When Harold Sims, a biology professor at St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida, retired from teaching, he decided to fill his time volunteering at a local animal shelter. Little did he know his life was about to change forever. What started as a way to pass the time turned out to be his life’s calling.
Part of what impressed him was this particular shelter’s setup for cats. It was different than standard shelters. “It was there that I first saw open sheltering in the form of outdoor units called kitty condos,” Harold says. “These were built on a concrete slab with chain-link fence around and little cat houses inside. A roof covered the top. People could go inside to meet the cats.”
After his wife retired, they resettled in North Carolina. Harold wanted to continue with what he had seen at the Florida shelter, but there was nothing like it in the area. It was up to him to build it. That’s when the Catman2 shelter came to fruition. “When I came to North Carolina to retire, the kitty condo was not an option due to the winter weather,” he says. “So when I got around to building a shelter, I wanted the cats to have the freedom of open space. Instead of installing cages along the wall, I built four large rooms where the cats could roam free and have space to run and play as they interacted with other cats.”
That was in 2002, and Harold’s cat rescue has seen more than 3,500 cats come through its doors. They come from all over, including rescued strays, surrendered pets and from the local county shelter, which euthanizes animals. There is no such fate for cats at Harold’s shelter, which is no-kill. Here, cats are not only safe, but they’re comfortable until they are adopted. Potential adopters are carefully screened before Harold allows one of his cats to leave the facility for a new forever home. It’s his goal to keep the population of homeless and unwanted cats and kittens in the area down. Finding homes is one way. Offering local people low- to no-cost spay and neutering services is another.
In addition to rescuing cats, Harold decided to share his love of cats to help educate the public. A collector of all things cat for 30 years, he opened a museum to share his artifacts. The American Museum of the House Cat features displays that include everything from art — including some dating back to the late 1800s — antique cat toys, vintage advertisements depicting cats and even an authentic cat mummy from Egypt.
Cat lovers are taking notice. Since opening in the spring of 2017, the museum has had more than 1,000 visitors come through its doors. “I have always liked museums, and I wanted to share my collection with the public to entertain and educate people about cats,” Harold says. “I am a born teacher.”
For more information, visit catman2.org/the-american-museum-of-the-house-cat.
Elisa Jordan is a Southern California freelance writer specializing in pets. She has a terrier, Gidget, and a cat, Izzy.
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