Terry Lauerman never imagined he could go viral for taking a nap. But the 75-year-old did just that last week.
The retired Spanish teacher has a habit of falling asleep when he comes in to brush cats at Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Employees at the no-kill sanctuary, which specializes in rehabilitating cats with special needs, decided to post pictures of Lauerman taking catnaps with his furry friends on Facebook, and the photos are melting hearts everywhere.
It all started about six months ago, when Lauerman walked into the sanctuary with a brush and treats at the ready. Right away, he was eager to lend a helping hand, according to the sanctuary's founder, Elizabeth Feldhausen.
"A cat would throw up and I’d be on the phone and I’d be talking to a customer, and Terry would say, 'Let me get that,'" Feldhausen told TODAY.
The self-professed "cat man" started coming in more often until, eventually, he was stopping by every day the shelter was open to tend to the kitties for a few hours.
Lauerman, who had four cats growing up, has worked with animals before, but never in an environment quite like this.
"I had worked for a humane society as a volunteer, and of course all their animals were caged," Lauerman said. "When I saw this place, and it had no cages, I decided this is a much better place for pet socialization."
But the cats aren't just socializing with each other. Lauerman has made some feline friends of his own. His favorite cat, Louis, was adopted shortly after the Facebook photo of the two snoozing, with Louis' paw outstretched over Lauerman's leg, went viral.
"Of course I was happy that he went to a good home, but of course I had been bonded with him, and it was hard for me to see him go," Lauerman said.
Still, adoption is Lauerman's hope for all of the cats.
"All of the cats need a safe place where they can recover," Lauerman added. "That’s what I enjoy doing, trying to get them as healthy as they can be and available for adoption."
Lauerman has already made some significant strides towards that goal.
A fundraiser started in his name has raised nearly $60,000, according to Feldhausen. The money will cover the cost of surgeries for some cats, foot the bill for the sanctuary's operating costs for the next year and allow the sanctuary to build more rooms so it can take in more cats.
One thing's for sure: The sanctuary doesn't want to get rid of its resident cat grandpa anytime soon.
"For the cats, I think that he is a safe place for them to go," Feldhausen said. "I think he makes them feel secure, and for us he is just a very calming presence to have around.
"He’s just a very soothing person and he makes everybody happy and relaxed."