus on, and passion for, environmental issues. She crisscrossed the globe as an investigative correspondent for CNN for more than a decade, receiving several honors including the prized Environmental Media Award. Her independently produced programs about animals have aired on The Discovery Channel and other networks globally.

As a bestselling author, Jennifer’s inspirational books, The Divinity of Dogs and God Stories have been published in seven languages. Her latest book, Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals That Changed the World has received three 1st place literary prizes.

Jennifer has more than 25 years of experience leading animal welfare organizations and she leads by example.  After witnessing the torture of Asiatic bears in 1998, she initiated and led the successful campaign to build the first bear sanctuary in the country of Laos.  Today that sanctuary is home to 22 bears. While on vacation in Indonesia, she witnessed extreme neglect of animals at a hotel zoo. She negotiated with management, facilitating the release of twelve chained monkeys into their natural habitat. Her intervention was credited for shuttering the zoo six months later. Jennifer is currently a trustee of the Dogs’ Refuge Home in Australia and an advisor to Animal Aid USA and the Institute for Humane Education.

In her aforementioned book, Rescuing Ladybugs, Jennifer coined the phrase “The Compassion Movement.” She defines it as “the collective quest to alleviate suffering for all forms of life.” Teachers around the world are using the book to inspire students to create lasting change.

Jim Keen

Director of Veterinary Sciences

Jim Keen, D.V.M., Ph.D., earned his veterinary medicine and epidemiology doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was a senior veterinary researcher focused on livestock and zoonotic infections with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Nebraska for 15 years and later faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Veterinary Medicine for 13 years. His specific expertise is emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases of farmed animals. 

He has broad field experience in outbreak investigation and animal disease control including enteric zoonotic bacteria from livestock in the U.S., Foot and Mouth Disease in the United Kingdom, and African Swine Fever in the Caucasus. Keen lives on his family’s 140-year old grain farm in South Dakota. He is Director of Veterinary Sciences at the Center for a Humane Economy.

Jana Germano

Website Manager

After running a graphic design studio in D.C. for non-profit organizations for 12 years, Jana received her M.F.A. in Film and Media Arts with a focus on Digital Media from American University. She has worked in Los Angles and Sydney, Australia in film post-production and advertising as a 3D and visual effects specialist. An expert in web development and design, Jana has supported organizations and content teams with her technical and creative skills. 

As a life-long animal companion and animal-lover, she is proud to be part of Animal Wellness Action’s team and mission.

State Directors

Natalie Ahwesh

Grassroots Communications Coordinator

Natalie started in animal protection by volunteering at her local shelter and farm sanctuary.  After realizing that true animal protection comes through changes in policy and legislation, along with education, she joined HUMANE ACTION Pittsburgh, of which she is now Vice President. While monitoring and evaluating pending policy, regulatory, and legal action at the federal, state, and local level that may have an impact on animal protection, she works with local stakeholders, including policy makers, police officers, public safety officials, and elected officials to ensure current laws and policies are being enforced.

Over the past five years, she has initiated many local laws that have been passed, including Pennsylvania's first circus animal protections and retail sales ban on commercially bred dogs, cats, and rabbits.  She advocates for farm animals by educating the public on the horrors of factory farming and how plant-based eating is the best diet for health and the environment.  She also helped create an initiative to change the way the PA Dog Law office functions to bring more power to combat puppy mills to local government bodies.
Natalie has won several awards, including the Humane Society of the United State's 2017 District Leader of the Year, The Incline's 2018 "Who's Next in Animal Protection", and is one of Pittsburgh's 2019 "40 Under 40" by Pittsburgh Magazine. A math professor by day, Natalie has a Bachelor's degree in Legal Studies, Administration of Justice, French, and Mathematics from The University of Pittsburgh and a Master's Degree in Secondary Mathematics Education from The George Washington University.  She enjoys spending time with her rescued animals and traveling with her husband.

Scott Beckstead

Director of Campaigns, Oregon

After receiving his bachelor's degree from Utah State University and his JD from the University of Utah, Beckstead worked as an attorney in private practice on the central Oregon coast before going to work full-time in the animal protection sector. During that time he also served as the mayor of Waldport, Oregon from 2002 to 2007.  He became known for his special expertise in the field of animal law, and has taught that subject at the University of Oregon and Willamette University law schools.  In 2000, he co-authored Animal Law, the first casebook on the subject, and continues to teach animal law, wildlife law and policy, and Endangered Species Act as an adjunct professor of law at Willamette University.

