Luisa Paucchi

Founder & President of Lu’s Labs

Luisa exemplifies leadership in the animal welfare community. While she started rescuing homeless animals from a young age - coming home with any wayward turtle or bunny – her love for Labradors began in 1999 when she welcomed Petey into her home and her heart.

Early on, Luisa knew she wanted to open her own rescue. Since 2012 she spent many hours with large and small rescues experiencing every volunteer position in order to understand and refine the process. The key to Lu’s Labs success was painstakingly setting up a great infrastructure before she ever opened her doors. One that can and has expanded nicely in order to accommodate the large number of dogs rescued since the inception in 2015. Her goal is to continue to grow and save more lives by liberating Labs in the south from high-kill situations and getting them into foster homes for eventual adoption in the north.

The entire process and model Lu’s Labs follows is a fine dance between the south and the north.  This charitable organization is comprised of southern and northern fosters, transport volunteers and paid transport, compassionate veterinarians, home checkers and adoption coordinators that span the south and the eastern seaboard and encompass over 16 states and territories of the US. She’s created a delicate check and balance system with a thorough interview and approval process for adopters, a post adoption team, a medical team, and approved training parameters for dogs who pass through the 501 (C) 3’s doors.
Every dog that Luisa takes into the rescue takes a piece of her heart and leaves her with the resolve to save more lives. Dogs with special needs are never turned down. The rescue has funded heart surgeries, hip surgeries and rehabilitation, amputations, and countless heart worm treatments. Luisa prides herself on creating an expert medical evaluation process that not only looks for heartworm and Lyme disease, but also checks for other tick-borne diseases as well.  She employs the advice and assistance of trainers, behaviorists and other experts who keep the rescue running.

In her quest to create the best lab rescue out there, Luisa has attracted a strong board of directors with experience, dedication, and compassion. The effective leader that she is, she draws other resilient leaders who do not require micromanagement to get the job at hand done. Her passion carries through everything she does, creating an energized environment while inspiring a large team of volunteers.

Jen Heishman- Smallwood

Vice President of Operations

Jen is the person you want on your team, no matter what that team might be. Her dedication, professionalism, and organizational skills combine well with her down to earth, level-headed nature. She can be the voice of reason keeping everything moving and still maintain a sense of humor. When it comes to dog rescue she has been a part of just about every aspect of a lab rescue for over a decade. She started volunteering with Lab Rescue of Greater Richmond and filled every role from home checks, transport, and fostering, to adoption coordinator. Eventually while working on the board, she heard Luisa, who grew up in her hometown, was starting her own rescue. Immediately she offered her assistance.

With a master’s degree in Communication and Leadership, she dug into the fledgling rescue as an adoption coordinator and then moved up to the VP of Adoptions, eventually taking over as the VP of Operations. Working for nonprofits comes naturally for Jen since her mother has also always given back as a volunteer for nonprofits. Leadership is in her blood and being able to help lead a group of like-minded people feeds her energy and keeps her on mission with the rescue.

Her home would not be complete if it wasn’t filled with labs. Currently she and her wife Stacy have 4 labs, 3 of which are Lu’s Labs. Sammi, initially returned because the adopter couldn’t bond with her took 10 minutes to know she was home. Kimber, the black beauty was so scared of everyone and everything, immediately bonded with Sammi and became a foster fail. Most recently they opened their home to Sunny. This poor girl with her abusive history landed in the Heishman-Smallwood home and found her perfect match!

It is these kinds of success stories, not just with her own dogs, but when all the dogs in rescue find amazing homes that fuels Jen’s passion. She has a soft spot for old people, children and dogs – so it’s a very easy for her to do what she loves for Lu’s Labs Rescue.

Rebecca Simpson Arnold

Vice President of Transport

Rebecca is one of the rare unicorns in the rescue industry who magically brings volunteers together to traverse miles of highway making dogs their priority.

