Eileen Shutts had cellphone numbers for the custodians at Westbrook High School, and they all had hers. If her orange cat had not returned from his daily wanderings in the halls of the high school by dinnertime, she would text the crew to send Simba home to her house on nearby Monroe Avenue.

Simba, a beloved figure at Westbrook High School, died Wednesday. “If I couldn’t find him nearby, I would head to the school and nine times out of 10, he would be there,” said Eileen Shutts, his owner.

“If I couldn’t find him nearby, I would head to the school, and nine times out of 10, he would be there,” said Shutts, 57.

Simba was a beloved figure at the high school and in the surrounding neighborhood for years, once the subject of a school art show and internet fame, always a furry friend to students in need. He died Wednesday at what Shutts estimated to be age 21.

“I’m glad he was my cat, but he was everybody’s cat,” Shutts said.

Simba was first adopted by a family on Oakland Avenue. An outdoor cat, he quickly became known to explore the surrounding neighborhood and the high school. Teachers and students welcomed his presence when he would follow the children in his family into the building.

“He’s like Mary’s little lamb,” Shutts said.

In 2013, Simba was dubbed the unofficial mascot of Westbrook High School and was used as the theme of the annual art show fundraiser. Eileen Shutts says she still has a painting of him from the show hanging in her daughter’s bedroom.

When Simba’s owner was planning to move away from Westbrook, she didn’t want to tear the cat away from his neighborhood. Shutts agreed to adopt him so he could remain in the area. That was more than a dozen years ago.

Shutts said Simba liked to be at home with his family, maybe napping on the warm bathroom radiator or snuggling with her daughter in bed. But when the family left for work in the morning, Simba wanted to get out too. In the neighborhood, Simba would show on up people’s patios or supervise their yardwork. At the school, he would sit next to students doing their homework, wander the halls during Westbrook City Council meetings and curl up in his own chair in the guidance office. In his older years in particular, Simba liked to cuddle, Shutts said.

“He had a calmness to him,” she said. “He liked being petted and scratched. The guidance people told me that seemed to be really good for kids.”

In 2013, the high school chose Simba as the theme of an annual art show fundraiser, declaring him an unofficial mascot. Their work with likenesses of the orange tabby made a few hundred dollars more than in years past, according to an American Journal story at the time. National news outlets like the Huffington Post picked up the story about Simba, sharing photos of him trotting through the halls or sleeping on students’ books. Shutts still has an original painting from the fundraiser hanging in her daughter’s bedroom.

Westbrook High School posted about Simba on its Facebook page last week.

“Thank you for the peace and happiness you brought our students and staff for so many years,” the post reads.

In her own Facebook post, Shutts asked people to make donations to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Simba’s memory. Since announcing the news, Shutts said she has received cards and well wishes from people all over Westbrook.

“It really helps with the loss,” she said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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