Tara McKinney first noticed the cat wandering around campus three years ago. It was the morning of fall convocation at Saint Mary’s University, and Ms. McKinney had just marshalled a group of soon-to-be graduates into the ceremony. As she headed back outside through the main door of the McNally building, a tabby peered in from the top step.
“We didn’t – really pay much attention to it,” she recalls. “But then he started appearing in people’s offices.”
The cat, whose tag reads “Carlton T. Cat,” lives nearby in Halifax’s south end, but Saint Mary’s has become his second home. Most days he can be spotted perched atop the IT help desk, napping in a lounge chair in the Sobey School of Business, or making his rounds of McNally, where he visits Ms. McKinney in enrolment services. Sometimes he’ll even take the elevator down to visit staff in shipping and receiving.
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“He has his usual visits and his people he has to see,” Ms. McKinney says. “When he wants his alone time, he’ll find an office to curl up in to have a nap. When he wants to be social, he’ll go out and sit in McNally … or wait until classes change over and there’s high traffic, then he’ll get up and go into the hallway and people will go up and pet him.”
The university has embraced Carlton as its unofficial mascot and therapy pet. An engineering student at convocation once told Ms. McKinney that just before he went into his last exam, Carlton nosed up to him. A few pets on the head later, and the student went into his exam a lot calmer than he’d arrived. And when Ms. McKinney received devastating reports on Hurricane Dorian from her family in the Bahamas, she noticed that Carlton spent more time than usual in her office.
“I was in a really awful state, and two or three times that week he came into my office and sat on my chair or hung out on my windowsill,” she says. “It was just something little, but it helped.”
His presence has also helped to connect staff, students and faculty members who might not otherwise have a reason to meet. “I overhear people talking about him in the hallway all the time. If it’s a cold day or pouring rain, people wonder if he’s OK. People are very aware of him,” Ms. McKinney says. If she stops to snap a photo of Carlton for Instagram, inevitably someone else will stop with her to chat about the cat. “He’s brought people together,” she says.
Carlton’s fame has lately grown beyond campus. Posters supporting Carlton as a candidate in the 2018 student union election went viral, and he was later featured in a report on CBC News in Halifax. And, last winter, one of Ms. McKinney’s photos of Carlton was included in an exhibit called “University Cats,” mounted at the University of Groningen in Netherlands. He was featured with 13 of his peers, including Rolf from the University of Warwick in the U.K. and Groningen’s own Professor Dr. Doerak.