Board of Directors

Gail Plewacki (Chair)

Gail Plewacki originally joined the TWS Board of Directors in 2002, and after a hiatus rejoined the board in 2013.

Gail is a communications professional with more than 15 years’ experience in broadcast journalism and over 15 years’ experience as a Communications Director. She has served as the Executive Director of Communications for the Minneapolis Public Schools, the Communications Director and Senior Manager for Dakota County, and as the Communications Director and an Assistant City Coordinator with the City of Minneapolis. She is currently a principal owner of Plewacki/Parke Communications, which provides strategic communications development and advising across a variety of non-profit, corporate enterprise, and government organizations.

Gail is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and an alumnus of the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Executive Leadership Program.

Heather MacLeod (Board Secretary)

Heather MacLeod joined the TWS Board of Directors in 2013. She has over eighteen years’ experience in leadership and management roles and has a strong background in operations within patient/client-centered and matrix-leadership environments. Heather also brings proven skills in employee relations, client services, organizational strategy, and financial management. She currently resides in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and is the principal owner and primary therapist at New Perspectives Counseling and Consulting, LLC.

Heather has a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of St. Thomas and an M.S. in Organization Management from Capella University.

Melissa Cross (Treasurer)

Melissa Cross joined the TWS Board of Directors in 2014. Melissa is employed in the financial services industry as in-house counsel and has served on multiple committees in that capacity, including regulatory compliance, human resources, and enterprise risk management.

Melissa earned a B.A. in political science and psychology from Minnesota State University-Moorhead, a J.D. from the University of South Carolina, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas.

Dawn Isackson

Dawn Isackson joined the TWS Board of Directors in 2013. Dawn is a trusted legal and business advisor currently employed as an international transactional attorney at a software company. She is known as a strategic advisor for negotiating complex contracts, mitigating risk and protecting intellectual property. Dawn is passionate about giving back in areas important to her and does so by serving as a volunteer Director for The Wildcat Sanctuary, utilizing her legal and business acumen to assist The Wildcat Sanctuary with its mission and vision.

Dawn earned a B.A. in Political Science from Hamline University, and a J.D. from the William Mitchell College of Law.

Christine Garrison

Christine joined the TWS Board in 2020.  Christine is a licensed attorney and has significant experience representing clients in trial and appellate courts, administrative boards, and mediation venues.  She currently works as in-house counsel in the healthcare industry, providing strategic advice on risk management and dispute resolution.  

Christine earned a B.A. in political science from St. Olaf College and her J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law.  

Christine Coughlin

Christine Coughlin joined the TWS Board of Directors in 2020. Christine has been active in the field of animal protection for nearly two decades and is the Minnesota State Director for The Humane Society of the United States. She brings extensive experience in policy, organizing, and coalitions and has worked with allies to pass many pieces of state and local animal protection legislation. Christine has served on animal welfare policy task forces for the City of Minneapolis, initiated the biannual publication of MN’s Humane Scorecard, and founded Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection, serving as executive director until 2014.

She is the recipient of the 2017 Kenny Feldman Animal Advocate Award and is currently serving on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Wolf Plan Advisory Committee. Christine has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the State University of New York at Purchase.

Julie Sirek

Julie Sirek joined the TWS Board of Directors in 2021. Julie is currently an executive at a software consulting company overseeing all internal operations. She has almost 20 years of experience in the areas of Human Resources, Recruiting and Operations spanning multiple industries including technology, advertising and medical device. Julie brings her expertise in HR and Recruiting to TWS to further support the mission and vision of the Sanctuary.

Julie holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Interested in a board position with us? Learn more HERE.

Tammy Thies (TWS Executive Director, non-voting Board member)

As the Executive Director and Founder of The Wildcat Sanctuary, Tammy Thies created TWS as a non-profit, big cat rescue with the goal of providing a natural sanctuary to wildcats that cannot live in the wild. Combining natural and spacious habitats with excellent care and a comfortable life free of exhibition, TWS allows all residents to live wild at heart.

With a marketing and journalism degree from the University of St. Thomas, Tammy was a full-time advertising professional who became aware of the need for such a facility through her exposure to big cats during photo shoots and advertising campaigns. Tammy learned that throughout the United States, tens of thousands of big cats are privately owned as pets, and used as performers or for-profit breeding.

A leading spokesperson and expert witness for the big cat crisis and protection nationally, Tammy and other TWS staff work with governmental agencies and private organizations to strengthen regulations protecting the welfare of big cats in captivity.

Read the story of how Tammy started The Wildcat Sanctuary HERE.

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