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Meet Max, the cat receiving an (honorary) doctorate from Vermont State University this weekend

A photo of a brown and black tabby cat with white paws and whiskers stretching on a wall in front of a brick wall with the words Leavenworth Hall in metal lettering.
Kaitlyn Tanner
Max the tabby cat has become a fixture at Vermont State University Castleton, and on Saturday, he joins the class of 2024 with an honorary doctorate degree.

As Vermont State University Castleton graduates receive their degrees this weekend, so too will a tabby cat. The cat, named Max, is getting an honorary degree as a "Doctor in Litter-ature."

Once a feral kitten in the town of Fair Haven, Max has lived with his human mom, Ashley Dow, on Seminary Street in Castleton for the past five years. And for most of those years, he’s been venturing up to the university campus.

A black and white photo of a cat looking right into the camera with a person behind the cat.
Ashley Dow
Ashley Dow is Max's mom.

Up there, Dow says Max likes to ride around on students’ backpacks, to pose as a subject for the college photography class, and to generally provide campus emotional support.

"At one point, because he stopped going up to campus, they put up a shrine for him," Dow says, laughing. "It had candles and everything. And the picture of Max that they had printed out and put in a frame."

A photo of a cat sitting on a cushion on a white rocking chair on a porch.
Ashley Dow
Ashley Dow says Max the cat hasn't been venturing to campus as much recently and is instead lazing around on porches. But she's encouraging people to come and bring him back to the Vermont State University Castleton campus, to remind him that he likes it up there.

Dow says students actively look out for Max, and protect him.

"Max was getting attacked by feral cats in the neighborhood. And I put up signs, because I was asking them, 'If you see Max out and about after five, could you bring him home?' And students did actually bring him home," she says. "Or they — they have my number, and I'll get text messages from random students, it's like, 'He's OK, he's up by the greenhouse,' and all of that. So yeah, it's been pretty interesting to be Max's mom."

In a post on Instagram, Vermont State University celebrated the now-named Dr. Max Dow '24, writing that he's receiving his degree “with a resounding purr of approval from the faculty.”

The commencement ceremony is scheduled for Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m.

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Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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