Suspicious Stray Roams Around College Campus To Serve One Weird Purpose

When parents send their kids off to college, they usually give them a few pointers on how to stay safe. Don’t walk home alone at night. Watch your drink at all times. Don’t go diving off the roof of your dorm to celebrate the end of midterms. This is all pretty sound advice, but do any of these parents bother bringing up the threat of stray animals running loose on campus?

At one California university, students are constantly on high alert for one particular stray that’s called their campus home longer than they have. It might seem odd for an animal to settle down in a place filled with people, but at the sight of this furry resident, you’ll understand why so many have tried to seek him out.

Nestled along the California coast, UC Santa Barbara is one of few universities to actually have a curriculum to match its beautiful campus. Considered one of America’s Public Ivy universities, UCSB is regularly ranked among the top public colleges in the world.

UC Santa Barbara

Additionally, the Santa Barbara area also has one of the most diverse collections of wildlife in the state. Big cats, great birds, and even sea lions call the area home, some of which can even be found in the areas surrounding UCSB.

But despite its beachfront views, academic pedigree, and local wildlife, there’s one main reason that the UCSB campus is constantly buzzing with activity — and that reason’s name is Big Boy.

The UCSB Current

For 15 years this orange-black cat has called UCSB home, though his origin remains a mystery. He simply just showed up outside of the campus biology labs back in 2005, perhaps left behind by a staff member who could no longer keep him.

The UCSB Current

Regardless, Big Boy has become a celebrity among those at UCSB, his courtyard home drawing dozens of visitors each day. Katie Title, an animal lover and academic advisor for the school’s College of Engineering, is one such visitor, though her relationship with the cat goes beyond mere admiration.

Katie Title / Facebook

After first visiting Big Boy on her lunch breaks, Title opted to become his official caregiver when a group of concerned students brought the famous feline to a local vet. As he wasn’t deemed a stray, Title volunteered to watch after him so he could remain on the UCSB campus.

The UCSB Current

But caring for Big Boy isn’t a one person job: the adorable cat has a whole team of volunteers dedicated to his wellbeing. A feeding log posted in his courtyard ensures that Big Boy always has a full belly, and when his nails get too long, someone is always there to clip them.

In fact, there are those that keep an eye on Big Boy even during the holidays. Title once returned to campus on Thanksgiving to make sure he was fed for the long weekend only to find him stocked with food and still getting regular visitors.

The House Where The Black Cat Lives

Strangely enough, Title usually has no idea who these volunteers are or how many of them are out there. All she knows is that whenever she’s worried about Big Boy, she can always find him with a fresh bag of food and a smile on his face.

Dman0323 / Reddit

Yet caring for this beloved feline takes more than just a bowl of cat chow and a pair of nail clippers. Big Boy also requires regular visits to the vet, and his routine teeth cleanings (which require anesthesia) can get pricey.

Title has been generous enough to pay for most of Big Boy’s procedures out of pocket, though she did start a GoFundMe page to collect donations for his care. Fortunately, fans of the lovable cat have been more than willing to help out to keep Big Boy in tip-top shape.

Katie Title / GoFundMe

When the rainy season comes around, Big Boy’s care falls into the hands of groundskeeper Carl Anderson. A UCSB employee for 25 years, Anderson sets up a homemade wooden shelter for Big Boy each winter and makes sure it’s stocked with straw to keep the cold at bay.

According to Anderson, there was a time at UCSB when five or six strays lived on campus, though they were all spayed or neutered shortly after being found. He believes Big Boy and a fellow campus stray named Solo are the last of these cats, making their care a top priority.

El Camino College Union

But looking after Big Boy and Solo is almost like caring for family, which is why Anderson has stuck around all this time despite being eligible for retirement. “Interesting enough, they kept me here,” Anderson said. “The cats have been my compass.”

The UCSB Current

Like with Anderson, Big Boy also serves to bring comfort to many of the UCSB students. Those homesick for their own pets will often visit his courtyard with a handful of treats, guaranteeing a whole lot of affection from this fluffy little guy.

The UCSB Current

In a similar way, students also use Big Boy as a therapy animal, visiting him when the stress of higher education is just a little too much. Some visitors even leave notes behind, with one such message reading, “Thanks for the much-needed kitty therapy… finals suck.”

The UCSB Current

But while Big Boy has been a regular sight at UCSB for well over a decade, Title and the cat’s other caregivers acknowledge that he won’t be around forever. Even now, the 16-year-old feline has started napping around his courtyard more than he used to.

WantCookie / Reddit

“I hope that when it’s time, he gets to retire from campus and live comfortably,” Title said of the aging cat. “[But] as long as he is moving around and eating, he is living a good life and has no reason not to be here.”

