After three years in residence, Morpheus the shelter cat has finally left the Haines Animal Rescue Kennel.

The roughly 19-year-old shorthair with brilliant blue eyes died in his sleep Sunday night at HARK’s Small Tracts Road facility.

Morpheus became a permanent installation at HARK in recent years, taking reign of the office and greeting visitors from his perch on the front desk as the organization’s “ambassador” and “mascot.”

“He was so friendly, but on his own terms. Very dignified,” said former volunteer Kim VanNostrand. “A lot of people think ‘shelter cat’ and assume it’s a lonely cat living in a cage. Morpheus was not that – he owned that place.”

Executive director Tracy Mikowski said Morpheus came to HARK more than a decade ago, and was eventually adopted. The man who adopted him, however, developed immune system-related health problems and had to surrender him back to HARK in 2013.

Morpheus was initially put back up for adoption, but his own health problems and associated medication requirements made him too high-maintenance for most prospective pet owners.

“He was pretty happy there as the greeter and took everything as his own, and we decided he was just not going to be a cat we were going to promote to adopt out,” Mikowski said.

So Morpheus became the face each HARK visitor saw when they came through the door. “He was like the HARK ambassador. I remember keying into the building, and he’d be right there – sitting on the counter, ready to greet me,” said Eileen McIver, who volunteered at HARK for more than three years.

“He was a great reading buddy,” McIver added. “Sometimes in the evening, I’d take a book to HARK and read with the animals. Since Morph was there for so long, I remember reading to him quite a few times. He always seemed to appreciate any company he could get.”

When a friend gave volunteer VanNostrand a book of patterns to make hats for cats, she knitted a “polar bear” hat for Morpheus, complete with little ears.

Asked if Morpheus liked the hat, Mikowski said: “Not particularly, but he was a good sport.”

VanNostrand, who now lives in Skagway, said she misses spending Sunday nights with the “wise, sage cat” and feeding him his favorite treats, Ocean Whitefish Temptations.

“He was always a fan of chin scratches and when he was in the mood, he would roll over for belly rubs,” she said.

Instead of thinking of Morpheus as belonging to no one and being stuck at the shelter, Mikowski said she thought of Morpheus as belonging to everyone.

“He was like everybody’s cat. Everybody who walked in the door, he was their cat,” she said.

On Monday, the local “Girls on the Run” youth group donated $150 raised in a recent bake sale to HARK. Mikowski said the organization will use the money to start a special fund in Morpheus’ memory to help older animals or those with issues that keep them from being readily adopted.

Though HARK is only open five days a week for four hours a day, Mikowski went in every morning to feed Morpheus and give him his medication.

“I’d walk in the door and he’d be waiting for me, or he’d be waiting in the window, looking out at me,” she said. “It’s going to be strange not having him around.”