Who knows what the black and white cat was thinking when it arrived on American University’s campus.
Perhaps it was kicking around the idea of a political science major. Or considering a career in international affairs. Maybe it just realized that a lot of college kids eat chicken fingers, which they might be willing to part with if a fluffy, four-footed friend came along.
Whatever the case, this cat — known as Wonk Cat, or the Wonk Cat, if you prefer — has settled in at American, in Northwest Washington. It has become a film star, and it is the subject of tweets from the university’s president. It has a special cat dorm room, set up near a campus building. Here at American, Wonk Cat has found a home.
“Most people on campus seem to really love this cat,” said Jordan Redd, a 21-year-old rising junior at AU. “It’s become a big part of American University’s culture.”
For Stephanie DeStefano, American’s grounds operations manager, this tale of a tail began in the fall, when she noticed piles of cat food in planting beds on campus. Why this was happening, DeStefano did not know. But every day, more food would be there.
“I was becoming concerned about this,” DeStefano said. “Because I didn’t want it to attract unwanted critters.”
Then DeStefano spoke with Erin Robinson of the Humane Rescue Alliance. Robinson told DeStefano she had been getting calls about a friendly cat hanging out on campus. Which prompted a deeper investigation.
“It made sense now, why I was seeing that cat food. So I started to hang out there a little bit and talk to students,” DeStefano said. “It wasn’t long before I had the pleasure of meeting Wonk Cat, who the students had already adopted and named. I have no idea where she came from. Or, actually, if it’s a she or a he.”
Robinson came to American and visited with Wonk Cat, who was already sterilized and vaccinated. A short time later, a feeding station was placed on campus, as was a little cat shelter with blankets and insulation.
“Wonk Cat chose to live in a fairly busy area in terms of foot traffic, but that’s where it wanted to be,” Robinson said in an email. “Lots of people (students, faculty, staff) began to see and look forward to seeing Wonk Cat.”
That following included Alice Bershtein, a rising junior at American, who said she encountered the cat on the way to class one day. She had heard rumors about this cat, some stray wandering around campus. People had snapped pictures of it, though the cat was not yet a “popular concept” on American’s campus.
“It just came up to me, and I was running late for class, but I figured, hey, it’s a cute cat,” said Bershtein, who directed a Wonk Cat video project. “And it clearly wanted to be pet. So I petted it for a couple minutes, and then I ran off to class.”
Please, Alice, describe this cat.
“She is a tuxedo cat; she has the white feet and the white on her chest,” Bershtein said. “But she’s much fluffier than most tuxedo cats. And she has a lot of white on her face, and a very pink nose.”
Wonk Cat can be a bit wary, Bershtein said. Not super energetic. The “prissiest outdoor cat” that Bershtein has ever seen. But pretty loving.
“She definitely accepts lots of pets from lots of different people. She does not have any interest in being picked up or anything,” Bershtein said. “She kind of got in my lap, once, but it was more that she was just standing in my lap.”
Wonk Cat is not the only cat on American’s campus. A second feline was relocated to the grounds during the winter. That transfer cat, Max, is not exactly pals with Wonk Cat yet, but perhaps we should give this more time. Max is a tiny guy, Bershtein said. He is a black cat, lean and long.
“He’s much more forward and friendly,” Bershtein said. “The first time I met him, he got on my lap and wouldn’t get off for 20 minutes.”
American is not the only animal-friendly campus. Websites for Texas A&M University and the University of West Florida mention cats. And the cats at American have a dog ally not far away in Gus, a very good boy who belongs to John Garvey, the Catholic University of America president.
Gus is a mellow dog. He does not bark. Doesn’t nip or bite. He will chase squirrels. When Garvey or his wife are on campus, Gus will tag along and hang out with students. Students can sign Gus out, too.
“So kids, students, will just show up at the front door, and buzz and say, ‘Can I take Gus for a walk?’ ” Garvey said.
Back at American, there was, quite recently, a brief period of time when the Wonk Cat sightings stopped. It was not in the dorm room when a reporter visited the cat house. Do not panic, because Wonk Cat’s (relieved) caretaker said this week that the feline had been spotted on campus.
DeStefano, the grounds operations manager, said that on some days, students would “almost be lined up” to pet Wonk Cat, who has picked a prime location on campus to settle in. Her office is filled with cat food, which people donated.
“College is a very stressful experience and kind of makes you feel alone,” said Bershtein, the rising junior. “There’s something about animal companionship that is so soothing and reaffirming. . . . I feel like the Wonk Cat kind of serves that purpose.”