About Us



Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization built on the principle that all dogs are individuals. Our Foundation relies on science-based information on animal behavior and public policy, including breed-specific legislation and housing insurance discrimination, derived from our subsidiary National Canine Research Council, a think tank for science and public policy. AFF’s team offers regional and national initiatives that support dogs and the people who care for them in their communities.

Current AFF programs include our Old Friends program, an onsite and foster-based program giving senior dogs in shelters across the country an opportunity to live out their lives in a loving home, as well as Family Pantry partnerships, which recognize pets as family and, especially during tough times, provide a way to help pets stay with their families.

Furthermore, AFF staff consult with animal shelters across the country on evidence-based, progressive and inclusive enrichment, training, marketing and adoption policies. We also provide toolkits and resources for best practices to governments and community organizations as well as animal shelters and individual dog owners. 

NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets Shelter/Rescue Registration: RR286



Founded in 1985, Animal Farm Foundation began as a horse rescue. We shifted focus to “pit bull” dogs when our founder, Jane Berkey, discovered that “pit bull” dog owners were not welcome in a lot of communities and spaces. Jane experienced some of that herself when she adopted a “pit bull” from a local shelter. People made a lot of assumptions about her and her dog. She wanted to learn more about those stereotypes and help other dog owners.

Through that work, we’ve learned that assumptions about “pit bull” dogs have no basis in science. In fact, the majority of dogs people think are “pit bulls” actually aren’t a member of any breed at all. The motivation behind “pit bull” dog stereotypes was to keep marginalized people out of communities.

This is why we’ve worked so hard to end breed restrictions, including breed-specific legislation. Recently, we decided to move all of our science-backed efforts, like ending BSL, to our subsidiary organization, National Canine Research Council. This move allows AFF to focus solely on directly helping people, pets, and their communities.


Dogs may be our main mission but AFF is surrounded by farmland that we put to good use. Rescued and retired horses, cows, and other farm life call the farm home.

Located in Dutchess County, NY on 400 acres, daily life on the farm is one big summer camp with our rolling hills, wide open spaces, and dirt roads. Our CPDT certified staff, along with our dedicated volunteers, make every day the best it can be for our animals. The senior shelter dogs in our Old Friends program have the opportunity to couch surf between staff houses and visit our local town, while our rescued farm animals get to explore the vast fields around the property. Our staff may be small in number but we make up for it in the impact we have on the animals we care for.


We designed every position on our team to link intrinsically with our mission. Everyone here has hands-on experience with why we do what we do – whether that’s training dogs, transporting them, making grants, educating the public and animal welfare workers, or speaking to the world-at-large about animal and human welfare. We keep everyone focused and don’t waste anyone’s time

IMG_9737 (1)

Bernice Clifford, CPDT-KA

Executive Director


More About Bernice

Bernice, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is originally from Brookline, Massachusetts. She shares her life with 4 dogs, 2 goats, multiple chickens and the unexpected cat. She came to the animal world, working with Dr. Amy Marder and the New England Veterinary Behavior Associates in 2001, after adopting a “pit bull’ dog named Dixie and experiencing unexpected discrimination.

Bernice creates the enrichment and behavior protocols for the dogs at AFF and in other shelters and rescues. She travels nationwide working with other shelters and speaking at conferences about enrichment, training, and behavior modification for shelter dogs.


Nikki Juchem

Manager of Operations & Public Policy


More About Nikki

Nicole has worked in a variety of leadership roles over the ten years working for Animal Farm Foundation, and in more recent years, the National Canine Research Council. She started her career in animal welfare in 2013, in that time she established many programs that focus on strengthening the bond between people and pets, including tools that help shelters to drop breed labels. In her new role as Manager of Operations and Public Policy, Nicole oversees many projects for NCRC and AFF but her main focus is on insurance breed restrictions, BSL, and of course, seeing all dogs as individuals. Like most of us that work for Animal Welfare, Nicole has many different roles and is also responsible for IT, web design, graphic design, and marketing. She also volunteers in her local community. Nicole lives with her partner Jesse and is currently fostering senior dogs for AFF. When not at work she enjoys hiking, traveling, and spending time with her family. Got questions, need advice, or just want to tell us about your accomplishments? Shoot her an email. 


Melanie J. Appleton

Director of Finance and HR


More About Melanie

Melanie joined the AFF team in June 2013. As a licensed CPA, Melanie previously worked with clients and other professionals in the areas of estate planning, trust administration, tax planning, and managed fiduciary accountings in a small boutique public accounting firm in Poughkeepsie, NY. Through working with like-minded people in an impactful organization, Melanie has found a synergy between her professional skills and her passion for making a positive difference in the world. Melanie is a problem solver who enjoys working collaboratively with others and embracing progressive thinking. When Melanie isn’t working a spreadsheet, she enjoys traveling and cooking delicious plant-based meals.

unnameddd (1)

Ashley Pastor CPDT-KA

Shelter Engagement and Communications Manager


More About Ashley

Ashley received her BS in Environmental Science from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She’s a canine volunteer at the DCSPCA and helps with fundraiser events within the community. She’s worked with large carnivorous mammals at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY.

At AFF, Ashley provides daily care and enrichment for the dogs, in addition to working on basic training and behavioral protocols. She shares her life with dogs named Henry and Roxie, and a cat named Hershey. Ashley enjoys photography and watching old movies.



Christa Ploschke

Accounting Assistant and Community Outreach Manager


More About Christa

Assistant to Awesomeness and Ninja Bookkeeper. That is what Christa brings to Animal Farm Foundation! Christa left behind her mundane career in an accounting firm in pursuit of finding purpose and making a difference. She found that when she began working at AFF. Christa is happy to assistant in the awesomeness that is AFF and brings her bookkeeping skills with her.

Christa shares her life with her rescue dog, Kato. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, gardening and watching movies both old and new.



Cassidy Scalzo CPDT-KA

Marketing and Shelter Resource Manager


More About Cassidy

Cassidy holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology with a minor in Psychology from Marist College. She also is a certified professional dog trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. At AFF, Cassidy strategizes all social media content, works directly with the dogs in our care, and provides training for local dogs. She is also passionate about creating an inclusive support system for shelter staff members and the dogs they care for. In addition to working at AFF, Cassidy teaches night class for The K9Konnection in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Marco Vega Ortiz

Farm Manager
More About Marco

Efrain Garcia

Farm Assistant
More About Efrain