The Family Companion

WNY's Premier Professionals in Pet Training & Behavior Health

Buffalo and WNY’s Most Credentialed Team of Dog Trainers

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We specialize in science based humane dog training.

Our Team

Marcia Rafter Ritchie, LVT, CPDT-KA, VTS (Behavior)

Marcia Rafter Ritchie, LVT, CPDT-KA, VTS (Behavior)

Marcia Rafter Ritchie, LVT, CPDT-KA, VTS (Behavior)

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Marcia Rafter Ritchie graduated from SUNY Delhi with an AAS in Veterinary Science in 1977. She worked in private veterinary practices for 20 years, where her passion for animal behavior was cultivated by the veterinarians she worked with.Marcia has been an obedience and conformation dog show competitor since 1979, and is an occasional breeder of Pembroke Welsh Corgis. She is a volunteer for Mayflower and North Coast Ohio Corgi Rescue Groups and Distinguished Doberman Rescue.She has been a professional pet obedience instructor in the Buffalo, New York area since 1984. Marcia was in the first group of 120 instructors to receive national certification through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), of which she is a charter member. She is a member of the organizing committee of the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians, which recently was granted specialty status by National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA).Marcia teaches group classes, private instruction, assists veterinarians with behavior modification and does pet selection counseling. She is a consultant for the Erie County SPCA, a volunteer 4-H leader in the dog program, and has been teaching children dog bite prevention since 1978. Marcia has been a product specialist for Premier Pet Products since 2004.In addition to her passion for dogs, Marcia is an avid gardener who custom grows heirloom vegetables, herbs and edible blossoms for area restaurants.

Paula Macrides, CPDT-KA

Marcia Rafter Ritchie, LVT, CPDT-KA, VTS (Behavior)

Marcia Rafter Ritchie, LVT, CPDT-KA, VTS (Behavior)

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Paula Macrides is a 1987 graduate of SUNY Delhi with an AAS in Veterinary Science. She also has a BS in Biology, and MA in Health Service Administration. She is currently a stay at home mom to two young children and two senior dog kids. Paula has taught the Puppy Socialization and Family Companion classes, starting in 1999. For the past 5 years, Paula has been teaching a Therapy Dog Prep Class, for those interested in doing therapy work with their canine companion. A former licensed Delta Society Evaluator, Paula has combined her love for the elderly and children with her passion for dog therapy as a registered Pet Partner with her retired dog Marlie. Together they have brightened the lives of residents in nursing homes for over 10 years. Furthermore, as a R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dog) team, they have helped kids overcome their fear of reading out loud by reading to Marlie at libraries and elementary schools. Additionally, Paula is instructing a new and unique class for senior dogs, The Senior Companion Class. Paula has a passion for senior dogs and believes keeping their minds and body's active will enhance their quality of life. Her almost 13 year old dog graduated from a Family Companion class; who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Kim Sauer, CPDT-KA

Sue (Smith) Pezzanite, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA

Cindy Mead, CPDT-KA

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Kim Sauer's fascination with dog training took off in 1997 when she started assisting a local trainer using a clicker. Her interest grew as she learned how much she loved working with animals and enjoyed seeing the transformation in both the dogs and the owners. Kim became a Certified Pet Dog Trainer in March of 2006. She is also an AKC Canine Good Citizen and STAR Puppy Evaluator. Kim earned her diploma from Animal Behavior College in January 2002 and became an ABC Certified Dog Trainer. After several years of experience, in 2006 Kim became an ABC Mentor Trainer and is now helping others to realize their dream of becoming a dog trainer! In her quest to work with animals full time, in 2002 Kim started a pet sitting and dog walking business, Sit n' Stay Pet Services, of which she is still the owner.

Kim has volunteered and worked at the SPCA Serving Erie County before starting her family, and is still the trainer for the SPCA for several programs. She is currently the Trainer for the Teaching Love and Compassion Program, which is a program for at-risk youth in the City of Buffalo. Kim also has agreed to be a part of the team to get Hamburg's First Off Leash Dog Park off the ground - Rootie's Run. Look for it to come to fruition in the spring of 2011.

Kim's specialty is working with families owning pets who plan to bring a baby into the household. She is the Trainer for the SPCA's Baby Ready Pets Program, a Licensed Presenter for the Dogs & Storks Program and The Dog and Baby Connection Program which is for households with dogs and babies from 3 months to 3 years.

In addition to teaching the above programs, Kim teaches Puppy Preschool, Family Companion and the Graduate Family Companion classes. Her interests also extend to maintaining your pets health, and in 2008 Kim became an Instructor for Pet Tech - Pet First Aid and Care Classes. This has benefitted her both in her professional and her personal life with her own pets.

