Our Trainers

Heather Wilkerson - Canine SMSD Program Manager

Heather Wilkerson began her career with canines in law enforcement in 1995. Heather shifted her canine training towards search and rescue and search and recovery in the late 1990's. Heather served as a member of a FEMA Urban Search & Rescue Task Force for 10 years. She has certified and deployed multiple dogs during major disasters in the US and Internationally. Heather has served as a Canine Instructor, Evaluator, Coordinator, & Mentor Trainer. She is a former Canine Instructor for Auburn University Canine Detection and Research Institute. Heather owned a working dog kennel for over 10 years and has a passion for human animal interaction, canine physical conditioning and injury prevention. She currently serves as a member of the Sports Medicine Advisory Council for the University Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

Heather founded a non-profit organization in 2006 and has served as an Independent Consultant assisting many other Non-Profit Organizations in the Canine Industry for the past 6 years.

Susan Shemwell-Randall - SMSD Lead Trainer

Susan currently serves SMSD as the Lead Trainer for our Mobility Assistance Dog Program. She joined our team in 2013 and has been a tremendous asset to our staff. Susan worked with horses for over 10 years and started transitioning to dog training 7 years ago. Susan is a certified dog trainer through Animal Behavior College and holds a BS Degree in Animal Science. She is a member of Knoxville's Flyball Dog Club with whom she competes with 2 of her own dogs. Susan has a broad knowledge of obedience and animal behavior.

Cassie Krause - Staff Trainer

Cassie Krause grew up in Virginia with a passion for working with animals. By the grace of her patient mother, household pets included dogs, cats, fancy hooded rats, fish and guinea pigs. Her first memories are visits to zoos and aquariums and to this day she will plan trips around the local zoos and aquariums. She graduated from Virginia Tech in 2010 with a Bachelor's of Science in Wildlife Sciences and minor in Biology. After graduation she started her animal training career with an internship at the Audubon Zoological Society in New Orleans, LA, where she began her foundation of operant conditioning while working with California sea lions. She continued on to a hands on training internship at Coral World Ocean Park in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands with South American sea lions.

After a brief stint as a receptionist and veterinary assistant at an animal hospital, she next pursued an internship, then professional animal trainer position, at Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach, FL in 2012. There she lead daily presentations and encounter programs with Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins, Roughed-toothed dolphins, California sea lions, African black-footed penguins, exotic parrots, and domestic cats, dogs and rats. Though she doesn't have a dog of her own, her 4 year old cat, Leo, keeps her on her toes and even knows a few adorable behaviors.

Laura Porter - Staff Trainer Laura Porter grew up in North Carolina, riding horses and playing with her pet labradors. She graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science and a minor in Psychology. While at Tennessee, Laura started a student organization dedicated to educating the public about service animals and also worked with the H.A.B.I.T therapy animal program. In her free time, she enjoys fly fishing, downhill skiing, and other outdoor activities.

Darrell Wilkerson Canine Fitness Trainer/Facilities Manager A US Navy Veteran, Darrell has a lengthy background of all aspects of canine training and is extremely passionate about ensuring that all SMSD mobility assistance service dogs are properly conditioned and appropriately prepared to meet the operational performance standards required for successful placements with wounded Veterans. He currently serves on the Advisory Council for the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine, is a former trainer/instructor at Auburn University's Canine Detection Training Center. In addition, Darrell is a former FEMA Master Trainer/Instructor for Search and Rescue.