Katie Title / GoFundMe

Until his retirement comes, however, Big Boy will continue to bring joy to all those at UCSB — and Title will be right there with him. “I’m in it until he retires or I retire,” the caregiver said. “He gave me a lot of lunchtime companionship, and this is my way to pay him back.”

Animal Shelter Assistance Program

The UC Santa Barbara campus isn’t the only unusual place you’ll find an adorable feline. In the neighboring state of Nevada, one cat is making people skirt the Silver Strip entirely for an experience far more memorable than any sit-down at the slots.

When people think of Nevada, they often think of one thing: Las Vegas. The bright lights and allure of Sin City are known far and wide, yet the great state of Nevada has plenty more to offer than cocktails and poker tables.

Just north of Vegas lies the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, a railyard dedicated to the preservation of the state’s rich mining and locomotive history. Set along a section of Route 50 known as the “loneliest road in America,” the museum became a major point of interest, though not for reasons you might think.

Nevada Northern Railway Museum

While plenty of train enthusiasts and history buffs visit the museum for the mid-century locomotives and machinery on display, the majority of visitors come for something else entirely…

Blackbaud Knowhow

Meet Dirt, the resident railway cat and official mascot of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. An 11-year-old stray, the Ely train yard is the only home this adorable feline has ever known.

In fact, Dirt was actually born in the depot, his mother having wandered in and delivered her litter beneath one of the trains. But when she and her babies eventually made their way from the railyard, one frightened kitten was left behind.

The yard workers attempted to coax the young orange-white cat from his hiding place, but no matter what they tried, the kitten just wouldn’t budge. They knew they couldn’t just leave him there to wither away, however, so the workers left a can of tuna for him every night before closing up shop.

Eventually, the kitten began warming up to the men, and before they knew it, he was a regular member of their crew. The little cat’s fur began to turn a dusty grey as he rolled around on the dirt floor and climbed over the trains, and so the workers called him “Dirt.”

“At a young age, Dirt learned not to lick himself clean, like normal cats,” said Eric Mencis, the museum’s social media director. “Being part stray, he likes to stay oily and dirty because it helps keep him tough looking and also in a sense keeps him clean because things don’t stick to his fur and bugs don’t go near him.”

Along with his dashingly dirty good looks, the workers also felt that Dirt’s personality was one of the reason’s why he fit in so well at the depot. To Mencis, it was almost like he was a rail worker stuck in a cat’s body.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

“Dirt is pretty much one of those old-time railroaders living now as a cat,” he said. “Dirt walks around the shop like he’s the boss, making sure everything is working right… He walks with a sense of pride around his engine house like these are his trains, and he is proud of the men to keep them going.”

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

Yet Dirt wasn’t always the well-known and beloved mascot that he is today. For a time, only those who worked and frequented the train yard and museum knew about him, and even then, he was just plain old Dirt.

Travel Nevada

But with the addition of Mencis and his social media efforts, word of the adorably filthy feline began spreading like wildfire. Surprisingly, however, Mencis initially made no conscious effort to make Dirt a star: instead, it happened totally by accident.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

“I first posted Dirt about 2 years ago, and he got some attention from people who have already met him,” recalled Mencis. “Then one day I posted Dirt on a quiet day and said Dirt wants to travel the world, share him and tell us where you are from. It took off and his fans started building.”

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

From there, it was only a matter of time before cat lovers the world over began flocking to the museum for a chance to catch Dirt in action. However, according to Mencis, getting the dirty little furball to make an appearance is no easy task.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

A curious little guy, Dirt is often attracted to the sound of people talking, so the museum encourages guests to make plenty of noise if they’re looking to see him. Visitors are also told to let Dirt approach first, as he’s apt to feel you out before curling up against you.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

“[He’s an] old tough railroader on the outside but still a sweetheart on the inside,” Mencis remarked. “Our guided tours can last about an hour long [and] it is common for Dirt to follow the entire group for the tour.”

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

Dirt’s popularity has grown so much over the years that the museum started offering Dirt-themed souvenirs. With t-shirts, keychains, and even his own brand of coffee available for fans to purchase, it’s almost like taking a little piece of Dirt home with you.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

But for Mencis, it’s not just about getting people to visit the museum or order a few cat-shaped refrigerator magnets online: he’s just glad that Dirt is finally getting all the love and affection he can handle. And with a face like that, he definitely deserves it!

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

“I do love when Dirt gets shared other places without the museum’s name attached,” said Mencis. “The biggest thrill of Dirt’s fame is just knowing how much joy he brings to people around the world.”

