Elliott Serrano remembers the exact moment Sinbad went from foster cat to forever feline.
“It was the second day he was home with me. I was lying on my bed with Sinbad on my chest. He was just purring and chirping as I petted him. He looked at me with those big, round eyes, all content and happy with where he was,” says Serrano, a humane education manager for Illinois’ Anti-Cruelty Society, whose humane investigation team rescued the horrifically matted cat from a basement in December. “That was when I said to myself ‘aw heck, I can’t let him go.'”
Serrano took in the feline after he was freed from the 5 pounds of garbage-filled fur that he was carrying around for nobody-knows-how-long. (The cat’s former owner, an elderly man whose mental health was failing, relinquished the cat to the rescue after someone called in to report the animal’s living conditions.)
In the weeks following his rescue, Sinbad, who now has his own Instagram page — with over 6,000 followers! — has blossomed into a completely different cat. “He’s really taken to grooming himself and keeping clean,” Serrano tells PEOPLE. “I brush him regularly, and his coat has been coming in very well. I’m amazed that he’s recovered so quickly!”
After the heavy fur was removed, Sinbad’s back legs were atrophied and he was having a hard time walking around without falling, but within a few days he built up the muscles in his legs enough to jump up on furniture.
“Initially, he had a funny gait to his walk, but now he gets around okay,” Serrano says in an email. “He has a cute little ‘bunny hop’ that he does when he runs. I had put a makeshift set of stairs down to help him get into my bed, but just this week he jumped up without using them.”
Although he was severely underweight at just 6.63 lbs when he was rescued, the feline appears to be healthy now, his appetite is good and he’s been steadily gaining weight. He’s also become a pro at burying his business. “He acts like a cat that always knew how to use a litter box, which always amazes me,” Serrano adds.
Now Sinbad spends his time posing in clothes for Instagram shots — “he doesn’t like any outfits with sleeves,” Serrano has learned — chasing his own tail, and, of course, napping. The only evidence of any past trauma, Serrano says, is that he sometimes is a little hand shy. (“He’s getting better though, and is very outgoing with strangers.”)
The cat’s journey from neglected to love-of-somebody’s-life has made him a symbol for rescued animals everywhere. “Never ignore those in need,” is the important lesson Sinbad hopes people will learn from his transformation. “Always check in on the elderly and their pets. Speak up for those who are in trouble. And always be kind.”