Nation & World

75-year-old shelter volunteer naps with cats, wins hearts - and big donations

A 75-year-old man in Wisconsin has taken the meaning of “sleeping on the job” to a most adorable level.

The folks who run the Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Green Bay, Wisconsin posted photos on Facebook this week of one of their volunteers, Terry Lauerman, taking naps with cats at the shelter.

In one photo he is sleeping on a big green sofa, a black cat snoozing between his legs. In another he’s slumped on a loveseat, one arm wrapped lovingly around the kitty beside him.

“We are so lucky to have a human like Terry,” the shelter wrote on Tuesday. “Terry just came along one day and introduced himself. He said he’d like to brush cats. Eventually it became everyday.

“He brushes all of the cats, and can tell you about all of their likes and dislikes. He also accidentally falls asleep most days. We don’t mind – Cats need this! Terry is a wonderful volunteer. #nappingencouraged #grateful.”

The shelter identified Lauerman as Terry.

Just Terry.

Like Elvis.

And very quickly, “Terry” became an internet rock star.

The shelter’s post scooped up thousands of shares and responses and comments - more than 5,000 comments and 17,000 shares as of Friday.

National media came calling, spreading the story of the cat napper far and wide.

According to the shelter, people have written poems about Lauerman and are calling on him to run for president, a prospect that made Lauerman laugh out loud when he heard about it.

The shelter’s founder, Elizabeth Feldhausen, told People magazine that Lauerman just showed up about six months ago and volunteered to brush the cats. Now he’s there about three hours every day, she said.

All that brushing and loving makes for one sleepy volunteer.

“It’s the craziest thing in the world,” Lauerman said in a Facebook Live interview posted on Thursday. “I fall asleep a lot, but I never felt that this was going to happen with any circumstance like this.”

Turns out the shelter has a story of its own, too.

Feldhausen told Upworthy that the shelter she started takes in cats who might not otherwise have a home.

“We rescue cats with disabilities and special needs — anywhere from anxiety to paralysis to diabetes to thyroid problems,” she told Upworthy. “Anything that could put them at risk at another shelter.”

The shelter is cage-free and the cats are allowed to wander as they please, she said. The cats have bedrooms. Those photos of Lauerman sleeping were taken in the living room.

“It helps them a lot to be socialized,” Feldhausen told Upworthy. “So we’ve set it up in a way as to be psychologically pleasing to these animals who have been through so much.”

With all the media attention over the last few days, not much has been revealed about Lauerman’s own background, other than his love of cats and that he is a retired Spanish teacher.

“I would describe him as a genuinely kind and humble person. He’s like a grandpa to all of us, and the cats,” Feldhausen told People magazine.

“Cat Grandpa” is one of the nicknames the internet has blessed him with. It appears to have stuck.

Lauerman brings his own brush to work with him. “He says it’s his magic brush,” Feldhausen told Upworthy.

She told the Green Bay Press Gazette that Lauerman is “able to get cats that normally don’t like to be touched, to jump up on his lap and want to be held and brushed. He knows all of their names and all of their personalities.”

As famous as he’s become in just a few short days, Lauerman is more interested in grabbing that attention for the shelter, and the cats, Feldhausen told “Good Morning America.”

She set up a Facebook fundraiser to handle the flood of donations that are still pouring in because he’s charmed so many people. She told “GMA” the donate button had a “meltdown.”

Donors left messages for “Terry,” too.

“Terry, you have no idea how special you are.”

“In honor of Holly - our 16 year old cat. If only there were more Terrys in the world.”

“Terry, you and the cats are giving me life! Keep doing what you’re doing. Love.”

In two days the shelter raised more than $20,000, Feldhausen told the Press Gazette. The hordes of new visitors and donations temporarily crashed the shelter’s website with nearly 1,000 people per second visiting it at one point, she told the newspaper.

In his Facebook Live interview, Lauerman expressed gratitude on behalf of the cats.

“We’re thankful,” he said. “All the kitties are thankful for your donations and we continue to keep them happy with petting and with their daily needs being met, and thank you so much for your support.”