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Op Eds

What If CAMHS Could Purr?

By Sidnee N. Klein, Crimson Opinion Writer

I think I should start by saying: If you saw me sobbing outside of Lamont Library the other day, no you didn’t. From there, I need to inform you all that the orange cat that wanders around campus has magical powers.

The first time he approached me, as I sat unhappily on the steps of the church across from Pennypacker, I thought it was a strange but sweet and comforting coincidence. Between sniffles, I would scratch his small, warm head and watch him dart around looking for mice.

A few weeks later, I was ranting to my dad over the phone about something incredibly inconsequential when I felt something bump against my shin. Who was there? It was none other than my tabby friend — a meeting that was once again odd, but soothing.

A month after this, I found myself standing on the steps of Lamont Library at approximately 11:52 p.m. the night before my midterm paper was due. Feelings of inadequacy were consuming me; I felt like my control of the English language was gone and I just needed to talk to someone. I decided to call my sister. Not 10 minutes into my impromptu sibling therapy session, I heard a small purr. Walking straight toward me was none other than my good friend Remy.

At this point, Remy the Harvard Cat is something of a niche microcelebrity, with nearly 12.3 thousand followers on Instagram and plenty of fans on campus. As it turns out, he’s more than an adventurous little feline who occasionally needs a break from his family — he’s also my on-call therapist. (Kidding. Mostly.)

I’m sure Remy’s appearances at the scenes of my minor breakdowns had less to do with me and more to do with the fact that they all took place within a roughly 0.1 mile radius of his stomping grounds. Still, there is little room to deny the relief that his simple presence brought me in each of those instances.

But Remy’s magical powers have implications that extend far beyond my own situation. His ability to comfort students — even at the most obscure hours of the day — demonstrates the way that animals may function as a valuable mental health resource at Harvard.

Students across campus experience higher rates of depression and anxiety than the national average. A 2020 report from the Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health described a widespread toxic culture at Harvard that prioritizes competition and busyness over wellness. And with the wait time for an initial appointment with the Counseling and Mental Health Services currently at around six weeks, it is clear that the resources Harvard currently provides cannot adequately address the mental well-being of students at the College.

This is where CAMHS might learn a lesson from Remy the Harvard Cat.

Over the last few years, animal therapy has become increasingly popular in nursing homes, hospitals, and college campuses, supported by a growing body of experimental evidence. In the short term, interactions with animals have been shown to relieve people’s stress by reducing cortisol levels. Over a longer period, continuous exposure to animal therapy has been shown to produce similar stress-relieving results that last up to six weeks after the program ends and to improve executive function in at-risk students.

The value of pet therapy is also evident in its flexibility. Some students might view structured sessions with a counselor as another obligation, almost like a different class they have to attend. This can be counterproductive, as busy schedules and floor-length to-do lists are often the main causes of student anxiety and stress. For most people, playdates with pets don’t feel like an obligation.

Simply put: Animals make people happy, and happy students are less likely to fail.

Harvard Medical School’s Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, which is located in Boston, hosts weekly “Countway Cuddles” sessions on Mondays and Thursdays where students are welcome to visit with therapy dogs. As lovely as this program is, its location makes it difficult for undergraduates to access on a regular basis. CAMHS also used to offer a biweekly animal therapy program called PAWS, but it was minimally advertised, and since the start of the 2021-2022 school year, it has only been offered as a one-time event rather than as a recurring program.

While recent efforts to address student well-being have been heartening, they are not enough. The University is more than aware of the mental health crisis within the student body, and more accessible methods of mental health care need to be made available on campus. If Harvard chose to develop a more robust animal therapy program, it could ameliorate student mental health concerns while simultaneously alleviating some of the load on an already-overburdened CAMHS.

None of this is to say that we should have golden retrievers and calico cats constantly roaming the Yard – it would totally steal Remy’s spotlight. But maybe it’s time Harvard invested in a few more therapists with tails for the sake of student mental health campus-wide.

Sidnee N. Klein ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Pennypacker Hall.

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