Steve Crise

Seeing the kind of attention that Dirt gets so regularly, the life of a museum cat sure seems like an enviable one. Yet for one beloved pet at a small Russian gallery, his worldwide celebrity nearly cost him his life.

Master & Margarita

For the most part, the guests that visit Moscow’s Mikhail Bulgakov House Museum want to see a showcase of literature — a memorial to the influential author of the Soviet Union. Others visit the museum for another reason.

Travel Notes

It’s not that the 200 or so daily visitors don’t want to see items including postcards, books, and photos that belonged to the once-banned, Kiev-born author. There’s just another attraction that steals their eyes — and hearts.

A huge, 13-year-old, fluffy black cat named Begemot — Russian for Behemoth — wanders the museum. And somehow, in a typical, nonchalant cat fashion, he weaved himself into the very fabric of the museum. His conquest started in 2005.

Saba Ayres / Los Angeles Times

It was then that a Russian couple — and the original owners of Begemot — discovered terrible news: their newborn baby was allergic to the then-kitten. The two, regrettably, couldn’t coexist.

Sent packing with nothing but the fur on his back, the then-unnamed cat moved into the Mikhail Bulgakov House, where the museum director promptly gave him a tough job.

Bulgakov House / Facebook

The job was to lay around. Be cute. Act as the living embodiment of a character from Bulgakov’s, right, famous 1930’s magical-realism novel, The Master and Margarita. That was no easy task.

The character in The Master — a black cat named Begemot, depicted below — walked on two feet, played chess with the best of ’em, slammed vodka like a seasoned sailor, and tended to mouth off. Back in the museum, Begemot didn’t exactly excel at the role.

Instead of drinking and cursing, Begemot lays in the sunshine and goes for regular walks at about 11 a.m. Despite not meeting his job description, the museum rewards him handsomely.

Free room and board await him every night, a “chef” specially prepares his meals, and personal veterinarians and stylists respond to his beck and meow. And he repays the museum in a big way.

Begemot attracts visitors who want to pet him, pose with him, and purchase the Begemot-themed merchandise that pepper every shelf, cabinet, and wall. In just a few years, the museum became about the cat as much as it was about Bulgakov.

Sabra Ayres / Los Angeles times

But notoriety brought danger. On August 1, 2018, the museum received a rare message on its website: “Why have you let your cat out?” it read. The museum director, Nikolai Golubev, panicked.

Nikolai took the message as “a veiled threat.” Still, no museum employee thought twice when Begemot walked lazily past the front desk and outside at about 11 a.m. And two hours later, he never showed back up. Uh oh.

Then, a woman working in a nearby office visited the museum and confirmed their worst fears: a strange woman picked up the cat while he was napping and took off down the road — towards the crowded Mayakovsky metro station. Was she fleeing?

Museum employees sounded the alarm. Rushing to Facebook, they sent out a message: “An employee of Bulgakov’s House has been abducted!” Because of the cat’s enormous fan base, the news spread like wildfire.

Within minutes, social media users shared the museum’s declaration nearly 3,000 times. Moscow-based newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets blared the headline: “The most famous cat of Moscow…was kidnapped right in the center of the capital.”

Museum employees, social media users, and museum visitors wondered if the cat had been smuggled onto a train out of town. Had the heart and soul of the museum truly been snatched while taking a sunny snooze? Had Begemot been catnapped?

Relief came five hours later. Local police called the museum and informed employees that the catnapper left the “harsh-tempered” grump on the steps of the Mossovet State Academic Theater just up the road. He wasn’t exactly dancing with glee at his rescue.

Still, police officer Vyacheslav Bulavin scooped up the cat, certifying that, on the surface, he looked unharmed. Finally, Moscow released its collective breath when a photo of the officer with Begemot turned up online. But questions remained.

Who had taken the poor cat? Why? And where had the catnapper fled to? Russian authorities and leaders (okay, not really) had no answers. Begemot demanded attention, and he got it — good and bad! So how’d the cat fair from this whole debacle?

Just 24-hours later, Begemot’s personal veterinarian stopped by the museum, where guests and employees no doubt celebrated his return, to give the cat a look over. After all, catnapping can take a tole on a grouchy cat. The expert’s conclusion?

Begemot “is healthy and feels great,” the museum said, noting, however, that he was a bit “discontent.” Begemot was back to his old self. Talk about a tough-minded cat. And so…

With the ordeal behind him, Begemot went back to work, snoozing in the afternoon and sticking his belly up when he very clearly did not want it rubbed. In other words? He gave the people who came to see him exactly what they wanted—and they gave him attention!

Mikhail Bulgakov House Museum / Facebook

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