Her love of dogs and desire to adopt led her to begin her rescue career at the shelter in her hometown. The conditions the dogs endured did not sit well on Rebecca’s heart. When she spotted a post looking for transports, without hesitation she volunteered to help. From there she took off like wildfire making connections up and down the east coast and across the south moving dogs out of poor conditions and into the arms of fosters and adopters.

Soon Rebecca crossed paths with Lu, and the rest was history. Lu’s Labs snapped up Rebecca, we know when we see a great thing! It’s not a simple task to weave together volunteers from south to north bringing our babies up like a game of leapfrog, from car to car.

Only someone with a passion for dogs and the organizational skills of a mathematician could accomplish this task week after week for Lu’s Labs as we traverse at least 14 different states to bring dogs to their forever homes.

Victoria Barnes

Vice President Of Fundraising

Victoria cannot remember a time in her life where there were not pets present. As a small child she could never say home to a stray or homeless animal. While raising her three children, animals always knew which house they could come to, to get a warm bed and a nutritious meal and along with caring hands to tend to them. All sorts of animals would show up on the door step – dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and even an iguana.

While all animals are special to Victoria, dogs have always held a special place in her heart. Always a strong believer in the old adage, “Adopt, don’t shop,” she was thrilled when her friend Luisa began her own rescue.  She knew that this was the perfect opportunity to combine over 25 years of marketing and sales experience with her passion for rescue.  Heading up fundraising for the Lu’s Labs family is a natural fit for her talents.

Though Victoria does not have a Lu’s Lab, her rescue pug Otis is a small dog who thinks like a Lab.

Janis Block

Vice President of Medical

Janis hopped on the highway of responsibility and has filled many positions within the rescue world. Twenty years ago, her first rescue dog Sammy chose her from a frightened place inside a cage. The moment she sat in Janis’s lap and fell asleep – the rest was history. Janis spent many years working for rescues in New York, and began with Lu’s Labs when a co-worker asked her to do a home check on Long Island. No stranger to rescue, Janis jumped in ready to help. Not one to be an occasional volunteer, she needed something more to feed her desire to help the pups. This led to a role as an Adoption Coordinator allowing her to do what she loved – rescue dogs and connect with adopters.

With her experience in the medical field, it was an easy transition to also take over and coordinate all the heartworm treatments. With almost 50% of dogs from the south coming into rescue with heartworm disease it is important to Lu’s Labs that dogs are not only cured of heartworm, but adopters are educated on the importance of prevention.  Soon Janis’s rapport with the veterinarians and knowledge about all the medical needs of a rescue grew and she was taking on all different aspects of medical for Lu’s Labs.  It was the next natural step to become the VP of Medical and an indispensable member of the Lu’s Lab team.

Jazzy, a Lu’s Lab girl, and Ginger take after their predecessors as not just Janis’s pets but her kids. They’ve seen her through the ups and downs of life and Janis can’t imagine a life without her rescue babies. We can’t imagine Lu’s Labs without Janis.

Melissa Lange

Vice President of Intake

Melissa is a lifelong lab lover. In 2011, after losing her chocolate girl, Kaya, she wanted to find a way to heal her broken heart.  While scrolling through a lab rescue’s pictures she realized the way to honor her beloved family member was to help other dogs find their forever homes. In no time she was fostering for her first lab rescue. From there she took off learning many aspects of rescue from the moment a dog was evaluated in the shelter and taken into a safe place, through the pup’s medical needs, organizing transport, and through the entire adoption evaluation process. The workload was heavy but seemed like nothing in comparison to knowing she was making a difference in the lives of so many dogs.

As is the case, the rescue world is small, and Melissa met Lu’s Labs Founder, Luisa, while they were both learning the ropes working for their first rescue. The friendship bloomed and in 2013 before Lu’s Labs officially opened its doors, Melissa adopted a rescue that Luisa saved. Her unofficial Lu’s Lab Finley is among the sweetest dogs she’s ever had. She’s grateful to be his forever mom along with her pit/lab mix Jake. For several years their rescue lives went in different directions, but they always maintained a close bond built on common values.

