Class with a Cat, or Cat with Class?
It’s no secret—but not a widely known fact either—that Smith Hall has a resident cat named Cookie and a dog called Bennett the Beagle, both who often make guest appearances. These pets belong to Katherine Koudele, Professor of Animal Science and Chair of the Department of Agriculture, and Garth Woodruff, Assistant Professor of Horticulture and Landscape Design, respectively.
Koudele originally adopted Cookie last spring when the cat was pregnant so that she could use her in an ultrasound lab for a class. When finding a permanent home for Cookie fell through, Koudele made accommodations for the cat in Smith Hall after receiving permission to do so. Not surprisingly, since then Cookie has made herself a regular in the classroom, along with Bennett’s occasional attendances.
“He [Bennett] is really low-key, he just kinda tags along,” said Woodruff, who sometimes brings his dog to work for convenience and the simple pleasure of having a canine buddy nearby. It is commonly known, and supported by research, that a purring cat or tail-wagging dog has a positive effect on a person’s mood and stress levels. Students might remember hearing about the Kittenpalooza or Dog Therapy destressors on campus before finals, and anybody who has joined in on the event can attest to a pet’s effectiveness in making one’s day just a few degrees brighter.
Both Woodruff and Paul Kim, Associate Professor of Documentary Film, “absolutely agree” that the university should support having pets in the classroom—with moderation, of course. Having a campus-wide invasion of pets would be nothing short of a cat-astrophe.
Aside from students’ paw-sitive feedback, there are a few negatives that may accompany having a pet in the classroom.
Kim said, “It can be a distraction,” and referenced moments when “everybody’s snapping pictures of the cat.” Koudele recounts when Cookie “wants to bat at [students’] pens or wad up the papers or lay on their keyboards, but they don’t seem to mind. And I don’t think anyone’s grades are suffering because of it.”
These momentary lapses in concentration seem inconsequential to the social connectivity that these pets make possible in the classroom.
“We’re the animal science department…if we don’t have plants and animals in here we’re doing something wrong,” Woodruff said. While it certainly makes sense in this particular department, Koudele said, “It wouldn’t necessarily be right for everybody.”
“Pets and animals tend to bring out another dimension in people. They break down barriers,” Kim said.
With the department’s united fondness of Cookie and Bennett, it seems like this cat and dog will continue bringing fluffy happiness to students in the foreseeable future.