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Dedication. Expertise. Passion.


I was born and raised here in Iowa.  I have 2 sisters and 1 brother.  My entire childhood I had an enormous love for all animals, I just knew I would be doing something with animals when I grew up.  To my surprise, I choose a different career as an adult.  I received my AA degree from Hamilton Business College.  I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Business/ Accounting from the University of Phoenix, in 2004.  In 2010, I met my wonderful husband, John.  We have 6 children all together.  I have a personal connection and a long line to the military. My father is a Navy veteran, and my uncles and brother are Army veterans.  Our three oldest children, Jordan, Steven, and Nicholas have been or are currently serving in the United States military.  My love of God, animals, and the long list of family veterans as well as friends’ children who have been in the Military or passed from PTSD has led us to start this journey and this foundation.  Knowing the need for so many military and rescue heroes has brought us here.  In March 2021, I enrolled at Animal Behavior College and became an ABCDT-certified dog trainer,  in 2022.  I enjoy everything outdoors, especially in the warmth of the sun.  My most recent outstanding accomplishment was climbing to the 14,434-foot summit of Mount Elbert in Colorado.  It was absolutely amazing!  Turns out I am doing something with animals when I grow up.  : -)

Laura Ward, ABCDT



I was born in Lorain, Ohio in 1973, I spent most of my childhood there with my mother, 2 older sisters and 2 younger brothers.  I moved to Iowa around the age of 16 and attended what was then GBF or Greenfield, Bridgewater, Fontanelle high school.  As a high school dropout, I then studied and received my G.E.D..  My work experiences are vast as I have done everything from managing a restaurant, to becoming a certified welder, a maintenance director, and a satellite communication technician/salesman.  I enjoy everything outdoors, hunting, fishing camping just to name a few, but my passion is coaching, it doesn't matter what sport " soccer is my favorite "

My most proud accomplishments include being a great father figure to my boys, a proud, loving and supporting husband to my wife and a devoted Christian disciple.

John Ward

Co-Founder/Program Director

Our Board of Directors

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Bio Coming soon!

Eric Mahoney

Board Chair -President


I am married to Dr. Craig Vernon.  We moved to Altoona 9 years ago from West Bend.  I lived in and graduated from Emmetsburg High School and Iowa Lakes Community College.  I have spent 30 years as a registered dental assistant in Spencer, Emmetsburg and Fort Dodge.  I have 10 years with banking / personal banker experience.  Currently, I am employed as a business office administrator for Edward Jones. My hobbies include travel, golf, pickleball, pets, music, NHRA drag racing and riding my Harley.

Karla Vernon

Board Chair - Vice-President


I grew up in Jefferson County Missouri, fifty miles south of the St. Louis Arch.  My folks had fifty acres of hills and valleys with lots of forest and rocks.  I always had pet dogs of many-mixed breeds and sometimes 2 or 3.  My mom joined the Marine Corp and my Dad was in the  Army during WW II. They married after the war.   I went to Jefferson Junior College in Hillsboro, MO, where I received my Associate of Arts degree (1972-74).  I continued to get my Bachelor of Music Education from Central Missouri State University (1974 -1976).  Finally, I received my Master of Science in Education Emphasis Music (1978).  I worked 10 years in Missouri and 22 years with the Des Moines Public Schools.  I married in 1985 to John Watkins and we were married 33 years before he passed away in 2017.  I have one daughter who lives in Norwalk.  I am presently a member of Chapter KM of P.E.O., Alpha Delta Kappa in Des Moines, and the Greater Des Moines Community Band.  I have been retired for since 2018.  I love serving on the board  and grant committee of "Canine Miracles for Heroes".

Priscilla Watkins

Board Chair - Secretary


I currently own my own business.  I spent my career in accounting, finance, and treasury for larger corporations in the Des Moines area.  I have always had a deep love for animals since childhood.  My family has owned and operated a pet supplies and grooming company for over a decade.   As a hobby, I enjoy making custom birthday cakes and cupcakes for dogs.  I have a full house one Dog, one Cat, two children named Ellison and Everett and my husband Cody.

Laura Gebauer

Board Chair - Treasurer

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Steph Mahoney

Board Member

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I am from Sioux Center, Iowa and went to college at Iowa State. I spent 6 years in the Army National Guard as an Infantryman. I currently work at Meriwether, Wilson & Co. as an accounting associate. In my free time I like to workout and try making new foods/recipes. I’m very excited to work with everyone at Canine Miracles for Heroes and help them pursue their mission!

Brandt Heintz

Board Member

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My name is Mike Smith. I am originally from Connecticut but have been an Iowa captive for 24 years, half of my life. I married the love of my life, Katie, in 1999 and together we have raised three amazing children.

In my free time, I enjoy playing the guitar, woodworking, and travelling. Animals have always been a part of my world, and currently, we share our home with two corgis, Milly and Honey, along with a cat named Steve.

Professionally, I’ve dedicated over 20 years to the banking industry. As the Senior Vice President of Treasury Management at Availa Bank in Ankeny, I thoroughly enjoy working with business owners, assisting them with their banking needs.

Being part of Canine Miracles for Heroes allows me to give back. I gladly volunteer my time to support first responders, recognizing the vital role they play in our communities. The bond between humans and their canine companions is powerful, and I’m honored to contribute to that connection.

Thank you for welcoming me into this incredible organization. Together, we’ll continue making a difference—one miracle at a time.

Mike Smith

Board Member

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