When Melissa found herself “Rescue unemployed,” Luisa knew she needed to pull this kindred soul onto her incredible team. “It’s about time,” Lu said, “When can you start!” With so much experience in the rescue world, Melissa floated between several roles until she found her perfect spot. “Intake is truly where my heart is, I love being the first step for these pups.” Working closely with shelters all over the south, Melissa’s work consists of choosing the labs that come to Lu’s Labs, coordinating their transport to freedom, and the start of their new lives.

Her amazing journey into rescue all started with the desire to heal from the loss of Kaya. With that healing has come the reward of saving so many other dogs and that path continues as Lu’s Labs Vice President of intake.

Samantha Rapoza

Vice President of Fosters

Sam started her journey into rescue as a would-be adopter with Lu’s Labs. Growing up she always loved animals and was fortunate to have at least one dog and one cat since she can remember. Her adoption coordinator made a lasting impact on her with the compassion and patience she gave in helping Sam find the perfect dog to fit her lifestyle.

While Sam was waiting for her forever friend to come along she decided to try out fostering and was immediately hooked. Each new person she met within the rescue further confirmed that she had found a special organization. And being part of a dog’s journey made her feel complete. As she delved deeper into the volunteer side of rescue, she knew she’d found kindred souls.  The support, love and dedication she experienced from everyone she met melded with her own personal values and she found herself taking on more and more responsibility. Then one day she was asked to take over as Vice President of Fosters.

Her excitement at helping other fosters in their important role outshines any worries of all the time this position takes up in order to provide support for the dogs and their foster families.  While not all dogs are perfectly suited for each fosters' home, Sam knows the work they do is born from the love of dogs. In her position, she works hard to make the best matches she can between the dogs and the fosters.  Her ultimate goal is for as little transition as possible for the dogs as they embark on their journey to their forever homes.

Not only does Sam oversee the fosters but continues to be a foster herself for the organization. Her caring spirit gets her through the tougher days when her newly transitioning foster dog chases her cats, bark too much, or show their escape skills. She and her forever dog Seymour, a Lu’s Labs alumni, take it all in stride as they work on training and manners to prepare each dog for their forever home. Her patience and love shine through in every dog she fosters.

Sam finds joy in every match she helps facilitate and the support of Lu’s Labs. Each foster dog forever changes her and holds a special place in her heart. She knows that her dedicated team of fosters feels the same way as they give their time to the love of the dogs.

Krissy Wheaton

Vice President of Finance

Krissy has never met a dog she didn’t like. When her lifelong friend Luisa asked her to help handle the finances for Lu’s Labs she couldn’t refuse. In awe of the dedication and creativity that went into making Lu’s Labs a reality, Krissy knew she wanted to be a part of it. And since, “You don’t trust just anyone with your money,” she knew she could provide the integrity and organizational skills necessary to keep the rescue running. The beauty of her volunteer role is that she can do it from anywhere, and with all the tools at her finger tips she can transfer money and keep things rolling so they don’t grind to a halt whether it be a medical emergency or a paid transport.

Krissy’s bookkeeping skills were fine-tuned from her previous life as a flower shop owner and are exactly what was needed in order to keep the rescue on track even with its incredible growth over the past several years. As with every volunteer with Lu’s Labs, her heart belongs to dogs and she has several rescue dogs of her own. While none so far are labs, she has a Pomeranian and a one-eyed Jack Russel Terrier who by most standards would have been unadoptable. She loves her rescues and she is passionate about the mission and the incredible friends she has made through Lu’s Labs.

With the great responsibility of money management, paying the bills, and making sure the organization is compliant with all the IRS regulations and report filings for the state, Krissy takes it all on with grace. She loves being part of the rescue because of the shared culture and mission that Lu’s Labs has fostered: Like-minded volunteers who value saving dogs lives.



ALSO we have an EXTENSIVE list of Adoption Coordinators, Fosters, Home Checkers, and Transporters that is too long to list but just as IMPORTANT as everyone listed here!