Board of Directors/Staff


Elizabeth Trick, M.A., Executive Director


Elizabeth Trick was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She attended Taylor High School and then earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from University of Houston. During college, she volunteered for several non-profit agencies, including the Victim’s Resource Institute, the United Way’s Crisis Hotline, and the Texas Young Autism Project. She held the position of Historian in the National Honor Society for Psychology, Psi Chi. She was also a member of Golden Key and Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2003.

During college she started a behavioral therapy consultant company, which serviced many families with children with autism. After college, she earned a Master of Arts degree from University of Houston Clear Lake; graduating Summa Cum Laude in 2005.

Upon graduation, Elizabeth began work as a staff psychotherapist at Jester IV, a maximum security psychiatric hospital. In 2010, she began working part-time at Special Pals. Elizabeth has had pets all of her life and currently has 2 dogs and 1 cat, but working at Special Pals has made her realize the need in the community for more high-quality animal welfare programs.

During her employment with Special Pals, Elizabeth was promoted on several occasions and is now Executive Director. She has first-hand knowledge of the day to day operations and is assisting the shelter through its current leadership transition.


Dr. Joy Baird, D.V.M., Medical Director

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Dr. Joy

Dr. Joy started working at Special Pals in July of 2015.  She became acting Medical Director in September of 2015.

Dr. Joy graduated from Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 2005.  While in school, she took the elective course Shelter Medicine, and visited shelters throughout the state of Alabama and many in Georgia.  She witnessed the tragedy of pet overpopulation firsthand, even the atrocity of gas chamber euthanasia.  "This one course shaped my entire career," she states.  "I knew I could make the most direct impact for animals by working in shelters and non-profit clinics." Dr. Joy has worked with non-profit clinics and shelters for nearly eight years.  She has personally done the spay/neuter surgeries for over 30,000 animals.

Dr. Joy moved to Texas in September of last year with her husband, David.  They share their home with two kitties, one puppy, and a lovely new baby girl, whose name is Ruth.


Joycelyn Urech, President


Joycelyn Urech was elected to serve as one of the Board of Directors of Special Pals in 2012.  She brings to the board 19 years of experience as an attorney and serves as the legal counsel to several local nonprofit organizations.  Joycelyn’s professional experience includes working with small businesses and nonprofits in the areas of business law and property law.

In her free time, Joycelyn enjoys riding her bike and belongs to a cycling club.  She is also the proud owner of two rescue animals; one cat and one dog. Both are incredibly spoiled and loved.  Joycelyn has been known to rescue animals that have gotten lost and has been successful in finding their owners.

Supporting Special Pals and its mission is a priority in her life and she excited about the future of the organization.



Katy Z. Heerssen, Vice President


Katy Z. Heerssen has served as a volunteer with Special Pals since 2009, inspired by the unique work done in a no-kill capacity as well as the organization's communication on the reality of being a responsible pet owner. Her role within the organization changed when she was named Secretary of the Board in January 2012.

Katy began her professional career in the radio industry while studying at the University of Houston, where she also served as the Public Relations Director for the university's Student Government Association. Following her graduation from UH in 2005, Katy spent four years coordinating events and public relations efforts for two separate multi-million-dollar shopping centers in west Houston. Since 2010 she has worked in the travel industry with Ker & Downey, one of the world's leading luxury travel companies, managing their marketing efforts online and in print. She has traveled to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Tanzania, and Dubai with Ker & Downey and plans to see much more of the world.

Katy is a native Houstonian who grew up surrounded by a menagerie of pets, and currently shares a home with two cats - all rescues - and one beagle. Her free time is often spent sewing and crafting, gardening, cheering her favorite sports teams, and spending time outdoors with her family.


Melissa Houser, Director

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Melissa Houser joined the Special Pals Board of Directors in October 2013. A long-time supporter of animal rescue organizations, Melissa is excited to work directly with Special Pals to help bring awareness to the community of all of the wonderful things Special Pals does for homeless, abandoned and neglected animals.

After almost a decade of fundraising, marketing, and special event production for nonprofit organizations in the Houston area, Melissa founded Positive Force Consulting in March 2010. Through her work, she assists small to medium nonprofits fulfill their missions to make a positive difference in the lives of those they serve.

