Willow the therapy cat provides paw-sitive vibes

Occasionally, you might arrive on the third floor of Warch Campus Center on a Tuesday evening after a long, arduous day of class; following your arrival, you might notice a gray mass of fur flitting to each hand as you start to comprehend that that “mass of fur” is just a cat eagerly greeting people. You quickly tell yourself that you are just imagining said “cat” and that you’re just “seeing things.” It isn’t until you come back later in the evening to see the cat sitting on people’s laps that you realize you really weren’t hallucinating from academic exhaustion and mild abandonment of lunch. The question is, are you willing to greet that gray cat? 

If one would like to meet Willow, she arrives at Warch’s third floor every other Tuesday from 5–6 p.m. The opportunity to meet with Willow offers a unqiue experince to interact with a cat oncampus if one is missing an animal at home or just wants to be accompanied by Willow.  

Upon meeting Willow, one might notice her features: her long gray fur encompassing her, her eyes observing her surroundings underneath that large set forehead, which is described as “protruding” by Willow’s handler, Alvina Tan, who affectionately describes the forehead protrusion as something akin to that of a Klingon’s from “Star Trek.” Regardless, one can’t help but be mesmerized by Willow, as there is something intrinsically charismatic about her demeanor.  

Willow the therapy cat, surrounded by students eager to pet her. Photo by Liz Boutelle.

Willow was adopted from the Neenah Animal Shelter seven years ago, in Sep. 2017. At first impressions, Tan was surprised by Willow’s composure, recalling that Willow didn’t even cry in the car ride home from the shelter.   

Tan hasn’t always been what you would call an “animal person.”

“I used to be a little fearful of cats, which fear usually comes from a lack of understanding,” Tan shares. “Willow is actually the perfect cat for anyone who is uncertain if they may or might not like cats; she’s the perfect cat to just come and just hang with and get a little bit more familiar [with]. She might help overcome your initial fears of cats.” 

Tan states that Willow can sit, shake paws on command and even knows her name when called. Willow isn’t Tan’s first cat; she adopted, leashed and trained her first cat, Hamish, before Willow. She gives credit to her prowess as a trainer to Hamish, who was “actually quicker” than Willow when it came to learning new tricks.  

 Tan noticed Willow’s innate ability as a therapy pet when Willow calmed Latte, a “former feral kitten” who refused to come out from under the bed after a trip to the vet.

This was when Tan started to research the concept of therapy pets. She decided to register Willow because she “fit the criteria.” Tan specified that she didn’t “officially get registered until Dec. 2018” for Willow to become certified a therapy cat. Through their journey together, Willow has made it possible for Tan to “go beyond her comfort zone”; the two experience situations together that Tan wouldn’t normally get to experience on her own, as “Willow acts as a liaison” for her.

For those interested in meeting this therapeutic feline, you can meet Willow on the third floor of Warch next Tuesday, Feb. 20 from 5–6 p.m.