When Jimmy Carter McGill walks onto Pellissippi State Community College’s Blount County Campus, students just “melt” onto the floor.
The local celebrity walks around like he owns the place. Faculty and staff lure him into their offices with toys and treats. He makes himself at home on their bottom shelves.
Now Jimmy Carter McGill, a 14-pound Maine Coon cat, is featured in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Life Lessons from the Cat,” published earlier this month. The story was written and submitted by his owner, Betsy Boyd, a longtime counselor on Pellissippi State’s Blount County Campus.
Included in the book’s chapter titled Who Rescued Who?, “Jimmy Carter McGill” recounts how Boyd came to adopt the stray cat at a grief-stricken time in her life and have him certified as a volunteer with Human Animal Bond in Tennessee (H.A.B.I.T.), an animal-assisted therapy program sponsored by the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
“It’s a very rare kitty to have the confidence and composure to go visit people in a variety of settings,” H.A.B.I.T. Program Coordinator Ruth Sapp said at a celebration of Jimmy Carter McGill held at Pellissippi State’s Blount County Campus on Thursday. “I am just so proud of you guys.”
Boyd started bringing Jimmy Carter McGill – named for both former President Jimmy Carter and fictional character Jimmy McGill in the television series “Better Call Saul” – to the Blount County Campus around three years ago, she said Thursday. It was Blount County Campus Dean Holly Burkett who recognized his potential as a H.A.B.I.T. animal, Boyd noted.
“I said, ‘I’ve never seen such a friendly cat! You may want to check into (animal-assisted) therapy,’” Burkett recalled Thursday.
Boyd did just that, driving to Chattanooga for a H.A.B.I.T. informational meeting. With the blessing of Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., all five of Pellissippi State’s campuses became official H.A.B.I.T. facilities that can host H.A.B.I.T. animals at any time, not just during final exams week, as had been the college’s practice.
“This is just the coolest and greatest program,” said Pellissippi State Assistant Vice President for Student Services Elizabeth Firestone, who was director of Counseling Services when Boyd adopted Jimmy Carter McGill and went through the H.A.B.I.T. certification process.
“Jimmy helps students de-stress and relax, but I have to tell you: the faculty and staff go gaga for him,” Boyd added.
Jimmy Carter McGill still visits the Blount County Campus for one hour once a week, even though Boyd retired from her full-time job with the college last year.
“Interacting with an animal helps to reduce stress and releases happy hormones,” Boyd explained, noting Jimmy Carter McGill visited a nursing home for 10 months in addition to his work on the Blount County Campus. “Wherever we go, Jimmy brightens people’s days and brings a smile to their faces.”
“Jimmy Carter McGill coming on campus equals happiness, smiles and student engagement,” she said. “People are sitting on the lobby floor, petting Jimmy, de-stressing.”
Boyd compares Jimmy Carter McGill’s volunteer work to the humanitarian efforts of one of his namesakes – and told President Carter that in a letter.
“I got a little note back from him in his handwriting,” Boyd said. “He said he was honored to have such a special friend as a namesake. It was very sweet.”
Now, with the publication of Jimmy Carter McGill’s story in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Life Lessons from the Cat,” Boyd has other ideas “percolating.”
“I can see a whole series of children’s books about Jimmy Carter McGill,” Boyd said, listing off some possible titles based on the cat’s adventures. “I just definitely need an artist!”