A year ago, a cat now known as Valentino couldn't even open his eyes and he sat in a cage crying — now he's almost unrecognizable.
Valentino had had a terrible case of sarcoptic mange. His eyes were swollen and sealed shut. All he could do at the Los Angeles animal shelter where he was being kept was whimper.
But someone heard his cries for help.
"He reached out with his little paw and made the tiniest meow,” Elaine Seamans, founder of the At-Choo Foundation, told The Dodo at the time. "It was like he was screaming without verbalizing it: 'Please help me.’"
Even though sarcoptic mange can be transmitted to human beings, Seamans picked up Valentino nevertheless, just to comfort him. And her act of kindness made Valentino's story go viral.
"When I picked him up, he put his little head on my shoulder," Seamans said. "That was it. I had to get him out.”
Seamans got in touch with Toby Wisneski, founder of Leave No Paws Behind, who agreed to take Valentino in and try to find him a home once he was recovered.
"There are times when it's not an option to keep walking," Seamans said. "You just have to stop. This was one of those times.”
Valentino proved to be a little fighter. He got treatment for his illness and soon opened his eyes again.
When he looked around, he discovered he was surrounded by people who were determined to give him the happy ending he deserved.
And soon enough that happy ending came.
At the end of March, Valentino was well enough to try life in a foster home.
Los Angeles resident Tania Menjivar had seen a video of Valentino on the Facebook page for Leave No Paws Behind — and she was hooked.
"When I saw Valentino crying in his cage in the video, I was like, I need to foster this cat," Menjivar told The Dodo.
Oddly enough, Menjivar had never been a cat person — she'd always preferred dogs. But several years before, she had found a senior cat in the middle of the street who was in such bad shape veterinarians said she had mere weeks left to live. This cat, who came to be called Kitty, ended up living for five years under Menjivar's care.
Obviously, this dog person seemed to have a knack for taking care of needy cats.
Kitty had passed away a year before Menjivar saw the video clip of Valentino crying — and she felt a similar urgency to help.
Valentino came to stay with Menjivar at the end of March last year. Five weeks later, she was formally adopting him. And the rest, as they say, is history.
"Valentino is doing AMAZING today," Frank Wisneski, VP of operations for Leave No Paws Behind, who recently visited Valentino for a photo shoot for his rescue anniversary, told The Dodo.
Menjivar has noticed that Valentino, who is estimated to be about 3 years old, is not afraid of anything.
When he's met dogs belonging to Menjivar's friends he just walks right up to them. He loves his perch on the windowsill and also loves to roll around on the stoop of his forever home as Menjivar supervises (he's an indoor cat).
"He's spoiled rotten, and a little chubby," Menjivar said, adding he's quite the foodie. "He wakes me up at 6 in the morning for food — we snuggle for about a half hour and then I feed him ... He loves it."
With a little love and a lot of help, Valentino went from a cat crying in his cage to the king of his forever home with a long, happy life ahead of him.
“He's such a little nugget," Menjivar added.