Who we are

Jeremy Merklinger

Founding Director


Jeremy is a native Michigander. Like many others, his life's trajectory veered off the straight and narrow, but after years abroad, he came back to Detroit. There is just something about Detroit that draws people back.

He was raised to work in non-profits from early childhood, which continued to guide his passion for community service throughout his life. He served as the head of a local community center for five years. That tenure ended when Jeremy moved abroad. During his five years abroad, he continued his involvement with non-profit work. More importantly, he became sensitized to the need to help veterans reintegrate into civilian life.

Moving back to Detroit, he started Tags & Tails as a way of combining his lifelong commitment to social justice, community service, and helping those in need, both human and canine.

To contact Jeremy directly, please cut & paste his email address above directly into your prepared email.

Rebekah Dewaard

Director at Large


Rebekah has spent the majority of her adult life raising her three beautiful children. Even though free time was hard to find, she continued to take classes at Eastern Michigan University where she achieved her goal of completing a degree in Psychology in 2014. After graduation, Rebekah began working with Veterans participating in a recovery program. Her purpose in life was finally realized, and she continued doing everything that she could to help improve the lives of those around her.

Rebekah has made the conscience decision to leave a more meaningful life. To that end she has spent time volunteering as the meet up leader for the Ann Arbor Minimalist.org local meet up group.

In her “spare” time, Rebekah spends as much time as possible working outdoors, playing in the dirt, loving her plants, making cosmetics, researching health and wellness, and eating vegetables.

To contact Rebekah directly, please cut & paste her email address above directly into your prepared email. 

James Gomez

Director at Large and Treasurer


James has always had an interest in community service ever since high school. The opportunity to combine with his love for furry creatures with community service brought him to us and he is excited to serve with Tags and Tails. Outside of volunteer work, his hobbies include reading, listening to music, watching the latest and greatest movies in theaters, and running.

Originally from Chicago, James moved to the metro Detroit area to join the audit practice of RSM US LLP’s Michigan office. He is a licensed CPA in Illinois and Michigan, and has a BS in Accounting and Finance from DePaul University.

To contact James directly, please cut & paste his email address above directly into your prepared email. 

Anne Fowler

Director overseeing Canine-related activities


Anne has over ten years’ experience in program development, operations, and grant writing with extensive experience working with non-profit and municipal clients. She currently is Director of Operations of Advanced Energy Group, an Ann Arbor, MI-based company that develops public-private partnerships to fund both energy conservation and renewable energy projects, with a special focus on affordable housing projects.

In her spare time, she fosters dogs for Detroit area animal rescue groups. TAGs &TAILS has given her the opportunity to combine her passions for assisting the homeless dogs of Metro Detroit, with creating sustainable housing opportunities for low-income individuals, in a city she loves.  Anne has a BS from the University of Texas, and an MS and MBA from the University of Michigan.

To contact Anne directly, please cut & paste her email address above directly into your prepared email. 

Sarah Steltzer

Director at Large and Secretary


Sarah Steltzer is a senior at Michigan State University studying finance and is interning with Tags & Tails Detroit as support for our bookkeeping and finance committee. Sarah was adopted as a result of a non profit and now looks for ways to pay it forward in her community. Her love of animals has made her a passionate addition to the Tags & Tails board.  

Sarah is an avid photographer and loves trying new foods. She adds energy to our board meetings and is the first to volunteer for projects.  One of her goals as a volunteer for Tags & Tails is to inspire other students to get involved and use their skills for the good of their community. She believes that you are never too young to do your part, and we are honored to have the opportunity of working with Sarah at the start of her career.

To contact Sarah directly, please cut & paste her email address above directly into your prepared email. 

Laura Vinogradov

Director and Consultant for Media and Non-Profit Strategies  



Laura’s ties to Veterans began early as her father worked in Vietnam during the war and she herself once was air evacuated from Taiwan to Okinawa on a medical transport, one which was also carrying soldiers wounded in action in Vietnam. 

As an adult Laura spent years working as a Journalist in print (New York Times), radio, and TV (NBC and WSTP, St Paul, MN), feeling that her calling was to right social wrongs on a community and global scale; followed by working for non-profits. As Executive Director for “Growth Through Learning” she helped ensure education for scores of girls in three different African countries. 

Eventually, she struck out on her own and took her love & life-long experience working with and caring for dogs and opened The Barking Lot, a very successful boutique boarding kennel in Florida (which she sold in 2015).

To contact Laura directly, please cut & paste her email address above directly into your prepared email.

Joy Whitenburg

Director of Development


Joy lives by the adage "to whom much is given, much is required." She has been extremely fortunate in both her private and professional life to have had many people invest in her, and feels compelled to reinvest her life into worthwhile causes that improve her community. Whether she finds appropriate options for seniors in their last stage of life, works to fund research into preventing premature birth, or brings awareness to the very real problem of misdiagnosis in our veterans- she finds satisfaction in using her life to improve her community.

With over fifteen years of experience in fundraising, development, and volunteer management in both corporate and non-profit sectors, she is excited to partner with Tags & Tails and oversee the fundraising initiatives. As an Air Force brat herself, she is honored to play a small part in supporting military veterans and to do her part in upholding the ideals of Service before Self.

To contact Joy directly, please cut & paste her email address above directly into your prepared email. 

Ward Walling

Director at Large


Ward is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and spent 4 years serving active duty in the Army. He currently works as a handyman and enjoys coaching his 3 sons in various sports.

Ward joined Tags and Tails for an opportunity to help his fellow veterans in need. Upon returning from Iraq he began to struggle with post traumatic stress disorder, Alcoholism, and prescription drug abuse as many returning veterans do. The most difficult mission Ward has had to face was the mission to rehabilitate. After finally asking for help and receiving extraordinary support, he felt a need to help his brothers and sisters any way possible. Tags and Tails is a program Ward is passionate as he loves his fellow veterans as well as dogs.

To contact Wara directly, please cut & paste his email address above directly into your prepared email. 

Brenda Wyllis

Director at Large


Brenda is a licensed social worker whose passion for helping adults obtain greater levels of independence brought her to Tags & Tails. Since earning her Associates' degree in the field of Human Services at Baker College, Brenda has expanded her knowledge and resource base through volunteer work with both the addiction community and the homeless population.

With more than a decade of experience enabling her patients to reach their full potential, Brenda brings valuable resources and insight to the planning and development of programs for homeless veterans. Her knowledge of working with those affected by homelessness is matched by her passion to change her community in a positive way. Tags & Tails is fortunate to have such a dedicated professional steering our programs.

To contact Brenda directly, please cut & paste her email address above directly into your prepared email.