Meet Our Staff
The staff at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming is committed to providing students with an unsurpassed learning experience. Each instructor is highly experienced in teaching adult learners. The curriculum is direct, focused, and easy to understand. Students will learn from one of the most established training centers in the country with a strong reputation for excellence.
Meet Our Founder - Melissa Verplank, CMG, CEO
Certified Master Groomer, Video Instructor, Curriculum Development, President & Founder of Paragon
Melissa Verplank has over 30 years of experience in the pet industry. Her mastery of grooming techniques has won her numerous awards at both national & international levels. She has owned and operated multiple businesses including:
- A fleet of mobile grooming units that serviced the greater Grand Rapids, Michigan area
- A grooming salon that grew into The Paragon School of Pet Grooming
- A luxury pet care facility called Whiskers Resort & Pet Spa
- White Dog Enterprises which publishes her award winning books, Notes From the Grooming Table and Theory of Five along with other educational products for the pet professional.
- Learn2GroomDogs.com, an on-line educational streaming video library for pet professionals.
She was involved in the ground level of the voluntary certification testing programs, earning her Certified Master Groomer title in the mid 1980s. Melissa was a member of the traveling team for GroomTeam USA – representing the United States in the World Team Competition in France in the early 90s. Later, she was the GroomTeam USA Team Coordinator, served on the Board of Directors, and currently sits on the Advisory Board. She assisted in the start-up of the International Judges Association and is an approved grooming judge with the United Showmanagers Alliance. Ms. Verplank is a highly sought-after industry speaker, contest grooming judge, author, and a two-time Cardinal Crystal Achievement winner.
Melissa remains active and very involved in many areas of the pet industry. She and her husband, Marc, spend time on their expansive Black Falcon Farm, where they enjoy spending time in the saddle with their horses. Together, Melissa and Marc enjoy all types of outdoor adventures including trail riding, kayaking, hiking, and diving. Melissa also loves healthy gourmet cooking. They share their farm with other furry family members including Maremma Sheepdogs and cats.
Joe has been in the pet industry for almost 33 years. Joe started in the pet industry as a 13-year old bather/brusher in a small grooming shop in the St. Louis area. After a few years, Joe joined the team at one of the most prestigious multi-unit pet resorts, Kennelwood Pet Resorts. There, he helped develop several cutting-edge programs and services including Deluxe all-inclusive Suites boarding, SHED-X Treatments, Doggie Day Care, an in-house grooming training school, professional consulting division, and eventually the company’s franchise offering.
When he left Kennelwood as VP of Operations and Director of Franchising in 2008, he joined the sales and product development team at TropiClean Pet Products. There he enjoyed accomplishments such as explosive sales growth with retail partners such as Petco, PetSmart, and other large chains and Distributors. He also launched products in a new sales channel at Home Shopping Network (HSN) as a guest host appearing dozens of times on television teaching home shoppers about proper pet hygiene. Joe left TropiClean after nine years to join Melissa Verplank’s team of businesses and recognizes how important Melissa’s vision of education is to the professional pet services industry. As president, he is positioned perfectly to drive new services and products to deliver on Melissa’s dream of elevating the industry.
Joe holds a Master’s Degree in Business as well as the honor of being a sought-after speaker and business consultant. He also spent several years as a Senior Lecturer and Professor at a private University in St. Louis. Joe and his wife have two amazing adult sons. Joe and Deanna live in St. Louis and share their home with their Shih-Tzu “Vinnie” who has them wrapped around his paw for sure!
Lorri graduated from Paragon in 1993. In her career spanning 25 years, she has worked in high-end salons, as well as owned and operated her own salon. Lorri also worked in corporate grooming environments, running the district of Michigan and Indiana for PetSmart Grooming.
She earned her Certified Master Groomer status through International Professional Groomers, Inc. (IPG). Lorri is an award-winning stylist in Sporting and Terrier groups and has also done a bit of conformation showing.
Lorri is a firm believer and advocate of the benefits of education and has attended many professional workshops and seminars to continue to hone her skills. She has helped create curriculum and taught students at Paragon for almost a decade.
Lorri and her husband have 3 children and 5 grandchildren. They share their home with 2 Aussies and a Welsh Terrier. Her Aussies keep her young and you can often find her enjoying the outdoors and hiking.
