Doctoral Student Fellows

Hagit BrandesHagit Brandes, MA
Doctoral Student

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.




Maureen F-MMaureen Fredrickson-MacNamara, MSW
Doctoral Student

Throughout her career Maureen Fredrickson-MacNamara has incorporated animals in educational and social work interventions with children and adults struggling with disruptive behaviors, histories of trauma and overwhelming life challenges. During her tenure as Delta Society Vice President of Programs, Maureen developed training and handling protocols for horses and dogs in mental health and education programs and is creator of the internationally recognized Pet Partners program. She lectures widely about the critical role that animals and nature play in human health, development and well-being and methods of incorporating horses, livestock and companion animals in mental health and educational applications.

Maureen is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. Her scholarly interests include the development and treatment of medical life threat and PTSD in youth with chronic or life threatening illness, the application of animal-assisted interactions in social work practice, particularly for individuals with trauma histories and chronic illness, and animals as a dynamic part of the human social landscape.



Jen Pearson, MSW, MSc
Doctoral Student

Jen PearsonJen 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.