Before coming to work for the Center and AWA, Beckstead served in a multitude of roles for the Humane Society of the United States, including Oregon state director, equine protection specialist, and Rural Outreach director. He also helped lead a successful ballot measure campaign in 2016 to ban the trade in endangered wildlife in Oregon.

Because of his close familiarity with horses, livestock, and farm animals, Beckstead provides training to law enforcement agencies on how to handle and work with those animals, and how to investigate equine and livestock cruelty and neglect.

Paul Collins

Wisconsin State Director

Paul is a lifelong animal advocate that was born and raised in Wisconsin. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Disaster and Emergency Management from Upper Iowa University and has worked as a public servant for law enforcement and higher education public safety agencies for over two decades. Paul also served in the United States Army Reserve as a quartermaster. While that might be a different path to animal advocacy, Paul has had a lifelong passion for animals and has been actively advocating for them for over a decade in Wisconsin, especially for wildlife.

Outside of AWA, he is also a board member of Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife. He also worked with the Wisconsin based Alliance for Animals in 2019 to help design and erect numerous billboards about how Wisconsin pays reckless hound hunters when their dogs are killed by wolves.  Paul lives with four rescue dogs and two rescue cats. He has also worked with wildlife rehabilitators to transport injured and orphaned wildlife for many years. He is an avid hiker, wildlife watcher, aviation enthusiast, and has a fondness for rock music. Paul considers himself a 24/7/365 animal advocate and he shares the ethos and passion that the AWA team possesses.

Gina Garey, M.S.

Maine State Director, Portland, Maine

Gina is a former financial services professional who served as Vice President of Wealth Management for two New York-based firms, specializing in strategic wealth management, marketing, public speaking and presentation development, estate planning and planned giving for high net worth clients. She was recognized as a top producer with MetLife Securities in her home state, and served as Field Advisor to the Board of Directors, MetLife NY, N.Y.

Gina incorporated her life-long love for animals into a professional path in animal behavior, obtaining an MS in Applied Animal Behavior Analysis and Counseling. She is the founder and principle of Animal Behavior & Healing, and she collaborates with veterinary clinics, supporting animals and their owners in the successful navigation of behavior issues for animals often rescued from abandonment, abuse, or neglect. Gina served in a multitude of animal welfare causes, including on the board of directors at the Animal Refuge League in Portland. She served as a state council member for the Humane Society of the United States for five years, successfully initiating two ordinances in the City of Portland, banning the retail sale of puppy mill dogs and cats in 2106 and in 2017, banning exotic performing animals in circuses and traveling or roadside shows.

Raised on the coast of Massachusetts, Gina's love for animals began early, as she spent her early years at the local horse farm caring daily for the animals, where she learned to ride. She went on to care for her own horses, competing locally. From early experience with her own animals, to a life-long passion for advocacy promoting animal welfare causes, she has a personal investment in the improvement of all animals’ lives. She has supported a vegetarian lifestyle since the age of 17.

Odessa Gunn

Northern CA Director, California

Odessa is the Co-Founder and spokesperson for Odessa’s Essential Health for Pets, a pet supplement and wellness company. She was born and raised on Cape Breton Island in the province of Nova Scotia, Canada.

Odessa is a former Pro Cyclist and lifelong animal advocate. She discovered bike racing while living in Ottawa after graduating from St Francis Xavier University with a BA. She trained on the National Development Team in Calgary then moved to the US and raced on a World Cup Pro team (Timex Cannondale) in her second season.

After retiring prematurely because of a back injury from a crash, she moved to Spain to support her husband’s career which included 10 Tours De France.

The animal abuse, abandonment and neglect in Spain was immense. Odessa rescued countless animals off the streets; shipping them to shelters in Barcelona and Belgium while setting up a small trap-neuter-release program in the Medieval city of Girona.

After returning to the US, Odessa joined the board for the Forget Me Not Farm, a therapy farm for At-Risk-Youth and rescued farm animals. During her 11 years as the VP of the board, she started (along with former husband) a large cycling event which has raised over three million dollars for the kids and animals.

Odessa also helped write position statements for the Sonoma Humane Society Board of Directors. Despite instigating and winning a public battle with the local animal shelter because of unsafe and inhumane conditions for the animals, she still managed to win the spirit award of Sonoma County. She's a fervent believer in the power of community.

