KERI – FOUNDER & LEAD TRAINER
Keri Putonen, the founder and lead trainer at Unleashed Abilities, grew up in Queens, New York. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University and a Masters Degree in Elementary Education from American University. Keri taught in Fairfax County Public Schools for 13 years in a variety of instructional and leadership positions. Over the years, Keri developed a strong interest in working with students labeled as Twice Exceptional, children who are gifted, and also receive ESOL or special education services.
Keri’s connection to animals began when she was a small child. Animals provided unconditional love and friendship during difficult family and social situations. She became interested in dog training when she enrolled in a training program with her first dog, Baxter. After that she knew she wanted to help people bring out the best in their dogs so that the dogs would be happier and so would their owners.
While Keri was still teaching children, she was able to integrate her two loves, children and animals, together when she had a boy with autism in one of her classes. She successfully implemented a program using a bunny as a therapeutic tool. This was the beginning of Keri’s exploration into the power of the human-animal bond and how it could be used to help children overcome social, communication, cognitive and motor deficits.
Keri and her husband started an animal intervention program at a local transitional home for abused and neglected children. The dogs would visit with the children on a regular basis to facilitate healing and help work on trust issues, self-esteem, and conduct disorders. The dogs’ weekly visit was also used by the counselors as a motivation tool throughout the week. Keri and her dog, Sancha, facilitated communication skills and helped develop oral and written language skills with students in an ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) program. Keri and her three-year-old German Shepherd, Raina, have just completed their Therapy Dog Certification with Therapy Dogs, Inc. Keri hopes to become an evaluator for TDI and start a variety of visiting dog programs in Falls Church, McLean, North Arlington and the greater DC Metro area.
MARK – ASSISTANT TRAINER
Mark Platenberg is a musician with a BA in music composition from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He grew up in Northern Virginia with as many dogs, frogs, snakes and turtles as his parents would allow. After walking dogs professionally for the last seven years, he met Keri through a mutual client and has been training under her ever since.
ANJA – ASSISTANT TRAINER
As a toddler, Anja was ‘helping’ her dad garden in the front yard, when her dad’s friend Mo happened to walk by with his dog, a giant american Labrador Retriever named Leo. As they came closer, Leo decided he really wanted to say hello to Anja. He tore the leash out of Mo’s hand and barrelled towards the tiny child, knocking her to the ground and slobbering all over her.
This was Anja’s first experience with a dog.
Despite a rather traumatizing introduction to the canine species, Anja became quite the animal lover, starting her own pet sitting business (much to the chagrin of her family, who are all non-animal people) at the early age of seven. In 6th grade, she began working with Keri after meeting her at the Middle School’s Career fair. For the first year or so, she mainly observed, but soon began to help teach. For her 13 birthday, after about 3 years of campaigning, she finally managed to convince her parents to allow her to get a dog. This dog ended up being Zuzie, a toy poodle who is now in training to become a therapy dog. Last year, as a sophomore she took the Advanced Animal Science class at the Arlington Career Center, where she learned about how to care for many different species of animals. She also became Cat and Dog CPR and First Aid Certified. Anja is currently a junior at George Mason High School, and now manages the Unleashed Abilities Social Media Campaign.