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Lights on Laurentians: Legends Never Die

Worn and tired, Kokadjo, also known as Shmooples, lays on one of the red and yellow Adirondack chairs in the backyard of 18 Elm Street.

“Shmooples– tst, tst, tst– come eat,” Haley O’Brien ‘18, encourages the aging cat.

Shmooples lifts his head, then lowers it back in his curled up position. He refuses to stand, move, or socialize anymore.

Sadness and concern falls over Haley’s face. “I don’t understand why he won’t eat!”

Haley waits for an hour, observing the still feline. Every now and then, she looms over Shmooples for a few seconds, then resumes her position on the red splinter-filled chair. “I just want to make sure he’s still breathing.”

It was 17 years ago when the miniature four-legged creature entered 18 Elm Street. Katie Parker ‘03, begged her parents to let her bring her new Maine Coon kitten to St. Lawrence University for her sophomore year. With some reservations, she packed up the new companion, all of his belongings, and they were on their way. With green piercing eyes and a salt and pepper coat of fur, Kokadjo won the hearts of the sisters of Chi Omega.

Named after a town in Maine, Kokadjo was instantly welcomed into the sorority house. The girls fawned over the cat and felt an instant connection. Roaming aimlessly and exploring the various floors of their house, Kokadjo was loved by all of them.

He was not a shy cat. Kokadjo was vocal, adventurous, and loved to hunt. Known as one of the most spoiled and admired cats, he often cuddled up to sisters on the couch or in their beds. They grew to love and care for him and accepted him as one of their own.

As the daffodils bloomed and the Spring of 2003 quickly approached, Katie was faced with the tough decision of post-graduation plans. Where would she end up? Would she have a job? A place to stay?

Katie made a list of what she needed to begin her life in the real world, but started realizing she didn’t need a lot of the material items she collected over the past four years at St. Lawrence. She slowly packed up her car with the help of her parents and sisters after the long week of chugging booze, daily celebrations hosted by St. Lawrence, and the two and a half hour graduation ceremony. Box after box, filling the car piece after piece like a puzzle, Katie was sure to collect all of her belongings to take home. But she left one thing behind – Kokadjo.

As May turned to June, the days grew increasingly hotter. Kokadjo sat outside the door of 18 Elm waiting for the familiar smile of one of the sisters and the comfortable embrace of the home. It took a few weeks before he was picked up by one of the neighbors, Mikhail Fischer. Mikhail observed Kokadjo pacing back and forth in the sun beaten grass looking for any little type of shade. He was hungry, thirsty and overheating. Mikhail felt it was his responsibility to make sure the cat was taken care of.

Sitting in the backyard of Chi Omega, or Kokadjo’s home away from home, Mikhail scoops the frail, 19-year-old cat, and cuddles close to him. “He is one of the meanest cats we’ve had,” Fischer laughs, pulling the squirming cat closer into his chest. “But he has settled down in his old age.”

Kokadjo often strolls around the St. Lawrence University campus. His sickly look and slow pace attracts students with worry. Known as the campus cat, Kit Kat, or even Shmooples, the students continuously spoil him because they think he is an abandoned pet.

“I thought he was a homeless cat that liked to hang out on campus,” says Ashleigh Carey ’17. “I would bring him to my room in Dean and feed him crackers or chips, or whatever was in my room that day.” While this is a common misconception around campus, Shmooples, or Kokadjo is well taken care of.

The University is also aware of the presence Kokadjo has on campus. Campus security is notified when he has been missing for a few days and its personnel is asked to pass along the message to the Community Assistants to keep an eye out for him.

“Okay guys, so we were told that Shmooples, or the campus cat, has been missing for a few days. Please check to make sure he isn’t in any of your residence rooms as he does belong to someone,” Lauren Stemler, Resident Director, announces to a room filled with CAs.

It was the fall of her Junior year when Heidi Pearson ‘17, was on a mission to find Kokadjo. It was reported that he was missing, but students had been posting photos and videos of the hostage cat on Snapchat.

“I had to go to four different rooms in Dean last year. I followed the Snapchat trail, actually, because people were snapchatting him going from room to room,” Pearson chuckles and rolls her eyes. Later in the same year, Pearson had to break the news to a few first-years that they did not in fact save a cat, but kidnapped one. “I found him in Gaines with the students and they were feeding him cheese doodles, pizza crust and a bowl of milk. I told them he had to go outside when he finished his meal and the group of students were rather sad about it.”

Katie Lumbard ’16,  a St. Lawrence University alum who lives in Canton, remembers sitting in her writing class sophomore year and watching a fellow classmate carry Kokadjo in her arms. The girl claimed the cat followed her into the building and she felt bad releasing him back outside, especially in the cold. Katie would just laugh and shake her head.

“He loves the attention of the sorority and people on campus,” Mikhail explains. “He used to walk with us when we would walk our dogs on campus so he too could be pet and spoiled.”

The once adventurous, indestructible cat has now turned vulnerable and frail. With matted fur and bones peaking through his skin, Kokadjo stays close to home. His once quick pace has slowed to a slight trot. His days are spent, not exploring campus, but basking in the sun and laying in the comfort of the Adirondack chairs that reside in the backyard of 18 Elm. When he does muster up the energy to socialize with students, he makes it no further than Atwood Hall, which sits just across the street from the sorority house.

“Kokadjo is frequently mistaken as a stray, especially recently with the obvious weight loss,” Mikhail says with a chuckle. “He is often brought to animal shelters in the region by St. Lawrence students, even when he has a collar on.”

Kokadjo has not only fallen victim to old age, but has been recently diagnosed with bone cancer. With this particular type of cancer, it makes it hard for the cat to move or walk, without it being extremely painful. His bones are swollen and sore and there was a large dense mass around the tumor. He spends his days sleeping and not eating because of the pain he is in, but is spending his remaining time at the sorority house.

“We pay for the food and vet bills,” Mikhail explains, “but Kokadjo is undoubtedly Chi Omega’s cat.”

About the author

Maggie Roberts