At the close of each school year, most institutions announce a student lightheartedly voted “most popular”.
Until a cat named Simba decided this honor was meant for him. He graciously accepted this recognition for the past 19 years but sadly, crossed the rainbow bridge on June 27 at the age of 21.
School staff, town residents and students, both past and present, have forever been changed by the loving feline who unofficially ran the school.
In 2000, the ginger boy approached Tina Soucy, a new math teacher at Westbrook High School in Maine, as she was setting up her classroom. She grabbed some cat treats that were in her car, initially meant for her own cats, and instantly bonded with the boy. Simba showed no fear and followed Tina right into her classroom located on the first floor.
From that day on, Simba was a regular, likely earning a special attendence award too! His is owner joked that “we often say that Simba would have a Ph.D. by now if he would just stop napping in class.”
Eileen Shutts is Simba’s official owner, living just a few blocks away from the school. Simba initially belonged to another family who allowed him to roam the safe neighborhood, winning over the hearts of everyone in the area. When the family moved, they didn’t want to take Simba away from his larger “adoptive” family. This is when Eileen stepped in and happily became his mom.
Simba was content as an indoor cat at night, comforting Shutts’s daughter at bedtime. But each morning when she left for work, Eileen would cave to his demands to be let out to go about his daily routine. Knowing he was safely looked after by the entire community, Simba had many angels to monitor his whereabouts.
Eileen had the personal phone numbers of the custodial staff and would ask them to send him on his way if it was time for Simba to come home at night. Teacher Ms. Soucy admits that if the weather was bad, she would drive Simba home at the end of the school day.
He frequented city council meetings, supurrvised neighbors during their yardwork and even had his own chair in the guidance counselors office at the school. Knowing he needed to solidify his station and “purrmanent hall pass”, he wisely snuggled up to superintendent Marc Gousse, who was treated to a cuddle session each morning.
While attending class, students gladly gave up their textbooks when Simba decided they made a comfy bed.
The stresses of high school are likely well-remembered by all. Having Simba around admittedly brought a calming presence to all who met him. Even the students who suffered allergies and were safely kept at a distance from the orange cat, didn’t mind accepting him as a classmate.
So cherished by all, students and staff elected Simba as the subject of their annual art fundraiser in 2013. Simba related artwork and photographs taken of the handsome feline helped raise hundreds of dollars more than previous years. The kitty muse made national headlines and won the hearts of the world.
Eileen shared the heartbreaking news on her Facebook page this week of Simba’s passing. The beautifully written tribute honors the special feline that brought a town together.
Replies and reactions from hundreds of past and present students and nearby residents flowed in. One neighbor shared her recent interaction with the friendly cat.
“On Tuesday morning Simba came trotting up the driveway as Ryan & I were getting into our car to head to work. I hadn’t seen him in a while and he was a lot thinner than I had remembered but when he came by and I scratched underneath his chin I saw his bright shiny new name tag with his name on it and exclaimed to Ryan “it’s Simba!” We spent a moment saying hello & then he sauntered over to our back steps, as he had done many a times, to sit a hang out. I am so thankful we had one last moment with him. He was an amazing cat and the Franceschi’s will miss him terribly.”
Westbrook High School also shared their sympathies for the family on their Facebook page, complete with emotional photos and memories of their honorary school mascot.
Likely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support the Shutts family has received, they still humbly show what an amazing family they are. They have requested that anyone who would like to celebrate Simba’s life please consider donating to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Simba’s memory.
R.I.P. Simba ~