At home, Kim enjoys spending her time with her son Brett, her husband Tom, her rottweiler Greta, her bullmastiff Coop, and her cats and sugar gliders. Kim credits her current and past animals (Blaze - rottweiler, Nigel - english mastiff) for teaching her almost everything she knows.


Cindy Mead, CPDT-KA

Sue (Smith) Pezzanite, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA

Cindy Mead, CPDT-KA

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Cindy joined the staff in 2005 as an assistant trainer and is now working as an instructor in the Springville area with The Family Companion. She has been a licensed veterinary technician practicing at a local veterinary hospital for over 35 years.

In 1991, Cindy and Marcia attended an Ian Dunbar seminar. There they learned about Puppy Parties and their value in educating the human clients, socializing their puppies, and decreasing puppies' fear of the veterinary hospital by associating it with something fun. The puppy party that she helped establish here is the longest continuous running party in Western New York.

Additionally, Cindy has had the privilege of assisting the veterinary behaviorist from the Animal Behavior Clinic of Cornell University during their behavior consultations for the past five years. She also organized and leads a team of fellow technicians within her practice who act as pet behavior advocates, working with owners on training and problem behavior. Cindy became a CPDT-KA in 2010.

Sue (Smith) Pezzanite, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA

Sue (Smith) Pezzanite, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA

Sue (Smith) Pezzanite, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA

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Sue Smith graduated in December 2008 from the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior, and is a certified training partner. This program is an intense education that demonstrates a high level of skill in training dogs, as well as teaching dog owners in a force free training technique. One requirement of the program was to train a dog and also train another species – her cat was trained!

She started volunteering as a dog walker at the Erie County SPCA in 2005, which led to her passion for dog training, and currently is part of the enrichment team for dogs at the shelter. Sue became an assistant instructor with The Family Companion in 2006 and became a class instructor in 2009. She has a passion for learning and attends various training seminars. Sue is a member of APDT and received her CPDT-KA in 2010.


Alex Verrastro

Jill Gmitrowski

Sue (Smith) Pezzanite, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA

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Alex graduated from Medaille College in 2012 with an AS in Veterinary Technology and is finishing her BS this winter. She became interested in behavior after taking classes with her first Flat-Coated Retriever. Loki is an AKC Champion and earned his Canine Good Citizen title.

Because of Loki's show career, Alex worked with him to be comfortable with handling for examination and grooming; trips to the vet are not stressful for him. However, Alex has seen many pets in practice that are fearful and even require sedation to be handled and examined. After taking Applied Animal Behavior courses, she became passionate about helping pets and their owners. She learned about Marcia and The Family Companion while researching the Veterinary Technician Specialty in Behavior.

Alex recently became Silver Certified in Dr. Sophia Yin's Low Stress Handling Methods to help more pets feel comfortable during veterinary visits and to educate other veterinary and animal professionals about low stress handling. Although her main behavior experience is with dogs, she would like to branch out into Kitty Kindergarten classes and help bust the myth that cats aren't trainable.


Jill Gmitrowski

Jill Gmitrowski

Jill Gmitrowski

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Although Jill has had dogs her whole life, her interest in training started in 1998, when as an adult she got her first Golden Retriever and attended all the classes offered by The Family Companion. Her Golden was a bit of a challenge, but she found the classes to be not only educational, but fun as well for both her and her dog. Several years later, upon adopting her Beagle, she again signed up for classes. She found it amazing how with patience and consistency in working with her Beagle, a once shy and scared dog became an outgoing, confident and well mannered dog. Jill not only enjoys the training aspect of working with dogs but finds the psychology behind animal behavior fascinating. Jill became an assistant instructor of ours in 2006. Feeling that all trainers had something to offer and teach her, Jill has previously assisted both Kim and Paula Too in their classes.

Jill now instructs our Puppy Pre-School, Family Companion and Graduate Family Companion classes. She is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and a Doggone Safe, Be-A-Tree member presenter for dog bite prevention, and an AKC Canine Good Citizen and STAR Puppy Evaluator. Since learning about dog training and behavior, Jill has also taken an interest in cat behavior, and looks forward to expanding her knowledge in this area as well. Currently Jill shares her home with her Beagle - Jack, Golden Retriever - Merlin, two cats - Simon & Elliot, and Cockatiel - Jessie. And of course, her first Golden Retriever, Jensen, who led her to The Family Companion will always have a place in her heart.


Gary Reitmeier

Jill Gmitrowski

Jill Gmitrowski

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More information to follow