Dorm cats paw their way into students’ rooms and hearts

Sarah Evans

Molly Wilcoxson, Staff Writer

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Grinnell College life, some students are turning to an unlikely source to find a sense of community and purpose. Tucked away under dorm beds are Grinnell’s resident “dorm cats,” who provide students with a refreshing break from their busy schedules.

These on-campus pets are mutually beneficial for both the cat and the pet owner, said cat owner Leia Sohn `23. Sohn took in her pregnant cat, Sawdust, after finding her shivering in the cold outside of the STEW Makerspace. “I scooped her up and brought her home,” said Sohn, “and she’s been with me ever since.”

Sohn takes care of Sawdust using the limited space in her dorm. Underneath her twin bed is a litter box as well as a space set aside for when Sawdust eventually births her kittens. Scattered throughout the dorm are miscellaneous toys and treats for when Sawdust emerges from her hiding spot under the bed.

Leia Sohn `23 found her pregnant cat, Sawdust, outside of the Stew Makerspace. (Paul Hansen)

Sawdust is not the only one helped, however; Sohn, living in a single dorm room, said that she appreciates the company. “It’s nice to not always be alone … to know that there’s someone else alive in the room with me. Even if it’s just a cat.”

Hope Harrington `24 and her cat, Clover, have a similar relationship. Harrington adopted Clover from the Poweshiek Animal League Shelter (PALS) after struggling with her mental health when returning from studying abroad.

“Coming out of abroad, I was in a pretty dark place,” said Harrington. “I would say a big motivation was probably the moral obligation [of caring for Clover]. If I have a cat, I need to take care of it, which gives me more reason to exist.”

Hope Harrington `24, adopted her cat, Clover, from PALS. (Paul Hansen)

Both Harrington and Sohn spoke about how their cats helped with their anxiety, particularly while in college. “Grinnell can be really, really stressful and take up so much time,” said Sohn. “It’s nice to have a little companion with you who can help you de-stress.”

Not only do campus pets help their owners, but they also help the wider Grinnell community. Grace Gilday `25 lets her cat, Bong, occasionally roam around the Loose Hall lounge, socializing with nearby floormates.

“[Bong] is like a communal emotional support animal,” said Gilday.

Grace Gilday `25’s cat, Bong, is well known by her residence hall floor. Paul Hansen

Last year, while living in East Campus dorms, Gilday said that everyone on her floor would stop in at various times of the day to visit with Bong. In addition to providing cuddles for Grinnell residents, this interaction allowed Bong to become more comfortable with people and get the stimulation she otherwise would not have in a small dorm.

All three cat owners said that they believed that owning pets on campus allowed other students to connect with animals, especially while far away from their animal companions at home.

“A lot of people live so far from home,” said Gilday. “It’s not like I can go home very often and get to see my pet.”

Harrington said, “I’ve grown up with cats my whole life, so getting her has been very new but also familiar.”