No hard felines here


An orange blur races around the room, circle after circle after circle, making me almost dizzy just watching it.

Suddenly it jumps on top of chairs and flies across the room to land on another one. When a hoop is held in the air, the blur goes through it before landing flawlessly on his feet. He then rests on the lap of a student and cuddles into their arms.

Meet Frederic, a 1- year-old orange tabby currently employed as the Animal Friends group mascot, who’s ready to make a big impression on students. If he could speak, he would no doubt encourage them to visit him at the Wellness Center on the NVU-Johnson campus.

Frederic currently spends his days being spoiled with treats and petting by both students and Moira Sheridan for doing tricks and being a team player. The Animal Friends group was created by Sheridan, who was formerly a Vet technician and says that she wanted to bring that into her second career where she could have animals with her, because they really do help facilitate the counseling process.

Sheridan says that Animal Friends was in part an antidote to the social deprivation of COVID, because the virus had been so isolating for students and it was a nice way to get out of the building and get to the Wellness Center, where Frederic holds court in the group room.

“There’s ten chairs in there, we bring him in, we dump the toys out,” she said. Then Frederic becomes involved with the group. Sheridan points out that there’s social interaction, but it’s not therapy per se.

“Sometimes I will structure things and we will talk about topics if it seems like there’s a theme each week,” she said, noting that students begin to share with each other, and the cat, in her opinion, makes the atmosphere comfortable for everyone.

Sheridan wasn’t entirely sure how Frederic would react to being on campus. “He’s only a year and with that separation of time I was like well he may not want to be around other people. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

But her worries were quickly taken away once Frederic ran right to the group room and to his box of toys. Sheridan also stresses the importance of keeping in mind the welfare of the animal and the welfare of the people in the room, so the now-beloved tabby is not entertaining and being entertained constantly.

The Center also offers drop-in sessions with Frederic, which are shorter appointments, and which, while not counseling, are beneficial nevertheless.  “[These] are for people who are missing their animals, love their animals and need that connection to animals, to just pet [Frederic] and spend time with him,” she said.

Sheridan hopes that Animal Friends can achieve something more and hopes that the Johnson campus becomes a campus that’s animal friendly, which she feels will ideally evolve over time.

Students from the Animal Friends group have praised both the initiative and its star player.  “Animal Friends is good for people’s mindsets, and being able to see Frederic is amazing,” said Alexandria Alexander. Another student from the group, Jenevieve Migliore, noted that her visits to him always make her day better.

Director of the Wellness Center Kate McCarthy wants to encourage students to come down to the Wellness Center and emphasizes the importance of checking in with their mental health. “Supporting your mental health supports your academic work and supports your social health and everything going on for you,” she said.

McCarthy also noted that during COVID there may have been barriers keeping students from coming down and they possibly didn’t know how to access the Center, which is readily available for students.

Students don’t have to be in a crisis or have something really horrible happening to avail themselves of the Center’s services. Mental health, she says “is just part of who we are and our experience as humans.”

As far as groups other than Animal Friends, another option is the Tree Talk group, which McCarthy says is a great opportunity to get out on campus and do a little meditation.

Meanwhile, back at Animal Friends, Frederic offers this word of welcome to those considering a visit: “Meeeeow.”