Who We Are

Board of Directors

Merriss Waters, DVM. 

Merriss has always felt a deep connection with animals and has been volunteering with animal welfare organizations since she was 8 years old. After graduating with honors from veterinary school at UC Davis and completing her internship, she worked as an emergency and critical care vet while, in her free time, volunteering at local shelters and traveling with organizations like Animal Balance. She has extensive experience in high quality, high volume spay/neuter (HQHVSN) and has worked with Compassion Without Borders, SNP LA, NOAH, Operation Catnip, and many other like-minded organizations to combat the overpopulation crisis. Merriss believes in spreading the gospel of spay/neuter and animal welfare far and wide. Before taking her current position as Medical Director of Feral Cat Spay Neuter Project (FCSNP) where she heads up their mentorship program, she acted as adjunct professor and head of the WSU program at Seattle Humane. There, she taught senior veterinary students HQHVSN techniques and the importance of caring for our unwanted pet population. Merriss is constantly inspired by the profound compassion and devotion Animal Balance brings out in its volunteers. She has been a devout Animal Balance volunteer since her very first trip to the Dominican Republic and has since traveled to American Samoa, Cape Verde, Maui, and the Bahamas. In addition to her position at FCSNP, Merriss is currently pursuing her Masters in Shelter Medicine through the University of Florida and raising her new baby girl. She lives in Seattle with her Husband, Daughter, and their two American Shelter Dogs.

Jen Bolser, DVM.

Jen obtained her veterinary degree from Colorado State University in 2004 and then completed a one year rotating medical and surgical internship at The Animal Medical Center in New York City. She joined The Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Boulder, Colorado and enjoyed 10 years with this amazing animal welfare organization. As Chief Clinic Veterinarian, Dr. Bolser provided leadership and medical/surgical services to this unique clinic combining shelter medicine and general practice. Enthusiasm for teaching and sharing knowledge led to her innovation of a shelter medicine internship training program for new veterinary graduates. In addition to companion animal care and welfare, she is passionate about wildlife advocacy and conservation. Her favorite hobbies involve exploring the world and nature with her husband and canine companions through hiking, snowshoeing, SCUBA diving, biking, swimming, or any outdoor adventure. Jen has been a proud member of the Animal Balance family since 2009. Her first Animal Balance adventure was to the Galapagos Islands and needless to say she was hooked! Traveling and working with different cultures in unique environments continually inspires her and reinforces her passion for international veterinary efforts including MASH style spay/neuter campaigns. Currently living in Beijing, China, she is working with and training Chinese veterinarians and local rescue groups to help improve animal welfare, veterinary medical techniques and pet overpopulation challenges in China. She has an immense gratitude for the volunteers and supporters of Animal Balance who continually recharge, teach and inspire each other to create positive change for all animals and communities around the world.

Alexandra Sangmeister

Alexandra Sangmeister is the Founder and Executive Director of Marine Watch International, based in San Francisco, California. MWI’s mission is to protect the oceans by promoting the sharing of information and fostering collaboration. Alexandra has over 30 years of experience in international scientific research, conservation and development. Some of the organizations that she has worked with include Smithsonian Institution, Pretoma, WildAid, and The Marine Mammal Center.

Raymond Deonanan, DVM. 

Dr. Raymond earned his veterinary degree from the University of the West Indies in 2002 and has since been working as a veterinarian on his home island of Trinidad. He has been a dedicated Animal Balance volunteer for several years, joining the team on many campaigns, including the massive Operation Potcake in the Bahamas, on the Galapagos and Cuba, where he helped train other Caribbean vets in high volume spay/neuter techniques.

Animal Balance Core Team 

Emma Clifford, Founder and Executive Director

Emma Clifford graduated from the University of Central England with a BA hon in Sociological Research in 1995. Emma was born in the UK into a family who rescued animals. As a teenager she became vegan and began actively protesting blood sports and other forms of animal cruelty, such as vivisection. After graduating, she moved to the United States and joined the animal welfare movement. For 8 years she worked at a local, national and international level, immersing herself in the movement and learning how to manage a successful non-profit organization. While at The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SF/SPCA) she developed and directed the feral cat, foster and sterilization programs. She was also the city representative for the SF/SPCA. She has presented at conferences and advised other humane societies in how to implement these programs in their cities and reduce the city’s euthanasia rate. In 2003, Emma discovered that the cats and dogs of the Galapagos Islands were being poisoned as a means of population control. In response, Emma founded Animal Balance in 2004. Shortly after, Animal Balance began their work sterilizing the cats and dogs throughout the Galapagos Islands. Due to the success of this program, Animal Balance has expanded operations globally. Emma gives lectures and consults with many animal welfare organizations around the world to help find ways to reduce the cruelty and suffering of animals and implement humane and sustainable animal management programs. She now lives in Oregon with her animal pack and enjoys hiking, camping and exploring.

Amanda Bruce, Medical Director.

