Lifestyle Pets, Animal Welfare

Spotlight On: American Museum of the House Cat Helps Fund Finding Forever Homes for Stray Kitties

Opening Day

By Gina Malone

When Harold Sims and his wife retired in Florida, they had plans to open an antique mall in Brevard, but a whitewater kayak paddling course led them to settle in Cashiers instead. Along with the pristine waters and the natural beauty, however, they found a large population of stray and feral cats. A nearby animal shelter would not take more cats. “When I tried to help, I was told that this was dog country and that nobody wanted cats because the barns were full of cats, and people got their cats there,” Sims says. “So I started to trap the strays and tried to adopt them out. I took some to Brevard, where I was known, and I took some back to Florida where there was a rabies outbreak and a need for stray cats from a rabies-free area. Later on, I converted a shed on my property and, in effect, opened the first private cats-only shelter in the area.” His initiative grew in the ensuing years until, by 2002, he had a 4,000-square-foot shelter in Cullowhee called Catman2 Shelter.

Captain Patch at the carousel exhibit

The shelter’s services include low- to no-cost spaying and neutering, aid to low-income families and a trap, neuter and return (TNR) program for feral cats, as well as small mammal wildlife rehabilitation. Throughout the years, however, Sims had harbored another interest: opening a cat museum. “I learned that there were no cat museums in America and I made up my mind to open one in the future,” he says.

The project would take many years, but, finally, in 2017, he opened The American Museum of the House Cat in Sylva. As one of only two cat museums in the country and only nine in the world, it attracted thousands of visitors annually until the antique mall in which it was located went out of business. A new space located and reopening date set, he was forced to hold off in 2020 when the pandemic began.

Last month, just before Sims’ 88th birthday, the museum reopened in Sylva. Included among its collection are an Egyptian cat mummy, two petrified cats (from a medieval home in England and the king’s palace in Saudi Arabia), eight antique carousel cats, 15 showcases of cat-related items and more than 400 works of art. The museum is the fulfillment of a dream for Sims, but, on the practical side, its proceeds, after paying operating costs, go to support Catman2 Shelter.

The shelter’s manager, Kaleb Lynch, began his work there as a volunteer in 2010 and began working full-time the following year. “I love working closely with the animal control officers and pulling sick, injured, and special-needs cats from the county shelter, helping them get the care they need and finding them loving homes,” Lynch says. “Without Catman2, the county would be overrun with homeless and feral cats with no other option. We help our community be a better place by helping the animals and the people who care about them.”

Mr. Lahey, left and Thora

Two of the rescued felines—Thora and Mr. Lahey—have become office cats while they await adoption. Both experienced heartbreaking neglect and mistreatment before coming to the shelter. They are, Lynch says, “true miracle kitties.” Thora, found on the side of the road, came to the shelter on Easter of 2022 underweight, covered in maggots and with a raw and ulcerated mouth. “She was just waiting to die, unable to eat or drink or clean herself,” Lynch says. “I slept on the floor of my office with her for a week before I felt like I could leave her through the night. Today, she is a beautiful, fluffy, healthy and happy girl.” Mr. Lahey was left with sensory processing issues after his recovery from ingesting an unknown toxin, but today he, too, is a happy cat, says Lynch. Over the years, Sims has personally funded these projects from his own retirement, from “frugal” living and from donations. His wife of 59 years helped also until her death two years ago.

Sims retired from a career as a professor of ecology and continues his role of educator by writing books for young readers about cats. Sales from these imaginative tales—the latest is The Mystery of the Egyptian Mummified Kittens—help fund the museum.

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1 Comment

  • We need to raise money to enlarge the museum and increase the collection We have had over 120,000 visitors in the past year to The Ameican Museum of the House Cat I want it to be America’s Museum of the House Cat

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