Last semester, Barnard announced a “Support Animal Policy” which allows students to keep a domestic animal in their dorms to provide them with therapeutic support. Bwog spoke to Kelsey Kephart, BC’14, about life with her adorable kitty, Inky.
Bwog: What was the process of getting a therapy cat like?
Kelsey: I thought it would be a lot more intense. It was strange because the wording [of the policy] was just that “someone who has authority” [had to recommend a therapy animal]. My doctor just wrote a letter saying “this is a pretty good idea” to Barnard. Then I had to get the cat’s vaccination records. I handed those in to the Office of Disability Services (ODS). Three weeks later, ODS told me I was approved. Then my suitemates had to be interviewed, to make sure they weren’t lying about wanting the cat. And that was it.
Bwog: What about housing?
Kelsey: I had a meeting with my RA and building’s assistant director, Frank. The way Barnard handled it was very funny. They keep telling you “don’t worry, we won’t tell anybody.” I mean, to be at Barnard/Columbia you basically need to have some kind of anxiety. And how many things could you be getting a therapy cat for? You don’t like the color purple or something? But that’s it. ODS told Frank that we went over the policy, made sure that I understood that I was the cat’s owner, I needed to clean the litter box, feed it, not kill it. Frank’s job was then to tell the building administrator and Public Safety.
Bwog: Sounds pretty easy.
Kelsey: It was pretty easy. It’s nice. Apparently I’m the only one at Barnard with a cat. Dogs are more popular at Barnard and cats are more popular over at Columbia.
Bwog: Tell me about your cat. What’s her name?
Kelsey: Her name is Inky. Originally her name was Becky. I don’t like cats with nicknames. If her name was Rebecca, it would’ve been fine, but it wasn’t. She does respond to it; if you call her name, she’ll come running. Inky and Becky sort of have the same intonation, so it works. She’s also jet black. I can’t find her at night.
Bwog: Is she friendly?
She’s aggressively friendly. She’ll wrap her tail around your leg. I trip over her all the time, she’s stupid friendly. I don’t know why, she was horrifically abused. I work at a cat shelter. This old woman had gotten her from Petco, because Inky was born with one eye, and the woman was afraid no one would want her and she’d be killed. When her owner passed away, about two years ago, her son kept her two cats in her apartment. They became feral because he never interacted with them. And when my colleague at the pet shelter came to rescue her, the guy just picked Inky up and threw her into a box. She wouldn’t come near him. And she’s very affectionate. So, that’s how she came to be.
Bwog: What’s the best part of having a therapy cat?
Kelsey: Umm, having a cat? She sits on my face, she likes her belly rubbed. It’s pretty great.
Bwog: What’s the worst part?
Kelsey: There is no worst part. I worked at a cat shelter, I was used to cleaning up after 30 cats, and that was not a big deal. This is just one cat.
Bwog: What do your roommates and friends think? Are they delighted? Are they jealous?
Kelsey: When I told them, I felt like a mother: “it’s not a guaranteed thing.” I think they’re pretty excited. I gave them free rein to come into my room and see her whenever they want. I’ll come in sometimes and there will be two girls I don’t know on the floor, playing with Inky. But it’s fine.
Bwog: I want a therapy cat.
Kelsey: Get one. It’s really easy.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.