Alli began her grooming career in a private salon in Alabama where she trained under a master groomer, which gave her a solid foundation that blossomed into a career path spanning 15 years. She worked at Petsmart for much of her career where she began as a Pet Stylist Assistant and held many positions. During this time, she also advanced to supporting grooming services as a District Academy Trainer ranging from the Alabama District to supporting 2 districts in Florida: West and South-west districts.
Alli then fell in love with the operations side of this business and moved into a Services Operation Manager for Pet Retail Brands U.S. where she had the opportunity to test her skills in services operations, where she helped build the grooming services business.
Then Alli joined the Paragon School of Pet Grooming to maintain her love for educating and training our future groomers, but also ensure processes are smooth for not only the future groomers, but her team as well. She believes that knowledge is power but without support it is only thoughts in our minds.
Alli and her husband live on a 15-acre farm where they have a multitude of animals ranging from chickens to cattle. They share their home with 2 Australian Shepherds, Schnauzer/Chihuahua mix, and a boxer. You can find Alli loving on her fluffy cow, Ernie and scratching the bellies of her floppy eared pigs, Charlotte and Dumbo. There is never a dull moment that passes, and she believes laughter is the key to a healthy life!
Jodi holds over a decade in sales & customer service experience, having worked in retail management and the real estate industry. She lives in Michigan with her partner and their two cats, Juno and Lilah. When she’s not working, Jodi enjoys traveling with her partner and exploring the local food scene. She’s an avid reader and spends her downtime hosting dinners with friends.
Annalisa comes from a family of successful show dog breeders and handlers. She showed her first dog at the age of 5 and by age 12 she brought her Maremma Sheepdog to be the most recognized dog in his breed with multiple world and international championships. At age 15 she decided that dogs were her passion so she started, while still studying, grooming and showing professionally long leg terriers (hers were wire Fox terriers and her dad’s Welsh and Lakelands) and became a professional handler for different breeds ranging from retrievers to hounds. When she graduated management school she joined Mars, Italy where she was in charge of sponsorships and organization of world and international dog shows and the launch of new pet products to her fellow breeders.
When she left Italy and moved to the US, she joined Petsmart as Salon Leader and soon became responsible for the success of multiple grooming salons in South and East Florida and Puerto Rico as District Services Trainer. In her 14 years in Petsmart she graduated over 300 students who became successful groomers, salon and store leaders.
With over 35 years of combined experience going from grooming, showing, teaching and pet retail business, Annalisa joined the Paragon team as Product Manager in charge of discovering and launching new products that will help and support groomers and business owners in their careers.
Annalisa, her husband and her cat “Bacio”, a Persian chinchilla who thinks he is a dog, live in South Florida. She loves to travel, specially back to Europe, and enjoys any opportunity to “jump on a plane” and fly away to discover new cultures and enrich her knowledge.
Her motto: “Never Stop Learning”!
Cathy Trotter is a former high school Government, History and Economics teacher whose path to Paragon came about because of her life-long love of dogs and her passion for education. Cathy was born and raised in Michigan which is where she resides with her sweet, and overly friendly, rescue dog, Jack. Jack is a Boxer, Swiss Shepard, Terrier mix and thinks every human and 4 legged canine should be his best friend! Cathy is mom to two amazing daughters, Emma and Maddie. Her girls are grown up and live out of state so she enjoys taking trips to visit them in Florida and Texas where they live. Travel is something Cathy loves to do and is looking forward to planning trips in the future to Greece, Ireland, Scotland and Italy.
In her spare time, Cathy enjoys quilting and is a member of the Quilts of Valor Foundation which awards quilts to Veterans who have been touched by war. Cathy’s love of history and appreciation for those that serve our country led her to become a member of the U.S.S. Indianapolis CA-35 Legacy Organization and she enjoys sharing the history of “The Indy” and her Crew with others.
Holly has been in the pet industry for over 7 years. She started with Pet Supplies Plus and for a little over 4 years she was a Store Team Leader with a grooming salon. She helped students in her salon through the Paragon program and saw the success of the program from a unique perspective. Holly is a Certified Canine Esthetician. She also has Vet Tech experience and is working on finishing her Vet Tech certification. Currently she is working on her bachelor’s in business administration with a Concentration in HR & Accounting. Holly lives in North Carolina with her husband, their 3 dogs and 4 cats who are very spoiled! In her spare time, she likes to read, write, and constantly has a craft project she’s working on.
