Facilitating a Better Life For Veterans Through Canine Companionship and Service

Our Trainers

Heather Wilkerson Canine SMSD Program Manager

Heather Wilkerson is a co-founding member and currently serves as the Canine Program Manager for Smoky Mountain Service Dogs. Heather was instrumental in developing the standards for Smoky Mountain Service Dogs to become an Assistance Dogs International Accredited Member. She continues to maintain the ADI standards for the program and assists the Board of Directors with compliance of ADI Standards. Heather began her career as a Canine Handler during her law enforcement career in the 1990’s. Heather has a strong background in the training of detection dogs and is a former Canine Instructor for Auburn University’s Canine Detection and Research Institute. Heather has served as a Canine Search Specialist, Coordinator, Instructor, Trainer, Evaluator and mentor for various state and federal Urban Search & Rescue Task Forces. She responded to many state, national, and international man- made and natural disasters with her certified canines during her Search & Rescue career. Heather has a strong background in the development and management of Canine Programs. She provided a multitude of consulting and canine training services to various working dog programs in the Non-Profit and private industries during her career both nationally and internationally. Heather proudly supports the UT CARES program for the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. She continues to contribute to the canine community by supporting and promoting higher standards for education, training and the advancement of canine health and performance.

Susan RandallSMSD Lead Trainer

Susan started her career with animals in the equine industry and transitioned to dogs later. She holds a Bachelors degree of Animal Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is a certified dog trainer through Animal Behavior College.  In January of 2020 she became a certified canine fitness trainer through the University of Tennessee. While she is not a dog owner currently, Susan trained her previous dogs in multiple sports: agility, odor detection, canine biathlons, and flyball.  Susan enjoys spending time with her family and sharing her love for horses, sports and the outdoors with her son.

Laura Porter Staff Trainer

Laura Porter grew up in North Carolina, riding horses and playing with her family’s Labradors. She graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science and a minor in Psychology. While at Tennessee, Laura started a student organization dedicated to educating the public about service animals and worked with the H.A.B.I.T Therapy Animal program. Laura became involved with SMSD as a volunteer during her sophomore year of school. She started on the community events team and eventually decided she wanted to be a dog handler. She participated in socializing, weekend respite and raised a puppy her senior year. In her free time Laura enjoys spending time outdoors, with friends and riding horses.

Melissa MartiStaff Trainer

Melissa initially served as a valuable volunteer.She raised several puppies, socialized puppies and kennel dogs and provided weekend respite care. She joined our team in 2023 as a part- time staff trainer before being offered a full time position as a staff trainer in 2024. Melissa has been an amazing asset to our volunteers and clients. We are proud to have her!

Miranda YatesStaff Trainer

Miranda has trained service dogs for seizures, diabetes, and
physical disabilities for over nine years. She previously
spent time training pet dogs and worked as a puppy nanny.
Miranda is a down-to-earth soul who’s all about enjoying
the simple pleasures in life. After proudly graduating from
Maryville College, she found her calling in the delightful
world of dogs, spending over nine incredible years building
bonds with furry friends. When she’s not busy training
dogs, you can catch Miranda indulging in the fantastic
realms of AI and 3D art. She loves creating digital wonders
that bring joy and laughter to those who stumble upon
them. Miranda says “grab a seat, share some laughter, and
celebrate the beauty of life together!”

Darrell WilkersonCanine Fitness Trainer/Facilities Manager

Facility Manager / Auxiliary Trainer

Darrell Wilkerson is a U.S. Navy Veteran and career Firefighter. Darrell is a co-founding member and currently serves as the Facility Manager/Auxiliary Trainer for Smoky Mountain Service Dogs. Darrell began his mission of training working dogs as an extension of his fire and rescue career. He remained dedicated to recruiting, training, and deploying highly skilled canine teams for various working dog programs throughout the United States and abroad before joining the Smoky Mountain Service Dog team full time in 2019.During his career, Darrell has served as a Program Director, National Recruiting Manager, Instructor ,and as a co-founder for several 501(c) 3 non-profit organizations. Darrell is a Master Trainer Instructor and certified Canine Fitness Trainer. He continues to serve and support the CARES program at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. He is passionate about injury prevention and maintaining working dog’s in peak performance. He is equally dedicated to advancing and improving canine rehabilitation should an injury occur. Darrell is a former Canine Instructor and Trainer for Auburn University’s Canine Detection Research Center. He served as a Canine Search Specialist for a federal US&R Task Force for many years. Darrell was a Canine Instructor for FEMA, a Canine Coordinator for a state US&R Task Force. Darrell has certified and deployed his own search canines on multiple disaster missions around the country. Darrell is a graduate of the National SAR School, a Certified Instructor for a variety of fire and technical rescue disciplines. He served as the Training Officer for his local fire department for many years and contributed to the development of canine standards by serving on the canine sub-committee for the State Urban Search & Rescue Alliance. Darrell has designed courses to enhance the canine resource capabilities for Urban Search and Rescue teams across the country and delivered courses internationally. Darrell considers himself to be a humble and permanent student of the canine community. Always eager to learn-always eager to share. He is passionate about dogs and even more passionate about veterans. He continues to serve as a volunteer firefighter.