While working on a docu-series to showcase outstanding rescues around the World, her focus shifted to the dog and cat meat trade in Asia and other parts of the globe. Odessa has flown to retrieve dogs many times and has two Chinese meat trade rescues at home (along with other dogs from Mexico, Spain, and the US.) In addition to her own ten dogs, she has fostered hundreds of dogs, cats, farm animals and wildlife.

Odessa lives in Santa Rosa with ten dogs, two cats, four goats, four chickens and one pig.

Carolyn Hall

State Director, Montana

Carolyn Hall, an insurance professional, is a proud resident of Montana. She is an enthusiastic wildlife and landscape photographer and an animal advocate. She resides in northwest Montana near Glacier National Park, and spends most weekends photographing grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, lynx, mountain lions, and elk in one of the few ecosystems in America with a full complement of its native predators.

She is an avid hiker, snow shoer, and skier, and adores the Big Sky Country and its public lands. Carolyn has been an active animal advocate for the last 20 years, serving in volunteer capacities for several groups, including the North Valley Search and Rescue Group and the Humane Society for Northwest Montana. Carolyn lives with a rescue dog named Jasper.

Laurie Hood

Florida State Director, Freeport, Florida

Laurie is the founder of Alaqua Animal Refuge, the premier, no-kill animal refuge and sanctuary for both domestic and farm animals located in Northwest Florida. She has created multiple programs including Equine Interactions, an equine assisted therapy program, and the Unconditional Love program, which provides trained companion dogs free of charge to the elderly and special needs individuals, and offering inmates a contributing role in the process.

Laurie starred in Animal PD, a television series on Nat Geo WILD showcasing stories of Alaqua’s animal rescue efforts; authored a curriculum to assist law enforcement with animal abuse cases; served on the Committee to Protect Greyhounds in Florida; and is a founding board member of The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center. She is currently undertaking a bold endeavor to create an educational and training center for animal welfare advocates on 100 acres of land.

She has received numerous awards, including “Daily Point of Light Award” from President George H. W. Bush; the Pinnacle Award in from 850 Magazine in Northwest Florida for her community service and leadership; Communicator of the Year for Non-Profit from the Florida Public Relations Association, Northwest Florida Coast Chapter; and is currently featuring in the Female Disrupters series in Authority Magazine and Thrive Global.

Tina Meredith

Arizona State Director, Phoenix, Arizona

Originally from Wisconsin, Tina moved to Phoenix in 2000 and very soon after found herself rescuing dogs, volunteering for rescues and for the last six years serving on the Board of a local all-breed dog rescue. Advocating for dogs and learning about their plight seemed to naturally lead to an awareness and examination of the unfortunate issues that other animals like farmed animals and wildlife also face.

A love for all animals and the desire to work on their behalf with other determined advocates is what draws her to an organization like AWA. Tina shares her life with her husband and four dogs, two chihuahuas a pit bull, and a boxer.

Zach Skow

Central Valley, CA Director, California

Zach was born and raised in hermosa beach California. As a kid he aspired to become a fighter pilot but would later find his passion in providing second chances for pets and people.

Zach began working in local animal welfare in 2004, developing the first large-dog foster program, which he headed, as well as an education and therapy dog program called Miracle Mutts

In 2008, Zach was diagnosed with and stage 4, acute alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and given less than 90 days to live. He was admitted to the Comprehensive transplant center at Cedars Sinai, where he is still a patient.

It is out of this desperate situation that Marley’s Mutts dog rescue was born. Zach found a way to save his own life, by saving the lives of others, a Philosophy of service which Marley’s Mutts has adhered to since its founding. Marley’s Mutts was honored in Sacramento as best non profit of the year for our district of California in 2019!

Marley’s Mutts has rescued over 6000 dogs, cats, horses and pigs in the last 11 years and has created numerous progressive programs including barks and books, miracle mutts and Pawsitive change — an inmate/canine rehabilitation program which is spreading throughout the California penal system and hopefully the world.

Zach married the woman of his dreams, Heather Skow, and they have a 19 month old daughter together, as well as 5 dogs, 1 cat, a pig and three horses.

Shelbie Lynn Swartz

Nevada State Director, Las Vegas, Nevada

Shelbie is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and currently attends Johns Hopkins University in her "free" time. After graduating, Shelbie first worked as a journalist at the Chicago Tribune before moving to Washington, D.C. and working as a communications professional for different non-profits and on Capitol Hill.

Now, she's fighting to provide a voice to the voiceless as Director of Digital Marketing for AWA and bolstering the organization's efforts by drawing attention to our initiatives through new media and email outreach.