Jennifer graduated from Paragon in 1993. In the past 29 years she has worked in high end salons, opened and owned her own salon, and has helped open and work for a non-profit dog and cat rescue.
Jennifer competed successfully in Sporting, Non-Sporting, and Terrier groups. In addition, she is certified with the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists (ISCC) and earned her Pet Derma Tech Specialist and Master Pet Stylist through the organization. She has also attended the North American Cat Grooming Institute of America (NCGIA) and has received her Certified Feline Master Groomer certificate, making her one of the few groomers in the U.S. to certify with both cats and dogs. Jennifer rounded out her professional development by completing the Canine Massage therapy program through Zen Dog Canine Massage Therapy.
Jennifer and her husband have 3 adult children and 4 spoiled pups. Jennifer enjoys camping and hiking. She is also a beer enthusiast and enjoys visiting new breweries and homebrewing her own beers for friends to sample.
Shelley began dog sitting at the age of seven. She followed her passion for animals and graduated from The Paragon School of Pet Grooming in 2008. She has attended multiple grooming shows, seminars and classes. Shelley gained a world of grooming experience while working in grooming salons for 10 years. In 2019, her dreams came true when she became a grooming instructor at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming. She currently is a Program Specialist for Paragon’s Distance Learning Program.
Shelley has a Boston Terrier named Kingston. They like to go hiking together on the weekends and explore Michigan State Parks.
Alayna graduated college in 2021 and has been working with animals ever since. Her passion for people and pets has led her to a career at Paragon as the Administrative Support Specialist. Alayna was born and raised in Michigan on the east side of the state and moved to the west side of Michigan a year ago. She lives with her husband and three rescue animals. She has two cats named Boots and Ellie and a senior French Bulldog named Mabel.
On the weekend you can find Alayna spending time with her family and pets or out at a local cafe. In her spare time, Alayna enjoys reading fiction novels, traveling, going to the beach, and trying out new recipes. She also enjoys working out including Pilates, yoga, light weightlifting and going on walks when it’s nice outside.
Liz Thompson unknowingly began her career as a kennel attendant and bather while she was in highschool (2007-2008). In 2009 she attended Paragon in pursuit of becoming a pet stylist. Liz has since worked at high-end salons and became a grooming instructor and mentor at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming.
Liz is certified through the National Dog Groomers Association of America (NDGAA) in Sporting, Short-Legged Terrier and Long-Legged Terrier. She plans on certifying in Non-Sporting to become a Certified Master Groomer (CMG). Liz has also competed with a modified Bichon trim on her dog Ava.
In Liz’s free time she likes to put her artistic mind at play to create DIY projects. When putting her artistic abilities aside, she enjoys spending time with family and her two sons, Harvey and Colton.
Suesan is a third generation pet stylist whose dynamic career stretches over 40 years. A “Certified Master Groomer”, she owns a successful mobile grooming business, serving the Chicago/Northwest Suburban area. Sue is part of Wahl’s “Extreme Team” and is approved by the “United Show Managers’ Alliance” as a “Sanctioned Judge”. She is also a proud Paragon Distance Learning Program Mentor and a Learn2GroomDogs.com Training Expert.
She began grooming competitively in 1995, and has received many class and group placings. Sue is a winner of the “Wahl 2003 Groomer of the Year” award, and only recipient of three consecutive “Cardinal Crystal Grooming Achievement Awards for American Groomer of the Year”. In addition, Suesan has been nominated multiple times for “Cardinal Grooming Contest Judge of the Year”, and Cardinal “Congeniality” awards.
Making “Groom Team USA” in 2000, Suesan was in the top five positions for five years in a row, before retiring from competing to become a judge in 2005. Her 2004 placings garnered her the honor of competing with the “Groom Team USA Travel Team” in France, in 2005; with the USA team placing second, only one point behind France. Sue also won “Best Clipping” recognition with her Mini-Poodle in the “individual open class”, at the same competition.
Her keen eye for dogs, understanding of the “standards” and knowledge of grooming techniques, coupled with her pleasant demeanor, has made Sue a sought after competition judge and speaker, both in the United States and abroad. And with a natural ability to communicate grooming techniques to others in an understanding and often-humorous way, she regularly draws crowds at her seminars and grooming demonstrations around the country. Sue also does private hands-on seminars with individuals and smaller shop groups.
