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Wags in the Rag

I have always had a soft spot for cats, having three of my own at home. It might not, therefore, come as much of a surprise that this week, I want to once again introduce one of Oxford’s college cats. This week, it is only right to follow on from looking at Simpkin, Hertford’s college cat, to his nemesis, Walter of Exeter College, though I will return to their feud later. Amy Gregg, former DPhil student and Junior Dean at Exeter, as well as Walter’s ‘human’, was kind enough to answer some questions for me on this piece from her own perspective.

Walter, named for the college’s founder, Walter de Stapledon, came to Exeter in 2020, during the first COVID-19 lockdown, when the college was largely deserted. Missing her pets at home, and after a failed attempt to pet Simpkin, Amy approached college to ask if she could get a cat to keep her company. By coincidence, the college had been considering getting a cat for some time, and so Walter, as a kitten, came to live in Exeter. Though he’s now well at home in the college, even having his own pidge slot in the mail room, he spent his first evening hiding behind kitchen cupboards and had to be lured out with YouTube videos of cats. 

Pets have been around the college for some time unofficially, with the Head Porter’s cat often seen wandering around the Porters’ Lodge. It’s no doubt, though, that Walter is one of Oxford’s most iconic pets, even having his own Instagram account and, alongside Simpkin, being one of Cherwell’s Top 40 BNOCs. Though he can sometimes be very affectionate, he is described aptly in three words as ‘On his terms’, as he alone decides who can pet him and when, in typical cat fashion. I remember, back in Trinity of my first year, coming across him late in the evening and attempting to pet him, only to be completely blanked. Thankfully, he has been much more receptive to others.

When he’s not sleeping in the college library, to the joy of students in essay crises, he’s prowling around the grounds, and even warding off invaders. The famous Simpkin v. Walter saga of February 2022 saw Simpkin frequently invade the college library and even fight with Walter. Stealing Walter’s food and water, it is no wonder why Simpkin was banned from Exeter’s college library, though this was defied many times. Walter, however, came out as the people’s cat, winning an Instagram poll and with many even on Mumsnet declaring themselves #TeamWalter. Justice was, therefore, eventually served for Walter.

Walter is another example of how truly beneficial it can be to have a pet around college. From keeping students company during the lockdown, to being a library study buddy, or even just being around for students who miss their pets back at home, he is certainly a core part of the Exeter community. With an Instagram now maintained by current students and being cared for by the Porters’ Lodge, Walter will be at the college for years to come, playing an important welfare role in such a stressful academic environment like Oxford. Like his counterparts at other colleges, therefore, Walter once again shows the clear benefits of having furry friends around at Oxford’s colleges.

Image credit: Amy Gregg, Instagram: walter_the_exeter_cat

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