Cats prove to be purr-fect distraction for online classes


Courtesy of Maureen Kenny

Biology teacher Maureen Kenny’s cats, Gingerale and Dr. Pepper, have been a welcome addition to weekly classes.

While online school may not provide the perks of socialization, it does have one benefit: cat cameos. 

Since online learning restarted in September, many students have noticed an influx of appearances from pets, particularly cats. From the occasional tail wave to a meow interrupting a sentence, household cats have taken their place on the screen. 

Junior Evan Russell has two cats named Bread Pudding and Muffin. They are both around four months young. While Bread Pudding is more camera-shy and is more accustomed to interacting with Russell’s sister, Muffin is the opposite.

“Muffin tries to sit right in front of my face quite often. Unfortunately, that means sitting on the keyboard sometimes, and she has hit keys which have messed up whatever I was working on,” said Russell.

Though managing Bread Pudding and Muffin can sometimes be a hassle, they have become a comforting part of Russell’s online school experience. 

“Overall, it is nice to have them sleep on my lap during class, since I can pet them, but it usually does get uncomfortable after about an hour,” said Russell. 

Junior Ike Salinsky can relate. He currently has two cats, a tuxedo cat named Dexter and a tabby cat named Luna. 

Salinsky describes his cats as having juxtaposing personalities. 

“Dexter always wants attention and is very needy and Luna would rather stay away from people most of the time,” he said. 

Another thing to know about Dexter, other than the fact that he loves the spotlight, is that he loves cheese.

“[Dexter] also does this weird thing where if he hears me open string cheese he will run to me and stand on his hind legs until I give him some of it. There was one class where he decided that he wanted to sit on my back, so he jumped up onto me,” said Salinsky.

Despite the cheese antics, Dexter’s and Luna’s presence have even alleviated an aspect of the anti-socialness of online school.

“One of the worst things about online school is that it’s lonely. It’s a full school day of sitting alone in your room. Having my cats around doesn’t replace the friends that I’m used to having, but it definitely makes it more bearable,” stated Salinsky. 

Even teachers enjoy their presence. 

“My math teacher [Aisha] Beck loves cats…Whenever she sees a cat she will stop the class and ask the student what the cat’s name is. Once she knows the cat’s name whenever she sees it she’ll say ‘oh there’s Dexter’ or something along those lines. I think everyone needs a break from the monotony of online school sometimes and cats doing dumb things on kids’ cameras can be a welcome distraction at times,” Salinsky said. 

Senior Soren Westrey’s cats also get lots of attention from Ms. Beck, as well as his English teacher Jordan Gutlerner.

Ms. Beck has a strong affinity for cats and will often ask to see them at the start of classes. In my English class with Mr. Gutlerner, after a few pets all ended up on the screen, [Mr.] Gutlerner invited everyone to show and talk about their pets, including himself,” said Westrey.

Westrey and his twin, Leo, have a total of three cats. 

“Neptune is an old orange tabby. Silcox and Jupiter are two sisters. They are both black,” explained Westrey.

All three have a tendency for interrupting class frequently, around once every two days.

“First, they just walk up and sit on my keyboard or desk. I have been told that they do this because they like to try to do what you are doing. Second, if a teacher who has grown to know them asks to see them I will try and find them,” said Westrey.

While sometimes these interruptions can be irritating because of their curiosity messing up the keyboard and any papers, the sweet animals have brought a positive factor overall to the bleakness of online learning.

“Having a cat, and I’m sure any cat, definitely makes online school easier. Spending a few minutes with a cat between classes helps me decompress and prepare to switch to a new topic,” said Westrey. “While of course not humans they can also act as company when we are so cut off from our peers.”

However, cat appearances have not only come from students’ pets. Many teachers, too, recount moments of interruption from their furry friends. 

Biology teacher Maureen Kenny has two cats, both 6 months old, known as Gingerale and Dr. Pepper (Pepper for short). After hearing that one of her students had spent the summer fostering cats at a rescue center, she got in contact with the agency and adopted two. 

“They are often sleeping or fighting nearby! Since they are still kittens they can be very rambunctious and curious,” she stated.

Rambunctious and curious indeed! Gingerale and Dr. Pepper have made quite the presence during bio classes.

“One of my cats makes a guest appearance about once a week. If the cat comes nearby while I am teaching, sometimes I pick them up and share [them] with the class. A couple of times when I was making videos for the class one of the cats entered the view. One time a student in a small group specifically asked to meet a cat and of course I obliged!” Kenny recounted.

In addition to making classes more interactive for the students, Kenny also believes that having her two cats around has made this fall much more enjoyable and personal. 

“They keep me company and they are always doing cute things, which makes me happy. I also love it when students share their pets in their video shots. It just makes everything feel more personal and homey,” she stated. 

English and IB teacher Amanda-Jane Elliott can relate. She currently has one cat named Sneaky McDevious, a name that pays homage to his personality, who she adopted from the Humane Society shelter three weeks before Oregon’s first COVID-19 lockdown in March. 

In Ms. Elliott’s words, “He’s enough cat for anybody.” 

McDevious is quite the energetic cat, but the likelihood you’ll get a peek of him during online class is quite rare. 

“Most classes he’s about four feet to the left of me… he tends to perch on the windowsill or there’s a box below my feet he likes to sit in. He’s in the room 75 percent when I’m teaching, but it’s only occasionally he makes a guest appearance,” she said. 

Though McDevious does not like to steal the spotlight, Ms. Elliott recounted one of the many memorable times that cat owners have united online. 

“I think people love seeing pets. I kind of wish Sneaky would come on more. The other day I was in a group and [Jillian St. John] had her cat, so I went to go get Sneaky. And then Leo and Soren’s dad brought their cat!” she recounted. 

Though everyone’s cat experience is unique to themselves, there’s one sentiment that is common throughout. Cats sure have made our new indoor lives more interesting and bearable. 

“Even though he’s a nuisance, every day I am so glad I have got him,” said Elliott. “Mainly it is just me in the house. He helps me do planning for classes because I talk to him and he keeps me occupied.”