Meet Chase, the Cat Without a Face

09/03/2009 at 02:00 PM EDT

Meet Chase, the Cat Without a Face
Melissa Smith's 4-year-old cat loves to eat, likes to groom animal and human friends alike, and is as curious as they come. But Chase, named for the vet clinic that saved her life, is definitely not like most felines: She's missing most of her face.

In 2005, Smith was working as a veterinary assistant at the Chevy Chase Animal Clinic in Lexington, Ky., when a man brought in an injured kitten that had likely been hit by a car. The kitten's face was crushed, and a back leg was so damaged it had to be amputated. The clinic helped with some surgeries – via visits to the University of Tennessee – but there was no replacing the cat's eyelids. Tissue on the cat's face also "sloughed off" due to the trauma, leaving Chase looking much like a burn victim.

But the resilient cat went home with Smith at nights and weekends, and roamed the clinic during the day. About two years ago, when Smith married and moved to Omaha, Neb., she took Chase along. "I wanted to," she says. "She was my cat." The 28-year-old has kept well-wishers – who sent letters and donations Chase's way while she was recovering – updated on the cat's progress via Facebook (she has more than 750 fans) and a blog with pictures that are at once ordinary and arresting.

Smith, who's married to an Air Force captain, has a 3-month-old son and lives with two Italian greyhounds and another cat who's "good friends" with Chase. Smith keeps Chase inside, and administers regular drops to keep her exposed eyes moist. Even so, "she has really good vision." Chase is missing a face, but little else: "She's just the sweetest cat," says Smith. Chase was jealous of the baby at first, but now "wants to snuggle," says Smith. "I think he's growing on her."

NOTE: The images of Chase's face can be quite startling, to see them on her blog click here.

See more amazing rescues on PEOPLE Pets:
Amazing Rescue! Baby Elephant Saved After Falling in a Manhole
Safe & Sound: Pit Bull Thrown Off Bridge Gets Adopted

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