No one knows exactly where this lovable orange cat named Tombi came from — but there is no doubt at all that he has found the place where he belongs.
Last month, Tombi appeared on the grounds of a public elementary school in the city of Izmir, Turkey. Unlike most stray cats, who can be quite skittish, Tombi was friendly and outgoing — walking up to kids outside seeking attention and pets.
But Tombi didn’t stop there.
After a couple of weeks of hanging out exclusively in the school’s garden, Tombi apparently decided to try his paws at a formal education. For a street-smart cat, the third grade seemed like a good place to start.
“He came into our classroom,” teacher Özlem Pınar Ivaşcu told The Dodo. “The children liked him very much.”
And just like that, Tombi became part of Mrs. Ivaşcu’s class.
Having a cat prowling around the classroom might seem like it would be wholly a distraction for young students, potentially hindering their learning — but Ivaşcu found that Tombi was having the opposite effect.
Seeing the cat’s playful curiosity had caused her kids to become more excited to be in class.
Ivaşcu’s students used to run and horse around in the classroom between lessons. Now, with a cat around to engage them, they have been better able to stay focused. Even the morning bell has a more pleasant ring to it — all thanks to Tombi.
“The children come on time to school, and they are taking care of Tombi,” Ivaşcu said. “This is good for them.”
It’s also good for Tombi.
Not only does the cat now have a safe place to sleep and spend his days, with bowls full of food and water to call his own, he has dozens of new friends looking out for his best interests. Ivaşcu has taken Tombi to the vet to make sure he’s healthy and gotten him vaccinated.
Things in Ivaşcu’s class had never been better — but then a problem threatened to bring it to an end.
After learning that a stray cat had free run of the class, one student’s parents lodged a complaint with school officials, saying that it could pose a health risk. Administrators then told İvaşcu that that Tombi had to go.
The class was devastated — and the cat was too.
“We found a home for Tombi and he stayed three days there, but he was not happy. He stopped eating,” İvaşcu said. “So I took him in at my house, but also here he was not very happy.”
Tombi’s friends at the school even wrote letters to try and cheer him up.
Seeing that the cat wasn’t getting better, İvaşcu decided to write about his sad situation on social media. From there, word about Tombi spread like wildfire.
“The story got a lot of attention and support on all TV news,” İvaşcu said. “I had a lot of support from many people, including from my manager and the director of education in İzmir.”
Even the parent who complained had a change of heart. She wanted the cat back in class, too.
And sure enough, school officials gave the OK for Tombi to return.
“The children were very happy to have Tombi back,” İvaşcu said. “And he is happy again to be with the kids.”
The life and struggles of one former stray cat might not amount to much for some people, but Tombi means the world to the 33 students in İvaşcu’s third grade class — and other kids in Turkey might soon know what it’s like to have a feline classmate.
Since Tombi’s story broke, a grassroots campaign has been gaining steam across the country calling for every class to adopt a cat of their own.