A 2001 graduate of Texas A&M University, Melissa has called Katy home since 2002. In her spare time, she enjoys watching Aggie Football spending time with her husband, two sons, two dogs and cat.


Melanie Pavlik, Secretary

Melanie was elected to the Special Pals Board of Directors in January 2016.  She has been a volunteer with Special Pals since 2010 and has enjoyed helping us out with accounting, marketing, and taking care of the animals.  Melanie enjoys volunteering with Special Pals because it is a no-kill shelter - one of only two in the Houston area - and the largest, continuing to grow and to save more dogs and cats.

Melanie's professional experiences include management, sales, and business administration.  She works with different industries, including K-12 education, software, CPG, and oil and gas companies.  Melanie has completed several professional and life coaching certifications, and uses her coaching skills with businesses.  When not volunteering at Special Pals, Melanie enjoys working in the garden.

Melanie has been a long-time resident in the West Houston and Katy areas, where she resides with her husband and two large rescue dogs.

Jessica Mollon, Director (coming soon)


Paloma Sierra, Director


Paloma recently joined the Special Pals Board of Directors in 2015. Growing up, she switched between dreams of being a veterinarian and a teacher almost daily. While her teaching dreams ended up being the pursuit of her career, Special Pals has been a wonderful way to incorporate both passions. Paloma loves animals and is a "dog mom" to two fur-babies named Zoey and Ruby - although, she does love all animals!  Some of her childhood pets included various fish, hermit crabs, a Guinea pig, parakeets, lizards, and even MICE! 

Paloma received her Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University in 2013. During her time at Texas State she was an active member of Delta Zeta (Iota Alpha). DZ has strong philanthropy ties to the speech and hearing impaired cause. Paloma and her sisters worked alongside The Painted Turtle Camp and The Starkey Hearing Foundation to provide awareness and support for their  causes. 

Currently, Paloma teaches 2nd grade in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. Paloma loves to read and write, so naturally she is a reading and writing teacher. She loves when children leave her class wanting to pick up a book instead of an X-Box controller. Paloma's 43 kiddos definitely keep her on her toes!

Paloma is also the Co-Owner of an online boutique called P.S. I Love You. She started this with her teaching partner/best friend in November 2015. P.S. I Love You sells high quality clothing, handmade jewelry (made by Paloma's momma!), unique gifts, and also has a philanthropic twist. Periodically, the boutique features a new philanthropy on their website to raise awareness and hopefully donations. 

Paloma's love for volunteering also keeps her very active with The Junior League of Houston. She has just completed her Provisional year where she spent a lot of time at Texas Children's Hospital. She will begin her first active year as a Head Active in the Junior League's Tea Room. 

Reading is Paloma's favorite hobby. She is the type to read while she blow dries her hair and eats breakfast. Paloma also enjoys crafting, decorating, Texas country music, dancing, being in the sun, and spending time with her family. 

Maurine L. Smith, Director

As a passionate supporter of no-kill animal shelters, Maurine L. Smith joined the Board of Special Pals in 2013 after volunteering with the organization in several different capacities. She fondly remembers adopting Abby, a beautiful black lab mix, from Special Pals and wants other families to have the same great experience and reap the rewards of bringing a new furry friend into their family.

Maurine is a former banking executive, Certified Public Accountant, and current owner of a Houston-based business that fabricates and sells strainers and filters for the oil and gas pipeline industry. After traveling extensively throughout the United States for more than five years, she and her adopted Australian Shepherd, Speckles, have once again made Houston their home.


Ralph Staudenmayer, Ph.D., Director


Ralph Staudenmayer was elected to the Special Pals Board of Directors in 2013. He grew up in California but has called Houston home since 1980. Now retired, Ralph spent more than 25 years directing engineering projects in the hard metals and oil field industries.

Ralph joined the Special Pals Board of Directors because of his concern for abandoned and mistreated animals in our community. He firmly believes that Special Pals will become one of Houston’s top animal rescue and adoption facilities and is proud to be a part of the organization.

Ralph is an active Rotarian and lives with his wife and three rescue animals, a dog and two cats.


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