Meet Our Staff



President Priscilla Feral has presided since 1987 over the international non-profit animal advocacy organization, which places critical habitat, wildlife protection, veganism, environmental and animal rights issues at the core of animal advocacy.  She also serves as president of the San Antonio sanctuary Primarily Primates since 2007, which operates as a subsidiary of Friends of Animals. As a food activist, she has authored three vegan cookbooks for Friends of Animals —Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine, The Best of Vegan Cooking and her most recent, For the Love of Dog Biscuits. Priscilla believes that social movements, where people work together to bring about positive change in a society, are both inspiring and powerful and that giving up is not an option. Priscilla can be reached at feral(at)



Director of Operations Bob Orabona, who started as a volunteer, oversees day-to-day operations and the creation of strategies and policies for Friends of Animals. He became a vegan in 1980 and says his work here is the job of his dreams. With him every day at work are his rescue dogs, Papa, a bulldog and Harry, a black lab. Bob can be reached at admin(at)



Director of Administration Donna M. Berlanda came to FOA in March 2017. Donna oversees bequests and trusts as well as grant writing for Friends of Animals and Primarily Primates. She is a State of Connecticut certified Master Gardener, and an avid cook, photographer and seamstress. Donna can be reached at dberlanda(at)






Development Director Dustin Rhodes started working at Friends of Animals in 2007 in the Washington, D.C. office. His primary job is fundraising and donor relations, but he’s also a contributing writer to Action Line. His passions include: wild animals, hiking, vegan baking, dogs, capuchin monkeys, writing, modern dance (as spectator), bicycling (for fun) and eating (vegan, naturally). His favorite part of his job is getting to know our inspirational supporters — many of whom have been with Friends of Animals for decades. He now resides (again) in Asheville, North Carolina — a progressive, animal-loving community in the Blue Ridge mountains. Dustin can be reached at dustin(at)





Communications Director Fran Silverman joined Friends of Animals in October 2017. Fran oversees FoA’s public affairs outreach and publications. Her previous experience includes editor of a national nonprofit consumer advocacy site, as well as editing and writing for major digital and print media including The New York Times. Whether it’s human or non- human animals, she believes in being a voice for the voiceless and respectfully observing and sharing the world with all its species. Fran lives in CT with her three children, husband, and Scout, a rescued Old English Sheep Dog.




Editor Nicole Rivard started working at Friends of Animals in 2013. She brings 18 years of journalism experience to FoA’s Action Line and to the front lines— protesting and documenting atrocities against animals exploited by the carriage horse, fur and hunting industries, as well as the Bureau of Land Management’s mismanagement of America’s wild horses. Nicole also helps direct FoA’s legislative outreach. She enjoys photography, wildlife watching and wild places. But her happiest place is with horses at the barn, her home away from home. Nicole lives in Connecticut with her rescued goldfish, Deniro and hopes to adopt a horse someday. She can be reached at nrivard(at)






Creative Director Jane Seymour has been an animal rights activist for her entire life. After receiving her BFA in photography from Parsons School of Design, Jane went on to work in the publishing industry as a photography editor and director for 10 years. She oversees the design of Action Line, and all visual campaigns.  Jane works out of FoA’s New York City office in Brooklyn, where she resides with her husband and their rescue dog Bullet. She can be reached at jane(at)






Social Media Editor Meg McIntire joined Friends of Animals in 2013. Meg is the creative force behind FoA’s and Primarily Primates’ social media and websites. She is also a contributing writer for Action Line. Meg is a news junkie and loves writing about politics, tech trends, rescue stories and pet parenthood. She lives with her rescued cat, Bruce, and three goldfish. Meg can be reached at mmcintire(at)






Spay and Neuter Program Coordinator Paula Santo started working at Friends of Animals in 1993. Paula works with veterinarians, volunteers and pet owners to provide affordable alternatives for spay and neuter efforts. Paula loves to travel, especially to North Carolina to see her grandchildren, as well as garden. She enjoys spending time with her two rescue pugs, Chloe and Sandy, and her rescued macaw, Dakota. She can be reached at spayprogram(at)






Accountant Bob Bock joined FoA in 2016 bringing with him 40 years of experience ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups. He lives in Hamden, CT with two adopted dogs, Blue and Bear, who are his closest companions.