Jennifer grew up in her family’s grooming shop where she began her grooming career as a bather at the age of 13 years old. She learned how to groom from her mom and aunt who have been grooming for 25+ years! Jen is a fourth generation groomer.
Jen has a love for animals and making them their their absolute best. Her favorite part of grooming is seeing the look on the pet parents face when they come to pick up their adorable pet.
Even after growing up in a multi-generational grooming family, Jen still has a passion for education and educating others about our industry. Whether she is showing pet parents how to care for their pets in-between grooming appoinments or giving tips and tricks to other fellow groomers. She is so excited to be apart of the Paragon team, so she can continue to help others on their path to becoming groomers and learn new things herself as she does so. She claims, “we should never stop learning in our industry!”
Jen has been married for 25 years and has 3 beautiful children. Their family has a mixed breed named Bindi and a cat named Hazelnut. When Jen has free time, she enjoys to read.
Lauren has been grooming for more than 20 years. She began her career at PetSmart’s grooming salon at age 16 and immersed herself in the profession. After completing Petsmart’s Grooming Academy, she became grooming salon manager. Seven stores later, she became an Academy instructor and realized teaching was her passion. From the experience she gained teaching and managing, she opened her own shop, called The Dog House. After selling the business, she traveled across the country to gain knowledge of different grooming styles and techniques from Colorado to California. She’s delighted to bring her passion for teaching to Paragon to do what she loves every day. She is determined to build confidence in new groomers so that they can build trust with the animals and clients they serve. She believes everyone in this industry is an artist, and she’s proud to be a Paragon Mentor.
Lauren is the mother of two beautiful children.
Paragon mentor Brandy Mayes began her grooming career in 1995 in Atlanta, GA. After learning to groom in Georgia, she moved to Nashville, TN where she furthered her grooming skills and became a national certified master groomer.
Over the course of her lengthy career, she has taught and mentored new groomers, worked as a grooming manager, and owned a successful mobile grooming business. Brandy currently owns Canine Design Nashville, where she styles some of Nashville’s most beautiful pups! She feels that the key to creating beautiful grooms is to pay attention to the small details. Every haircut is precision scissor finished, with the goal to bring out the best features in every pet. In addition to offering full scissor trims, Brandy also hand strips terriers and sporting breeds.
Grooming is her passion, and she holds a special place in her heart for geriatric pets and those with special needs. Brandy’s goal is to provide the pets in her care with the same loving kindness that she gives her own. She is currently the “mom” to 3 dogs- Rosy, a Boston Terrier; Leroy, a Bullmastiff and Erik, a Doberman Pinscher.
As a Paragon mentor, Brandy loves sharing the knowledge she has accumulated in her nearly 3 decade career with students. She loves interacting with new students who never fail to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to the job! Her goal with Paragon is to help develop a new generation of pet stylists with impeccable skills and a love for the grooming profession.
Priscilla’s passion for animals bloomed at a young age, sharing sandwiches with her black cat at 6 years old! She’s worked in the industry since she was 13. Beginning her career mucking stalls at a local horse barn, she grew into a fabulous trainer, lesson instructor, and show groomer. Deciding to leave the equine side of things, she began grooming small pets in 2010. Priscilla managed one of the largest boarding/daycare/grooming businesses on the East Coast for about 10 years, then decided to open her own grooming business. Now she runs her business, mentors for Paragon, and shows and competes with her dogs!
Priscilla has her certification in Equine Technology, Veterinary Assisting, and is currently working on her CMG. She has groomed everything from Westminster competitors to mini horses! She competes in AKC Conformation, hunt tests, NAVHDA, and many other venues. She shares her North Carolina home with her husband of 10 years, Adam, and their 6 dogs: 3 Standard Poodles, Vizsla, GWP, and Borzoi.
My family has always had dogs and other pets for as long as I can remember, so they hold a special place in my heart. I began my grooming career in 2017 as a bather when I was still in high school, and I have been grooming ever since! In 2021, I began attending grooming trade shows and entering competitions. I currently compete with my Bedlington Terrier and standard poodle. I also have a long-haired cat and senior great dane that keep my busy at home. My favorite part of grooming is when a dog is happy to come to see me, it makes my heart happy.
When I am outside of work, I love to knit and crochet all sorts of things, but especially stuffed animals. I also sell some of my work at local craft shows.