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Dog's Best Friend

January 08, 2021
By Deb Daley

Stacy Jacobson Engebretson, Ph.D. ’05 just might be a dog’s best friend.  This resident of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is the Director of Canine Enrichment and Behavior at the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) of Southwest Michigan. Her journey to this career is an interesting one.

 After graduating from Mercy, Stacy began her undergraduate studies at South Dakota State University. She loved Psychology and her professors encouraged her to apply to graduate school.  In 2009 she was accepted to Western Michigan University's Applied Behavior Analysis Program and began studying in the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Lab. 

“While working on my master's degree, I became heavily involved in teaching the Applied Animal Behavior Analysis Practicum. In short, it is an undergraduate course that uses the principles of behavior analysis to train dogs at local animal shelters. I was enthralled and began devouring as much information as I could that would benefit the shelter dogs. I sat for my certified pet dog training exam and became a CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed).”

Stacy finished her master’s and began working on a doctorate. During her doctoral research phase, her interest shifted to applied canine behavior.  She wanted to understand how stressful environments, like animal shelters, were impacting animals physiologically.  Working with her advisor, Stacy began investigating the effectiveness of music as an enrichment tool for lowering both physiological and behavioral indicators of stress in shelter dogs. She earned her Ph.D. in Behavior Analysis in 2018 and shortly thereafter started working at her current job.

“At the SPCA, I oversee the canine enrichment program and develop behavior modification programs for dogs that are exhibiting concerning behaviors or need a little extra work before they are available for adoption.”

She also holds private training sessions for owners dealing with issues typically not addressed in an obedience class.  

Stacy feels that Mercy was instrumental in helping her achieve her personal and career goals: “Mercy introduced me to critical thinking and how other published works support your topic.  I knew how to write research papers before going to college, which helped me immensely towards my dissertation.” 

The mother of two also uses her experiences at Mercy to motivate her to exercise: “I was involved in cross country and soccer while at Mercy.  Whenever I need motivation to exercise, I remind myself of the person that would wake up early and attend conditioning, weightlifting, extra practices and remind myself that I am still capable of that dedication.” 

Stacy continues to have connections with her classmates and both of her sisters Angela Jacobson Weiss ’99 and Rebecca Jacobson ’02 attended Mercy.

“Some of my best memories are from Mercy and my friends and I have a list of ‘remember when’ experiences that my classmates that still make us laugh.  I still have the letters I received on my senior retreat and treasure them.  All the teachers were so accepting and encouraging.” 

Stacy also found that she grew in her faith, and she feels the impact of that today: “Teachers encouraged us to ask questions, find answers and not be satisfied with shrugging and saying, ‘that’s just what Catholics do.’ Faith transitioned from storytelling, nativity plays and church on Sunday to something that truly belonged to me. I learned that social justice is not an intellectual debate, but a responsibility to fight for peace.” 

Stacy and her family have enjoyed living in Michigan for the past 10 years because of the variety of things they can do there.  She describes the state as both agricultural and nautical, and she loves discovering new things every day. 

For this alumna, Mercy has been an anchor as she navigates her life. 

Posted in Featured Alumnae