Sass Levine – Founder / Executive Director
While majoring in Physical Education in college, Sass purchased her first Golden Retriever from a breeder on Long Island who introduced her to formal training and the sport of competition. Sass thrives on a busy schedule, so while married with three children and with their own ponies to manage, she bought two more Golden Retrievers for competition. She was fortunate to have had many opportunities to work under and be influenced by some of the top trainers on Long Island from the 1980s up to now. She absorbed plenty of pointers from these gifted teachers and proudly competed with both of her Goldens, getting both of them their Novice obedience titles in the same three days and both getting high scores in trial awards!
While introducing her dogs to field trials, she gradually became quite debilitated. It took months to determine she had Lyme Disease and she was bedridden for a whole year! As she fought for her diagnosis and her own life, she headed up Lyme support/education groups on Long Island, taught Lyme education in the public schools and worked for a national pharmacy as a Lyme Disease Resource Consultant. As her health improved, she built a dog training business called The K9 Club. Her own property allowed her to create an indoor training room as well as an outdoor ring with custom made agility obstacles. For a decade she also was a home-away-from-home for many boarding dogs. Sass continues to offer private instruction using her foundation in traditional methods, as well as years of experience applying science based methodology. She is also an AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, a member of APDT and a mentor trainer for Animal Behavior College and a member of the Pet Professionals Guild.
Sass’s continued interest in training with a purpose lead her to volunteer to raise a guide dog puppy. During that process she was also hired as a puppy advisor for The Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown. Rounding out her canine knowledge was her experience whelping a litter of Labrador Retrievers in her home for the Guide Dog Foundation. Witnessing their development confirmed the value of those early weeks in a dog’s psychological development. She continues to temp puppies when needed and has a Golden Retriever who is a stud dog for the foundation.
Sass was on to her next mission when she created a new 4H program called The Canine Experience which she hosted at the Greenlawn Equestrian Center. She had found it sad that unlike children involved with horses here on Long Island, that dog-loving children didn’t have a venue in which to engage with dogs and learn about breeds and behavior. She also realized how much Long Island’s pet owners and professionals would benefit from a Long Island website offering resources for all LI canine related businesses, organizations and events, so she also founded and co-owned a website called The Long Island Dog Directory.
Her daily struggle living with a chronic illness and how her dogs help to ease her chronic pain and fatigue is the driving force behind DogAbility Center. Sass’ entrepreneurial spirit and creativity, her endless tank of ideas, her ability to motivate people and spark change are some of the many skills she brings to DogAbility Center.
Vicki Rogers, MS Ed – Program Director / Participant Coordinator
Vicki is a NYS Certified Educator (Pre-K-6), Literacy Consultant, and Common Core Literacy Specialist, supporting principals and teachers to improve literacy teaching and learning. She has worked in Education for over 25 years, spending much of that time as a Kindergarten teacher. As a former NYC Department of Education Literacy Coach, she conducted model lessons for teachers using research-based best practices in literacy and assisted in the design, implementation, and monitoring of curriculum aligned to the Common Core Standards.
In addition to her educational background and experience, Vicki is the former Coordinator of CHADD of Nassau County (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). CHADD of Nassau County provides much-needed support, education, encouragement and resources to parents, educators and professionals in the local Long Island community. As the parent of a child with AD/HD and dyslexia, she has first-hand experience with the unique needs of special learners. These experiences have led her to join the DogAbility Center team to help build this exciting new venture.
Vicki is also a life-long dog lover and spends much of her free time with her dog, Guinness.
Dr. Ellen Leonhardt, DVM
Ellen Leonhardt DVM is a federally accredited veterinarian practicing at Animal General in East Norwich, NY. She was raised and still resides in Levittown, NY. She earned her Bachelor of science degree at Cornell University and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Ross University. Dr. Leonhardt is a general practitioner treating dogs, cats, and many exotic species. She is well known in the wildlife community for the work she does helping injured wildlife. Dr. Leonhardt also has a special interest in stem cell therapy in dogs and has performed many stem cell cases all showing dramatic improvement in their medical condition. Dr. Leonhardt currently has 2 Rottweilers, both of whom act as greeters at Animal General. “Joplin” is a certified therapy dog and ministers to the clients and patients at the veterinary practice. She has a great calming effect on nervous pets and their owners. Dr.Leonhardt truly understands how animals improve life for people with difficulties, whether those difficulties are physical or emotional. Her presence at DogAbility Cetner training and therapy sessions combined with her overall canine experience has strenghthened her understanding of just what it takes to be a DogAbility Center canine team.
Jeanne Saeli is a Special Education teacher and has been teaching in the North Babylon School District for the past 21 years. She received her Bachelors of Science in Education Degree from SUNY Buffalo where she was dual majored in Elementary Education and Special Education. She received her Masters of Science Degree in Reading/Literacy from Adelphi University. She also holds a certification in ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) and has provided services for preschool students as a SEIT teacher. In addition to her educational background, Jeanne is the Vice -President of her Teachers’ Organization where she is active on many committees. She is the Public Relation Coordinator for the district, PTA and SEPTA member, and Special Education Elementary Teacher Liason for the district. For the past 4 years, she has also provides Pet Therapy Services to the children of North Babylon with her dog Cooper within the schools.
Jeanne and her Golden Retriever, Cooper, are a certified Pet Therapy team. They are part of the DogAbility CATT team that volunteer their time to events and sessions for DogAbility. Jeanne and Cooper love being a part of the ‘magic’ that happens at DogAbility.
Daniela Freire – Lead Dog Trainer
Daniela recently moved to the US having five years’ experience as a force-free dog trainer in Brazil. During that time, she worked as a behavioral consultant responsible for environmental enrichment at Jardim Imbui Kennel. Mentored by Henrique Silva, Daniela trained dogs for agility basics and dog shows, taught shaping classes and puppy training at Agility Recrativo. In addition to her dog training freelance work, she also was employed at Animais Atores where she trained dogs for TV shows and advertisements.
Daniela and her Brazilian Terrier, Evee, are a Certified Activity Therapy Team. She spends her free time with Evee and her other two dogs, Chili and Beans and is thrilled to share her expertise in everything canine with our DogAbility Center family.