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Meet the Visionaries.

We’re proud of our team and are looking for more people to join our mission.  If you have a passion for homeless veterans and dogs, fill out our contact form below or email us at joy@tagsandtails.org.


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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



Laura Vinogradov

Director and Consultant

As a Third Culture Kid, Laura was blessed with the opportunities to travel extensively from a very young age. It’s given her insight into, and empathy for challenges faced by groups other than her own. She’s learned how the efforts of a few can make a difference in the lives of many. Laura has been fortunate to be able to help or at least enlighten others to the challenges faced by some.

The years Laura spent working as a Journalist in print (New York Times), radio and TV (NBC and WSTP, St Paul, MN), she felt her calling was to right social wrongs on a community and global scale. Later, working for non-profits, she was able to focus on single issues and do her best to make an impact. As Executive Director for “Growth Through Learning” our small $3M budget ensured education for scores of girls in three different African countries. Even as an entrepreneur (The Barking Lot and Park and Bark, The Dog App and AppPropo mobile apps), improving the lives of both animals and people as well as the world we inhabit, has walked hand-in-hand with building successful businesses.

Laura states,”I’m proud to be a part of Tags & Tails with its mission to improve the lives of some of Detroit’s homeless by helping them reintegrate back into stable housing and more stable lives.”


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.



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. Tagsand Tails is a program Ward is passionate as he loves his fellow veterans as well as dogs.



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.




Contact Us

Tags and Tails is a 501(C)(3)non-profit organization P.O. Box XXXX, Detroit, MI XXXX tel: (734) 819-2341