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For about six months, Hiro the cat howled and cried when his adoptive mom and dad weren't in sight. He followed them around the house during the day, and at night, when it was time for bed, Hiro needed to be petted in order to settle in — then he'd kick and squirm in his sleep.
"Like he was trying to get out of a bag," Hiro's mom, who asked to be identified just by her first name — Jennifer — told TODAY. "I would gently comfort him to wake up so it would stop."
It is possible that Hiro was dreaming about escaping from a bag. That's how he was discovered, just over a year ago — wrapped up in a bag secured inside a backpack, then thrown in the garbage, like an old sandwich wrapper.
The cat, just clinging to life, was rushed for emergency treatment to to Alberta Animal Services, a shelter and animal care agency in the western province of Alberta in Canada. There, the vets discovered he'd been subjected to almost unimaginable abuse.
Hiro was suffering from head trauma, a broken pelvis, neurological problems and blindness; he was also dangerously thin and frail. Some of these were old injuries, and some were very new. On top of that, Hiro had nearly suffocated inside the bag.
Even through the pain, even after this cruelty, Hiro still purred and sought affection from the people who were working so hard to help him survive.
"He loves everyone," said Alberta Animal Services' director of operations, Erica Coomber. "He's an inspiration for sure."
Folks from AAS named the cat Hiro, after a character from the television show "Heroes."
There were days Coomber wasn't sure Hiro would make it, but with time, care and surgery, he not only lived but thrived.
Hiro began to eat well, and even regained his sight. His neurological problems didn't completely go away, but outside of what Coomber describes as something of "a wobble," he did remarkably well.
"He's a fighter," Coomber said.
Jennifer and her husband, James, were moved by the news stories about Hiro, and Alberta Animal Service's many Facebook posts about his progress.
"I imagined his fears and his abuse," said Jennifer, who was often moved to tears.
The couple made generous donations to Hiro's care, then reached out about the possibility of adoption. Jennifer was convinced that some other lucky family would get to bring him home, but Coomber was impressed with Jennifer and James. She liked when they came to see him at AAS several times, and that they were willing to provide whatever treatment he'd need going forward.
When Coomber brought Hiro to their house for a test visit, he seemed comfortable, which made her comfortable.
"He just fit in," Coomber said.
The couple adopted Hiro last July, and now call him Hiro Stanley — that latter part is for Jennifer's father, who, 22 years ago, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of blood cancer. At the time, he was given two years to live. He is still alive.
Jennifer likes to think that her father and her cat are "both too stubborn" to be taken like that.
Hiro is now leader of the household's three cats. He is spoiled and adored, as he should be — Jennifer and James are even building a home on 30 acres in Saskatchewan, which will have a special enclosed half-acre yard for the cats' enjoyment. Hiro seems satisfied; he is loving and happy, and he purrs "nonstop," said Jennifer.
Not that Hiro's time at home has been without any troubles. In November, he began drooling to the point of dehydration. Then another of the couple's cats started drooling, too. The vets gave them all kinds of diagnostic tests, and still aren't sure what happened. The cats are home, and seem well, though it's never certain there won't be other health scares.
And as for Hiro's sleep issues? He now rests well at night, and has for the last few months. There are no more nightmares, and no more kicking. He "seldom fusses and is not as wild," said Jennifer. Instead of requiring pets and comfort from her to go to sleep, Hiro prefers cuddling with one of the family's other cats at the foot of the bed.
The person who abused Hiro likely won't be brought to justice. Coomber said there are leads about the person's identity, but not enough evidence to prosecute. She hopes the publicity about Hiro will influence that person to change. She hopes the person will "have the heart" not to abuse another animal.
Hiro, meanwhile, will be acknowledged as resilient champion he is. To celebrate the anniversary of his rescue, on June 17, he will be the featured guest at the Alberta Animal Center's "Super 'Hiro'" adoption event.
Jennifer can't wait to show Hiro's fans how well he is doing, and to raise awareness about the horror of animal abuse and the joys of adoption. She is so excited about this occasion that she's made tiny capes for the shelter's adoptable cats to wear.
"As soon as Hiro was named, I believed it was perfect because of his relentless fight against the odds to win his battle to live. He really is a super Hiro," she said. "All heroes deserve a cape."