Westbrook High School cat becomes a star in national media

Posted April 04, 2013, at 3:14 p.m.
Last modified April 04, 2013, at 3:57 p.m.

WESTBROOK, Maine — By late morning Thursday, Simba was already bushed.

The 15-plus-year-old, plump ginger cat who has been arriving every morning at Westbrook High School, roaming the hallways and fraternizing with students for more than a decade, had been thrust into stardom when a story about a school art show in his honor began receiving national media attention.

“It’s been a rough week for him,” Westbrook math teacher Tina Soucy said. “He’s famous now.”

When Soucy was hired 13 years ago, she let Simba follow her into her new classroom while she carried in boxes. He’s been coming back every day since, arriving by 7 a.m. and making the rounds. His favorite classroom is still Soucy’s, but he also frequents the guidance office and the district central office, which is in another building on the campus.

“He knew what he was doing, because he made friends with the superintendent,” Soucy said. “He’s here very early in the mornings, and oftentimes stays through the night. I’ll sometimes find him curled up on my chair when I arrive in the morning.”

Simba, who school officials said had already been followed by multiple television crews during the past week, was exhausted by the time the lunch bell rang Thursday.

He needed his rest, because on Thursday afternoon, he was scheduled to be the guest of honor at a school art show. Community members who make donations at the exhibition, which will go toward funding more art supplies for the students, will be given products decorated by Simba-related art made by students and faculty.

Among the items donors could take home are notecards, 8- by-10-inch reproductions of artwork and a DVD featuring a video and slideshow dedicated to the cat.

“It’s just a little art show, but it’s become a big story,” said Westbrook art teacher Carol Connor.

Local ABC affiliate WMTW ran a segment about the cat, and footage of Simba followed the viral path nearly synonymous with the term “cat videos.” News of the four-legged high schooler was picked up by national news websites like the Huffington Post and Yahoo! News.

Soucy said teachers believe Simba is at least 15 years old — maybe as old as 17 or 18 — and although he appears to be in good health, they realize he’s pretty old for a cat.

“We didn’t want him to just go away someday and never be recognized for what he’s brought to the school,” Connor said of the motivation for the art show. “The climate and culture here, he just elevates it.”

Since 2006, Simba has lived in a home a few blocks away from the school with Eileen Shutt, who adopted the social cat from the Foye family, who’d moved out of the neighborhood but didn’t want him to be too far from his favorite haunt.

“We often say that Simba would have a Ph.D. by now if he would just stop napping in class,” Shutt wrote in a short biography of the cat posted among the paintings, drawings and photography in the now-famous art show.

Simba has been known to frequent city government meetings, sporting events and band practices on the school campus — in addition to his regular classroom visits.

“He walks on [students’] desks, lays on their backpacks and listens to the lessons,” said Soucy.

So has Simba learned any math from his favorite teacher?

“I don’t know,” Soucy, who keeps some food and water in her classroom and occasionally drives Simba home in bad weather, said. “Although one time, when I was teaching quadratic equations about four years ago, he covered his face in his [paws]. I said, ‘Somebody needs to get a picture of that.’”

These days, there are no shortages of Simba pictures circulated on the Internet. And Simba finds all the hubbub exhausting.