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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

    Melissa Janiszewski, MSW Candidate

    More about Melissa

    Melissa Janiszewski is pleased to be an intern for the Institute for Human-Animal Connection for her final year at GSSW. Melissa is also a Youth Health Specialist for Denver Public Health. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Middle Eastern Politics and is a candidate for a Master’s degree at the University of Denver for Sustainable Development and Global Practice in Social Work, and will become certified in Animal- Assisted Therapy. Melissa has over ten years of experience in health policy and community economic development both in the U.S. and abroad. As the Youth Health Specialist, Melissa works closely with city and state agencies, youth, and project staff to lead a successful tobacco control youth-led initiative that monitors the way youth influences policy change, and is excited to apply her experience and passion to her new role at the Institute for Human-Animal Connection. Melissa lives with her two dogs, and enjoys seeing them take full advantage of what Colorado nature has to offer . 

  • Andrea Jennings Lawrence

    Andrea Jennings Lawrence, MSW Candidate

    More about Andrea

    Andrea Jennings Lawrence is a second year MSW student at GSSW, with a concentration in Mental Health and the Animal Assisted Social Work Certificate. Andrea earned her bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in Social Work from Northeastern Illinois University. Andrea volunteered with Canine Therapy Corps, a Chicago Canine Assisted Therapy organization for three years working with at-risk teens, burn victims, and physical therapy patients by integrating Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities. In addition to AAI, she also has worked for Denver's Arapahoe House in the detox unit as an addiction technician. Andrea is interested in the human animal bond and its impact on therapeutic interventions.  Outside of school activities  Andrea, her dog Jasper and her partner all enjoy hiking, camping and exploring the great state of Colorado. 

  • L'Jean Moody

    L'Jean Moody, MSW Candidate

    More about L'Jean

    L'Jean Moody is in her second year of her MSW program. Her concentration is mental health. L'Jean chose the University of Denver because of the animal-assisted  social work  certificate. Growing up, L'Jean had a variety of animals (bird, hamster, fish, lizards, snakes, and even a hedgehog). Her family always had a dog. L'Jean has always felt comfort and a strong attachment to dogs. She believes in their therapeutic abilities and wants to work to ensure their welfare. Currently  L'Jean has a  3-year-old  Shih Tzu named Elliot that is the light of her life and keeps her laughing.  L'Jean has been a team member on humanitarian groups that traveled to Haiti and Guatemala, and she spent six weeks in China working at the panda base (a dream come true for L'Jean) this  past  summer as part of a DU internship. She plans to continue pursuing international social work opportunities. L'Jean is very excited about the opportunity to learn more about animal welfare and the benefits of having a mutual respective relationship with a therapeutic animal.