When Sinbad the cat showed up at the Anti-Cruelty Society, an animal shelter in Chicago, he weighed more than 11 pounds. Five pounds of that was fur.
The 8-year-old Persian’s hair was gray, matted and laced with excrement and maggots. It was a shocking and stinking sight, the result of years of lack of grooming and neglect. Shelter workers spent several hours shaving off part of Sinbad’s fur, then sedated him for a second, closer-to-the-skin shaving session.
“It really did look like he was dragging a carpet behind him,” said Colette Bradley, a spokeswoman for the society. “He was tired, you could tell.”
But in the six weeks since Sinbad’s arrival at the shelter, he’s made a remarkable comeback. His fur has started to grow back — and it’s white and fluffy. He’s been adopted by a shelter employee, Elliott Serrano. And in a most unlikely turn of events — or, perhaps, the most likely of all — he’s become a social media darling.
Sinbad, with the help of Serrano, has grown an Instagram following of more than 7,200 people in the past two weeks — hardly Lil’ Bub levels, but not bad for a newbie to the very wide world of Internet cats. He’s got nearly that number of followers on Facebook. The backstory helps, as does his Grumpy Catlike face.
“I just got a message from Uzbekistan, a direct message on Facebook,” Serrano said in an interview. “They said they were very happy I had Sinbad. That they once had a Persian, too, but it had a liver infection, and they knew the person who had Sinbad before wasn’t a bad person. And then they just said: ‘Thank you.’ ”
Sinbad’s rebound began in early December when a utility worker visiting the cat’s former home noticed him in the basement. She called the Anti-Cruelty Society, which adopts out more than 5,000 dogs and cats and conducts 2,000 cruelty investigations a year, Bradley said. It sent over investigators, and the owner, who Bradley said was “just really unaware of the needs of a Persian cat, and in failing mental health,” agreed to give him up.
Beneath the dingy fur, Sinbad was underweight, at less than seven pounds. But even so, Bradley said, “as soon as that hair was off, he was going up to people in the room and rubbing up against them.”
Serrano, who manages the shelter’s humane education programs and describes himself as “a middle-aged man,” wasn’t planning to travel for the holidays, so he took Sinbad home when the shelter closed for a few days. He soon decided to make the relationship permanent.
Not that it was smooth sailing from the start. Yes, Sinbad was loving. But even after the shave, he remained fragrant for a couple weeks, Serrano said.
“The first week he was with me, he would lie on me, and he was still kind of smelly,” Serrano said. I was like, “Oh buddy, you’re a nice guy, but we’ve gotta take care of the smell.”
These days, Sinbad smells fine, weighs in at just over eight pounds and is feisty, said Serrano, who on Tuesday posted a photo of the cat after he’d jumped onto his new owner’s shoulders. And Serrano said he’s taken to the role of being “like his handler. I’m his agent.”
That’s in part because Sinbad is a poster cat for what Serrano does all day: teach children about responsible pet ownership and having positive relations with animals — and people like Sinbad’s former owner, who Serrano said was an example of how elderly people are also sometimes neglected.
Sinbad “is the perfect story to tell and share,” Serrano said. “He’s a perfect example of what it’s like when people step up and show they care and intervene for those in need.”