Therapy cat and UCF game day create ‘purrfect’ mix

Photo by Meredith Burow. Tortoiseshell therapy cat Juniper sits on owner Morgan Gobeli, UCF senior business major, in the UCF breezeway Saturday, prior to the “First Frost” football game. Tailgaters, game goers and anyone else just passing through were invited to take a moment to pet and spend time with the tranquil, green-eyed cat.

Most associate UCF game day with tents and T-shirts, coolers and corn hole boards, foam swords and painted faces. Cats don’t typically come to mind.

Juniper, a registered therapy cat, sat curled up in her pet stroller Saturday, offering comfort and cuddles to any interested passerby strolling through the UCF Breezeway. Her canine “brother” Casey, a black and white Dachshund who has yet to be registered as a therapy pet, meandered nearby.

Morgan Gobeli, a senior UCF business major, recently registered the 3-year-old domestic shorthair as a therapy animal, and she decided to bring the cat and dog to campus for a test run. If they did well with a small crowd, then she planned to bring them back during more stressful times, such as midterms week.

The trouble was, the crowd wasn’t so small.

“I kind of forgot about the football game,” Gobeli said. “And I wanted to test them out when it wouldn’t be so crowded. Obviously, it’s crowded, but they’re doing good.”

Juniper and Casey at the least allowed the attention and at the most welcomed it. Though many of the tailgaters passing the animals’ post on the way to Memory Mall merely smiled or acknowledged their presence, some took the time to actually indulge themselves in furry affection.

“Actually, I wish they were here more often,” said Alyssa Bowman, a junior UCF marketing major. “Anytime I see someone here with a dog or something, I freak out and run to go pet them.”

Juniper is Gobeli’s first therapy animal. Even though she only adopted the cat a year ago, it didn’t take her long to recognize the kitty’s natural talent for therapy work.

“My nephew’s actually living with me,” Gobeli said. “And I don’t know if you’ve ever had an 18 month old in the house, but it becomes apparent really fast what animals are cut out for therapy work and what animals aren’t.”

Gobeli said she noticed Juniper’s potential one day as her nephew tugged on the cat’s tail but received no growl, hiss or attack in return.

“I was like, ‘She’d be a really good therapy cat,’” Gobeli said. “And then, I did a little bit of research and found out that Pet Alliance … did therapy work for animals. And so I was like, ‘Why not get her registered?’”

The entire process cost Gobeli about $25, but she said the gift of sharing a therapy animal with others makes each penny worth it.

“It just feels good, and I get to show off Juniper. And I love showing off Juniper even though everybody says she’s fat,” Gobeli joked.

Gobeli said the fact that animals don’t really understand anything in our lives is their appeal, “because they don’t judge you.”

UCF junior Morgan Hager, a biotechnology major, was passing through the Breezeway when he decided to stop and play with Juniper before she left for the day.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Hager said. “Because you know, some people have anxiety and stress, and it helps them to relax.”

Hoping to help ease some of that stress, Gobeli plans to bring the pets back to campus. For more details, visit Juniper’s Facebook page, Juniper the Therapy Cat.