Sonrisa’s quest for smiles

Published 7:57 pm Monday, June 23, 2014

Right about now, a kitten named Sonrisa is settling into her new home with Victoria Rusu and her fiancé.

Rusu works as the assistant to Operation Smile co-founder and chief executive officer William Magee, and Sonrisa — Spanish for smile — is a gray tabby with a cleft lip.

The purr-fect pairing means Sonrisa, also known as “Sonny,” is destined to become a mascot for Operation Smile, supporting its mission of going around the world and fixing cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities.

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Sonrisa probably won’t become an international traveler, but Rusu said the cat will spend a lot of time at the charity’s offices in Virginia Beach, as well as visiting patients at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

Kudos need to go to the Animal Clinic of Eagle Harbor in Carrollton, which set up the union after being unable to find a forever home for the kitten that was deemed suitable.

Sonrisa — named Penelope when she arrived at the clinic — had been fostered several times, but folks wanted to keep her because she was different, said Ellen Norris, the clinic’s hospital manager.

Rusu said that while folks consider kittens with cleft lips or palates cute, it’s a different situation for children who suffer from similar problems.

Cleft lips or palates among newborns are more common than most people think, Rusu said. In affluent nations like America, the deformities are fixed within the first five or six months of a child’s life. It’s a different story in underserved regions of the world, but Operations Smile works hard to turn that around.

The charity reports it has provided 220,000 free surgeries for children and young adults since 1982. The organization also trains local medical professionals in developing nations to provide the procedures.

Sonrisa was born with a special smile, and now her life’s journey brings her to a special role. Affectionate and lively, her personality should be well suited to it.

“She might be one of the sweetest we have ever had,” Norris said.

Sonrisa’s cleft lip has gotten more pronounced as she’s gotten older, according to Norris. “The only real problem is we have to keep her separate when eating, because she’s a little bit slower,” she said.

It’s good to know that a special pet will be helping a special cause.

If you want to follow Sonrisa’s progress and work with Operation Smile, visit or find him on Facebook at