Our Staff
Kennel Staff

Stephanie Loria, Head Trainer

Stephanie, a Division 1 college athlete, began her career as a Recreation Therapist in New York City rehab facilities including hospitals, substance abuse recovery centers and psychiatric settings. After earning her Master’s degree, she transitioned to teaching physical education to Special Needs students in the inner city. She individualized her innovative public school programs for her k-8 kids, creating a learning environment that was both challenging and compassionate. While still at the NYC Board of Education, she taught Adapted Physical Education coursework to graduate students at Manhattanville College for 18 years. 

After taking an early retirement from teaching in 2021, Stephanie completed an intensive training program at Buck’s Dog Training LLC in Mullica Hill, NJ. She then bought an 18-acre farm in Virginia where she now trains and exercises dogs in wide open spaces. The Virginia location she oversees specializes in Service Dog training for veterans and civilians, which allows her to draw on her professional skills with the disabled community

Mia Blankenship, Trainer & Service Dog Program Coordinator

Through education and in various professional settings, Mia brings a depth of experience in animal care and psychology to her work as a trainer at Buck’s Virginia. Over the past several years she has worked as an Animal Control Officer at the city animal shelter in Franklin, where she developed medical and life-saving skills as well as an awareness of public policy and animal protection laws. 

She earned an Associates degree in Zookeeping while acquiring practical skills in animal behavior and training at Rough Housing, a doggy daycare facility in North Carolina. After being hired at Buck’s, she obtained her training certification and is currently working  with her own rescue dog, Buddy, to prepare him for Service Dog work.

Shelby Thorpe, Trainer

Shelby grew up on a farm in Virginia where she immersed herself in teaching dogs and other animals from an early age. Despite her lifelong love of animals, it never occurred to her to become a dog trainer until she met Stephanie at the Buck’s Virginia facility in 2022: “After just one day of training, there was no turning back,” she recalls. Her training skills, whether General Obedience or Service Dog training, are enhanced by her warmth and enthusiasm: “You know you’re in the right place when you absolutely love to go to work every day.”

Related Staff

Laura Federico, Director of Communications

Laura’s professional background includes a staff position as Education Editor at a weekly newspaper in New Jersey, followed by Director of Communications positions for the Montclair, NJ public schools and for Rutgers University. She also served as Board President for a San Francisco non-profit in the early 2000’s, giving her valuable experience in planning and hosting fundraising events, staff and budget oversight, and serving her community. In 2022, she and partner Stephanie Loria opted to postpone their retirement to move to Virginia and open a new Buck’s location. As franchise co-owner, Laura now brings her Communications skills to Buck’s training and recreation programs, while supervising staff and overseeing many aspects of daily life on the Newsoms farm.

Tommie Lee Prater, Hospitality & Special Events Coordinator

Tommie Lee (known as Tot) has been a Buck’s Virginia staff member almost since its doors opened for business in 2022. An animal lover and enthusiastic team member, Tot brings a wide variety of organizational, strategic and logistical skills to her work at Buck’s. She assists at Special Events, helps plan and organize weekly task schedules, prepares for and welcomes visitors, supervises support staff, and maintains a productive workflow throughout the facility.

Melissa Blei, Canine Wellness Program Director

Melissa (known as Missy), a lifelong animal lover and advocate, is a U.S Army veteran as well as a full-time Massage Therapist who completed her licensing credentials at the Cayce Reilly School of Massotherpay in Virginia Beach. Missy is also a certified Canine Myofacial Pain Specialist, a Reiki Master, and a specialist in both human and canine chronic pain conditions. She brings her deep experience as a healer to trainee dogs at Buck’s who are in need of her services — those who suffer from age-related arthritis, pain from old injuries, or post-traumatic anxiety disorders. Missy is currently in the process of building a second career as a specialist in Canine Massage Therapy and Animal Reiki (a Japanese energy healing technique that has been practiced for centuries).