Bookkeeper Belveley Russell joined the staff in 1988 and has worked in a variety of capacities including answering phones, processing spay and neutering certificates and recruiting veterinarians. She lives in Bridgeport, CT with her two Yorkies, Piper and Pebbles. When she’s not watching tennis, she enjoys listening to Motown.

Assistant to the President Donna Thigpen oversees travel arrangements for the staff, conference calls and assists in proofreading FoA’s quarterly magazine, Action Line. She has been with the organization since 1996. She particularly enjoys caring for her brother’s Shih Tzu, Sable, when he is traveling.

Secretary to the President Shelly Scott is responsible for secretarial duties. She joined the staff in 1989. She is pleased to be part of an organization that has battled on behalf of animals. She finds office dogs Harry and Papa a joy to be around.

Receptionist Dana Visi joined the staff in 2015, bringing with her a background in veterinary care. She especially enjoys helping callers with their pet issues. She lives in Darien, CT with her golden retriever who competes in dog sports.

Membership Clerk Maria Lagonigro joined the staff in 2001 and assists with the spay and neuter hotline and processing donations. She lives in Connecticut and particularly enjoys wildlife viewing, especially the squirrels who also call New England their home.

Membership Clerk Veronika Johnson has worked at Friends of Animals since 2002 and helps track donations. She considers the staff a second family and feels FoA’s mission to give our four-legged friends a voice is critical. She particularly enjoys working with office dogs Harry and Papa.





Wildlife Law Program Director Michael Harris has been an environmental law attorney for more than 20 years, working directly on litigation to protect wildlife and natural ecosystems. Michael received a B.A. in Environmental and Political Studies from Pitzer College in Claremont, California, a M.S.L. from Vermont Law School, and a J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California-Berkeley, where he was an executive editor for the Ecology Law Quarterly. Before coming to Friends of Animals, Michael was an associate professor at the University of Denver, where he directed the school’s Environmental Law Clinic. Mike, who lives in Colorado with his family, is an avid hiker, adventure guide and enjoys teaching his son to respect wildlife. He can be reached at michaelharris(at)





Wildlife Law Program Assistant Legal Director Jennifer Best graduated from University of Denver Sturm College of Law in May 2013 with Certificate in Environmental and Natural Resource Law. Jennifer has lived in Michigan, Utah, Oregon and Colorado. She loves spending times outdoors and went to law school because she believes all people and species deserve the right to be heard in our legal system. She is thrilled to be working with FoA and to promote the respectful view of non-human animals. Jennifer can be reached at jennifer(at)







Courtney McVean, Wildlife Law Program associate attorney, graduated from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in May 2014 with a Certificate in Environmental and Natural Resources Law. During law school, Courtney co-authored Environmental Settlements and Administrative Law, published in Harvard Environmental Law Review in 2015. She also served as an intern for WildEarth Guardians and as student attorney in the DU Environmental Law Clinic. Following law school, Courtney clerked for the Honorable Judge Todd Taylor in the 19th Judicial District. Courtney can be reached at courtney.mcvean(at)





Megan Maxheimer, Wildlife Law Program administrative assistant, was born and raised in Flint, Michigan Megan attended Northwood University where she earned a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and then moved to Colorado with her partner. She has three dogs and three cats, all rescue animals. She has always had a special place in her heart for animals and is incredibly grateful to be a part of the Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program team. She can be reached at wlp_admin(at)





Rachel Nussbaum Wichert, Wildlife Law Program Government Affairs Associate, holds a B.A. in history and German studies from Brown University, a Ph.D in history from Cornell University and a J.D. from the University of Washington. She first worked for Friends of Animals as an extern in winter 2015. Rachel is particularly interested in issues surrounding marine mammals. In her spare time she enjoys classical music, especially opera. Rachel can be reached at rachel(at)



Primarily Primates Executive Director Brooke Chavez began her career with San Antonio-based Primarily Primates Animal Sanctuary in 2013. Her focus is the care and well-being of the 350+ rescued animals that call Primarily Primates, which FoA has supported since 2007, home, including 250 primates, as well as birds and an African Serval. Brooke, who is a zoologist, and her family also care for three wild Mustangs FoA rescued from federal roundups in Nevada and Colorado at their home on sanctuary grounds, where she lives with her husband and two daughters as well as an assortment of dogs, goats, cows, sheep and other animals that were in need of a loving home. Brooke can be reached at brooke(at)