As Medical Director for Animal Balance, Amanda’s job is to find ways to deliver patient care that meets or exceeds medical standards for spay/neuter in a way that fits within the cultural and geographic challenges that are different in every location Animal Balance visits. In 2009, after several years of working in mobile and MASH clinics throughout Northern Minnesota, Amanda opened the first brick and mortar spay/neuter clinic in the state of Minnesota.  In 2014, Amanda volunteered on an Animal Balance campaign in the Dominican Republic.  Through a few twists of fate that began on that campaign she ended up in Austin, Texas, where she remains based today. Amanda has trained with Humane Alliance, Emancipet and took her entire staff through Sophia Yin’s Low-Stress Handling course.  She is passionate about delivering veterinary care, particularly spay/neuter, to under-served communities.  She greatly enjoys teaching surgery to students and veterinarians not familiar with high-volume spay/neuter techniques. Amanda is fortunate to have a husband and young girls that support her adventures.  As a family, they can usually be found in or near the water, be it the beach, pool, favorite waterpark or stand-up paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake.

Steph Dawes, Administrative Coordinator

Stephanie began her career in Hotel and Catering management and enjoyed a successful hospitality career with amongst others Marriott Hotels in both Europe and Australia. Wanting to become more involved in the animal welfare world, she transitioned to work for what was then the World Society for the Protection of Animals in London. A move from London to the Caribbean, living in the Bahamas, Grenada and Barbados gave her fantastic opportunities to get more involved and to learn more about the challenges facing cats and dogs living in island communities. The Caribbean was followed by time in Florida, working and volunteering at the Jacksonville Humane Society, she then moved to Portland, Oregon and is extremely proud to have been a part of Animal Balance since 2013. She is currently pursuing a biology degree and is also passionate about being a marine naturalist creating awareness of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale community in the Pacific Northwest.

Elsa Allen Kohlbus, Program Director

Elsa began working with Animal Balance as a volunteer in 2013 with Operation Potcake in Nassau, Bahamas. As a lifelong animal lover and avid world traveler, she jumped at the opportunity to combine her two passions while doing some good. Elsa earned her Bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Massachusetts - Amherst in 1999 and a Master's degree in photojournalism from Boston University in 2005. She has gone on to hold staff reporter and photographer positions for multiple newspapers. Her freelance work has been published in newspapers and magazines nationally. After a very sick puppy named Fairy unexpectedly entered her life in 2009, Elsa found herself on a new career path as a veterinary technician, earning a certificate from the Austin Community College Veterinary Assistant Program in 2012. She has spent the last several years working in animal welfare and high volume spay/neuter, as both a technician and clinic manager. Elsa currently lives just outside of Austin, Texas with her husband and family of 3 dogs and 1 cat, including Fairy, who is now a very healthy 9 years old.

Dairne Ryan, Project Liasion

Dairne is a former AB board member and alumni of AB campaigns in the Galapagos Islands, Dominican Republic and Cuba.  She was born in Seattle, but spent her childhood living in Mexico City, and as a result speaks Spanish fluently. After attending UC Santa Cruz, where she majored in Latin American Studies, and later receiving a B.A. in Health Services Administration from St. Mary’s College, Dairne settled in the California Bay Area, where she has lived her entire adult life. Dairne rescued her first dogs off the streets in Mexico City, and her first cat at the age of nine. Since then Dairne has been a dedicated rescuer, on her own at first, then with Fix Our Ferals, a community-based sterilization programs for feral cats in the East Bay. It was here that Dairne became a strong believer in the long-term possibilities and effectiveness of targeted trapping, community education and spay/neuter. It was in 1998, as she was helping to expand the Fix Our Ferals program, that Dairne first met AB Founder Emma Clifford, who was working with the San Francisco SPCA to improve and save the lives of free-roaming cats in the Bay Area. They remained friends until 2003, when Emma began Animal Balance and asked Dairne to join the Board of Directors. Dairne joined the Animal Balance staff in 2018, where her flawless Spanish and ability to befriend literally anyone help the team navigate the Spanish speaking islands and build relationships with our Spanish speaking partners. Dairne loves working with people who love animals and who want to create a more compassionate environment for all living beings on our planet.

Megan Gram, Program Manager

Megan began working with Animal Balance as a volunteer on the Operation Potcake campaign in 2013.  She has always had a passion for helping animals in need and remembers helping her Mom care for stray dogs and cats, and nurse injured wildlife back to health as a child.  After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Recreation, Megan moved to Bend, Oregon in 2004 to pursue the outdoor lifestyle. A volunteer opportunity with a local animal welfare organization eventually led Megan to serve as the Executive Director of the Bend Spay+Neuter Project from 2012 to 2018. Megan is currently the District Leader volunteer for the Humane Society of The United States in Oregon, she is also a Certified Animal Welfare Administrator and has trained with the ASPCA National Spay/Neuter Response Team. She is owned by three adopted dogs, three adopted cats and six bossy chickens. In her spare time Megan enjoys cat cuddling, dog walking, hiking, surfing and traveling.