In just five years, a once feral cat earned an honorary doctorate from a prestigious university.

For university students, the sight of a cat or dog on campus often brings a comforting reminder of home. Max, a formerly feral kitten from Castleton, Vermont, has taken this role to a whole new level. In just five years, he’s become a master of relieving stress and boosting morale, so much so that he’s been awarded an honorary doctorate!

Dr. Max Is the Big Cat on Campus

Not long ago, Max the tabby was a feral kitten in nearby Fair Haven. He was very fortunate to find a loving home with Ashley Dow, who lives on a street steps away from the main entrance to Vermont State University’s Castleton campus.

Around the age of one, Max began making a habit of exploring the campus. One of the family, Kaitlyn Tanner attended the college and enjoyed seeing him there, along with his brother Flash, a tuxedo cat rescued from the same place.

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, Flash

Max with his siblings (Flash on the right) at home via YouTube/WCAX-TV

His exceptionally friendly nature endeared him to all the students, who eagerly anticipated his daily appearances. Over the next four years, he became a familiar face and has continued offering his emotional support services all on his own.

“I was asked, ‘What’s your affiliation with the college?’ I was like, ‘My cat is the emotional support animal,’” Ashley Dow said. “He likes to be carried around on backpacks. Students pick him up, and he crawls up on their backs.”

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 8

Images via Facebook/Vermont State University Castleton Campus

An Honorary Doctorate in Litter-ature

On May 19, 2024, the university presented Max Dow with a framed certificate, a Doctor of Litter-ature. The prestigious title wouldn’t be complete without “catnip perks, scratching post privileges, and litter box responsibilities that come with it.”

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 10

And the university bestowed Dr. Max Dow with “a resounding purr of aprroval from the faculty, the Board of Trustees, and the Vermont State Cat-leges.”

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 3

Images via Facebook/Vermont State University Castleton Campus

Unlike most students, the kitty’s diploma was hand-delivered to his Mom following graduation. 

Video by WBNS 10TV about Max’s honorary degree:

Frequently, Max joins students on campus tours. It’s as if he has an internal clock, somehow knowing when and where to meet them across the street.

“I don’t even know how he knows to go, but he does,” Dow said. “And then he’ll follow them on their tour.”

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 1

Dr. Max on campus via via YouTube/WCAX-TV

For visitors and guests to campus, seeing Max has been a meowmorable highlight of the day, which they’ll never forget!

“He comes out and actually greets most of our guests,” the university’s Brandon Kennedy told WCAX-TV. “He’ll follow them over to our old chapel where they’ll get their general welcome. And then when they start their tour, he follows right along with them.”

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 7
For the whole university community, having Max around makes campus life better. When he appears, students’ phones go down as they focus on a pawsitive moment in their day. That’s a diversion we could all use more of!

“You can see him lighten students up. Day to day, I look out my window, and I see him walking along , and I see students put down their phones and pick up Max and he jumps on their back and they’re taking selfies with him. He draws the crowds!” said the university’s Jessica Duncan.

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 6
Life for any outdoor cat has hazards, and it’s the same for Max. Once feral cats attacked him, prompting Dow to put up signs asking students to bring him home after 5 pm. He’s also been on ‘house arrest‘ for months when he became sick and sometimes gets too much food and treats.
Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 2

Once, students mistook Dr. Max for a stray, taking him to the vet. Fortunately, he soon returned home. 

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 4

With students leaving for the summer, a disappointed Max will be staying closer to home. But when he eventually realizes they’re back again in the fall, the family expects he will once more be the big cat on campus.

“Max’s ability to make people smile has expanded beyond Castleton and even Vermont. We’re so happy for our little buddy and his family!” shared the university on Facebook.

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 9

Returning students will definitely be on the lookout for Dr. Max. Once, when the kitty stayed at home for a few days, the students created a shrine for him. After being gone for a short time, he was sorely missed! 

“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,” she told a Vermont NPR affiliate.

Vermont State University's Castleton campus, Dr. Max Dow, campus cat, Doctorate in Litter-ature, Ashley Dow, Kaitlyn Tanner, Fair Haven, Vermont, feral cat earns honorary doctorate, tabby, 5

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