Skip navigation
Institute for Human-Animal Connection


Doctoral Student Fellows & Interns

Doctoral Student Affiliates

  • Hagit Brandes

    Hagit Brandes, MA

    Doctoral Student, University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work

    More about Hagit

    Second-year doctoral student Hagit Brandes is from Israel, where she earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees at Haifa University. She also did post-graduate work in animal-assisted emotional therapy at Oranim College in Kiryat Tivon.

    Brandes is conducting research on the human-animal connection and the human-environment connection, exploring how these relationships affect human well-being and how they can explain social problems. She's also examining how interventions that facilitate human connection to, and relationships with, animals and the environment can offer solutions to social problems. She plans to focus her doctoral dissertation on reducing children's aggressive behavior through animal-assisted intervention.

    "As the field of animal-assisted practice is becoming more widespread, it is important to me that I work with professional leaders in this field and contribute to the scientific rigor that validates our work with animals," Brandes explains.

    Once she completes her PhD, Brandes says she hopes to continue research and teaching in the animal-assisted field, contributing to the development of this new and exciting field.

  • Jen Pearson

    Jen Pearson, MSW, MSc

    PhD Candidate, University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work

    More about Jen

    Jen Pearson entered the social work profession after years of working as a riding instructor and dog handler. Her clinical work has focused on utilizing animal-assisted interventions with at-risk youth in settings such as Green Chimneys Children's Services, the Griffith Centers for Children and The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, as well as Pet Partners and PATH International. In addition to her MSW and Animal-Assisted Social Work certificate from the University of Denver, Jen earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Edinburgh's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in the United Kingdom in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare.

    For her doctoral work, Jen's research interests include the human-animal bond and related psychopathologies from an attachment theory perspective, animal and object hoarding, the development of international ethical standards for animal-assisted interventions, and welfare assessment for animal participants in therapeutic activities.

    Jen is connected with several local dog training facilities and conducts intensive canine behavioral rehabilitation on a private basis. She enjoys working dogs in obedience, agility, tracking and protection sports.


  • Melissa J

    Ona Ferens, MSW Candidate

    More about Ona

    Ona Ferens is a second year student at the Graduate School of Social Work. She received her undergraduate degree in Graphic Design but realized she wanted to incorporate her love for humans and animals into her career as well. Ona is very passionate about Animal Welfare and in particular canine behavior and training. Currently, she is working with Dumb Friends League in the behavior department, helping animals become better adoption candidates and working on humane education efforts in the community. Ona is an avid rock climber and outdoors enthusiast. She is determined to help preserve the beauty of public lands for future generations to enjoy. Ona has a three-year-old border collie named Montana, who likes to play frisbee, scramble up rocks, and go swimming! 

  • Nikki Gibbs

    Nikki Gibbs, MSW Candidate

    More about Nikki

    Nikki Gibbs is currently finishing her last year of graduate studies in social work at the University of Denver in organizational leadership and policy. She was fortunate to be invited to intern with the program's Institute for Human-Animal Connection, where she is focusing on projects dealing with the One Health model and International initiatives. Nikki is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Tanzania, Africa for 3 ½ years. This experience undoubtedly fueled her love and passion towards East Africa and delving into the social and ecological issues being undertaken in the area, specifically with wildlife conservation. She hopes one day to conduct work that will allow her the opportunity to return consistently to what she considers her second home in Africa.

  • L'Jean Moody

    Kaylee Keuthan, MSW Candidate

    More about Kaylee

    Kaylee Keuthan is a current student at the Graduate School of Social Work where she is concentrating in Mental Health and the Animal-Assisted Social Work certification. Kaylee received a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from Stephen F. Austin State University and went on to teach in classrooms and camps with students having Autism and/or emotional/behavioral disorders. Kaylee also served for the Peace Corps in Guyana, South America where she focused on various projects relating to human and nonhuman animal welfare. Kaylee is now interning at the Zoology Foundation at Crooked Willows where she is focusing on Humane Education and sanctuary management. 


  • L'Jean Moody

    Jazzy Salter, MSW Candidate

    More about Jazzy

    Jazzy Salter is a second year graduate student in the MSW program at the University of Denver. Her concentration of choice is Mental Health and she is planning on earning the animal assisted social work certificate. Throughout her life, Jazzy has always had a strong love for animals. From a young age, Jazzy went to camps at animal shelters and now as a 24 year old, she has already had the opportunity to intern for organizations such as Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She is passionate about creating a world that truly understands the importance of the human-animal bond and feels very honored to be part of the Institute of Human Animal Connection for the 2017-2018 academic year.
    Jazzy hopes to make lasting impacts for both humans and animals through collaboration with her innovative colleagues this academic year. She is very confident that with the presence of curiosity, compassion and creativity, great things will happen in the Human-Animal field.


  • L'Jean Moody

    Joseph Winchell, MSW Candidate

    More about Joe

    Joseph Winchell was raised in Aurora, Colorado. He was very interested in animals from a young age, and cultivated relationships with them easily. He volunteered in animal shelters and could often be found playing fetch with his two cocker spaniels. After graduating high school Joe joined the United States Air Force and began to work on his education. He earned a Bachelors of Science in Psychology during his twelve year tenure in the Air Force.

    Upon separating from the military, Joe spent some time trying to figure out where his passions lie. Ultimately his experiences led him to the University of Denver, where is is currently pursuing his Masters of Social Work. Joe is focusing his studies on Organizational Leadership and Policy Practice with a certificate in Animal Assisted Social Work. After graduation he hopes to do animal assisted social work with military and veterans.