Cat roams university campus for 4 years, gets doctoral degree (2024)

Max the cat has hitched rides on top of students’ backpacks, participated in campus tours and more than once has sauntered into a psychology lecture at Vermont State University’s Castleton campus.

The 5-year-old tabby is even listed on the staff roster at the university, where he has his own email address.

So it seemed like an obvious next step when the university bestowed an honorary doctor of ‘litter-ature’ degree upon him, making him officially part of the graduating class of 2024, in addition to being a staff member. Max wears many hats, said Rob Franklin, a photographer and social media manager for Vermont State University.

Last spring, Franklin had just started working at the university when he noticed the cat was everywhere, and he was treated like a celebrity.

“I was talking to a colleague outside Woodruff Hall — the main building on campus — when I noticed this cat wandering around and everyone greeting him,” Franklin said.

“I said, ‘What’s the deal with the cat?’ and I was told he came to the campus every day to socialize, then students would take him home when it got dark,” he said.

Max lives down the street from the main entrance to campus with Ashley Dow and her family, but he rarely hangs out at home, Dow said.


Ever since she started letting Max outside when he was 1, he’d head straight to the college campus and soak up the attention from students.

“He usually goes over in the morning about 8 when I go to work, and he’ll come home in time for dinner, or one of the students will come over and drop him off,” said Dow, a special-education teacher.

“He’ll let anyone pick him up, and everyone loves to love on him,” she said. “You can see the stress melt off the faces of the students when they see Max running toward them to be held and petted.”

Franklin snapped some photos of Max and posted them on Facebook last fall under the heading, “Who is Max?” He also posted a story about Max that was published in 2021 by the student newspaper, the Castleton Spartan.

“The photos received such a positive response that I was planning to use one of them to congratulate this year’s graduates in a social media post,” Franklin said. “But then I thought, ‘What if we just made Max a part of the [graduating] class?’”


Max had been roaming around campus and its 4,000 undergraduate students for four years — the same amount of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, he said.

“We don’t hand out doctoral degrees here, but I thought it would be fun to give Max one,” Franklin said, noting that Vermont Public Radio covered the story.

He had a diploma made with corny cat puns, then posted it on Instagram in advance of the university’s commencement ceremonies on May 18. The photo in the post showed Max wearing a cat-sized graduation cap.

“With a resounding purr of approval from the faculty, the Board of Trustees of the Vermont State Cat-leges has bestowed upon Max Dow the prestigious title of Doctor of Litter-ature, complete with all the catnip perks, scratching post privileges, and litter box responsibilities that come with it,” the diploma reads.


Students and faculty support Max’s academic accolades.

Ali Impomeni, a junior majoring in media and communications, said Max seems to appear on the days she most misses the four cats she left at home in Albany, N.Y.

“He purrs and follows me everywhere — he’s just the friendliest guy to everyone,” she said. “It’s hilarious that he now has a doctoral degree — but he really deserves it.”

Impomeni, 20, created a small shrine to Max two years ago when he wasn’t coming around as often in the winter due to cold weather.

“Everybody was missing him, so I put up a picture of him in a frame and added some candles,” she said. “We were all happy when it warmed up and we started seeing him again.”

Dow said when Max first started visiting the campus, she decided to put him in a sweater with a note attached, telling students he wasn’t a stray and not to overfeed him.


“I also asked them to drop him by the house if they saw him after 5,” she said.

She said she’s happy that Max brings joy to students who are homesick for their own pets.

“Everyone looks out for his welfare,” Dow said. “If they don’t see him for a few days, I’ll get a call from somebody on campus, checking up on him.”

Max enjoys following students through automatic doors and once ended up sitting on the college dean’s desk, she said. Another time, her easygoing feline came home smelling of perfume.

“Everyone considers him as their emotional support animal,” Dow said. “He’s a cat who loves life and loves attention.”

She and Max’s fans said they don’t expect that his honorary degree will go to his head.

“We decided not to parade him onstage to get his diploma, because we didn’t want to stress out the cat, and we also didn’t want to overshadow the students’ accomplishments,” Franklin said. “Max seems just fine with that.”

Cat roams university campus for 4 years, gets doctoral degree (2024)
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