London Wolff, a third-year psychology Ph.D. student, is passionate about understanding animals and strives to do science that is beneficial for the community.
Wolff said she always knew she wanted to work with animals and began doing research about her potential career path — animal behavioral science — at age 12.
“I was like, ‘Where can I hang out with animals and do science?’ And I found out that you could study animals,” Wolff said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, this is an option... This is what I want to do for my entire life.’”
After living in 12 different states throughout her childhood, Wolff said she decided to attend Canisius College in New York, where she graduated with a degree in biology and animal behavior.
Wolff then went on to take a couple of gap years, doing research with various animal species.
“I actually went and hung out with some rhesus macaques, which are monkeys, in Puerto Rico on a little island and did some studies there,” Wolff said. “I worked at a zoo with some dolphins and orangutans and some other monkeys, and then I was like, OK, I know exactly what I want to do.”
Wolff decided to return to school after her gap years and struggled to pick between studying primates or dogs in her graduate education.
“I ended up picking dogs and I think one of the reasons why I love it so much is because it is a more ethical pursuit,” Wolff said. “The things I want to study are cognitive skills and there are no ways to test those in free ranging primates in the way that I want.”
Wolff said she was interested in UNL after looking into its Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab, a lab that combines psychology and animal behavior.
“One of the fascinating things about dogs is that they are new systems. They’re an animal that’s been around forever but that doesn’t have a lot of study,” Wolff said. “There’s a lot of opportunity for growth and being on the cutting edge of something, which I love.”
Wolff said she enjoys being a part of “more ethical” research that allows owners to bring in their dogs to be studied for short amounts of time before returning home.
“The reason you get into this research is because you love them, and you’re fascinated by them, and you’re so excited,” Wolff said.
Aside from her research in the canine lab, Wolff volunteers with Uplifting Paws, a Lincoln nonprofit organization that trains service and therapy dogs for a lower cost.
“I volunteer my time because of all the stuff that I’ve learned with dogs over the years,” Wolff said. “Through my understanding of decision making and how [dogs] think and understand the world, I found out I was a really great dog trainer.”
Wolff said she has been a dog trainer for the past seven years and has found a passion in training service, therapy and emotional support dogs.
“I also see the benefit of having more dogs, especially dogs that are well-trained, to perform certain tasks for the community,” she said.
Wolff said she trains dogs to be skilled in a variety of tasks, including tasks that allow dogs to aid with anxiety, depression or other mental health-related circumstances.
“If you can get that extra little help of this animal to interrupt your anxiety attack, or when you don’t get out of bed, your dog will go and jump and lay on a pressure point to reduce that anxiety... that can help so many people,” Wolff said.
The National Service Animal Registry estimates that it can cost about $15,000-$50,000 to buy a service dog, a price that is too high, according to Wolff.
“It’s so expensive to get these dogs and if you’re not working, how can you get one of these dogs?” Wolff said. “So I like to give my time to train so that people can get these dogs for a lot cheaper.”
Jeffrey Stevens, director of the Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab, said he has worked with Wolff as her graduate advisor since she began her education at UNL and has witnessed how passionate she is about her work with animals.
“She is curious about what makes them tick, but she is also very interested in how they can improve our lives,” Stevens said. “London is compassionate and committed to finding ways that dogs can help people in need with a clear eye on the dog's welfare.”