Meet the Team!

Principle Investigator

Dr. Lee Niel

Associate Professor & Col KL Campbell Chair in Companion Animal Welfare

Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, email:, phone: 519-824-4120 x53030

photo of Dr. Lee Niel

I joined the Ontario Veterinary College in 2010, and my current research and teaching are focused on the behaviour and welfare of companion animals. I am a biologist with training in animal behaviour, animal welfare and behavioural neuroscience, and I have expertise with both laboratory and companion animals. Most of my current research is focused on understanding and preventing fear and aggression in cats, dogs and rabbits, but I am also interested in a variety of other topics. For further information please see my departmental homepage.

Current Students

Current Students on stairsteps, with one of them holding a ginger cat

Courtney Graham (PhD Candidate)

Photo of Courtney Graham

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College. I completed my BSc in Geography at the University of Victoria and my MSc in Applied Animal Biology studying the social behaviour and welfare of laboratory zebrafish in UBC’s Animal Welfare Program. In the fall of 2017, I moved to Guelph to begin my PhD, where I am researching feline behaviour and welfare. I am investigating the effects of socialization and early management strategies for identifying fear behaviour in kittens and assessing this behaviour’s progression through development. I am particularly interested in the interactions between fear and development of temperament, owner and foster parent attitudes and influence on kitten behaviour, and how socialization can help reduce fear and promote successful adoptions and enhance the human-animal bond. The overall aim of this research is to advance our understanding of fear behaviour in kittens and cats and improve their welfare in the many shelters and homes within which they live.

Carol Tinga (PhD Candidate)

Photo of Carol Tinga

I am a PhD candidate studying owners’ attachments, relationships, and interactions with their pet rabbits and other social and environmental factors associated with natural, highly motivated pet rabbit behaviours and additional aspects of pet rabbit retention and welfare. The goal of my research is to set pet rabbits and their owners up for success by identifying underlying, contributing factors. My background is in the sciences (BSc biology, biomedical sciences; MSc population medicine) and arts (BA studio art). Before beginning the PhD program, I worked as an epidemiologist in human and animal health, an artist, and a simulated client for the OVC Medical Communications Program. I also assisted university faculty and graduate students with writing projects. Vespa, a darling lop-eared rabbit, inspired my research as I pondered how to give her a good life. 

Quinn Rausch (PhD Candidate)

Photo of Quinn Rausch

I am a PhD candidate currently studying the effects of early management and maternal care on puppy behavioural development, specifically fear and competition, in the Department of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College. I received a BScH in Animal Biology from the University of Guelph in 2018 and joined the OVC Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Lab the following fall. Having discovered my passion for research while working as a research assistant a great deal during my undergraduate degree, I was thrilled to find a field of study that focused on animal’s subjective experiences. I am currently the Co-President of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare Student Chapter and a member of the OVC Medical Communications Program’s simulated client team. I have a huge passion for animal ethics, behavioural science and dog training. Animal welfare and behaviour science is a field I would like to continue a career in, and I hope to put my military and academic experience together to improve the military canine socialization and training program upon graduation. I am thrilled to be contributing to a body of research that will hopefully improve canine welfare and the human-animal bond.

Kristina O’Hanley (PhD Candidate)

photo of Kristina O' Hanley

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College. I initially completed my BSc in Biochemistry, but after working in various capacities for the Guelph Humane Society I switched fields and completed my MSc in the area of applied animal behaviour and welfare with Dr. Lee Niel. My MSc research examined how the early rearing environment influences fear and aggression in cats reared in foster care as kittens. For my PhD I am examining how cats respond to different types of petting, and what factors influence the development of petting-related aggression.

Alumni (selected)

PhD Program:

Anastasia Stellato (MSc 2016 & PhD 2019) – Assistant Professor in Companion Animal Science at Texas Tech University (2021)

Carly Moody (PhD 2018) – Assistant Professor in Animal Welfare Epidemiology at University of California Davis

Hannah Flint (PhD 2017) – Applied Behaviour Senior Research Scientist at WALTHAM Petcare Science Institute

Lauren Dawson (PhD 2016) – Postdoctoral Researcher with Dr. Stephanie Torrey at University of Guelph

Jacquelyn Jacobs (PhD 2016) – Assistant Professor in Animal Science at Michigan State University

MSc Program:

Samantha White (MSc 2019) – Animal Care Associate at Guelph Humane Society

Melissa Speirs (MSc 2015) – Manager of Farm Animal Welfare at BC SPCA

Julia Espinosa (MSc 2016) – PhD Candidate, Psychology, University of Toronto

Megan Toner (MSc 2012) – Veterinarian, Burnhamthorpe Animal Hospital

Mark Kotipelto (MSc 2011) – Senior Commodity Advisor, Farm Products Council of Canada