Villé, the cat, has a face only a mother could love.

And boy, does Lesley Saunders love him.

The 10-year-old Devon Rex has one eye, no whiskers, minimal teeth and very little fur.

"I love him to pieces. He's not like an ordinary cat," Saunders said yesterday when the Bay of Plenty Times visited her Greerton home.

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That is of course abundantly clear the first time you set eyes on Villé, who this week won the Addiction Pet Foods Pet of the Year title, by public vote.

His story struck a chord with Bay of Plenty animal lovers during the competition, which was run by NZME.

"I just haven't stopped smiling," Saunders said.

"I've been crying with happiness. Villé and I and a lot of people are just absolutely thrilled."

Villé and Saunders have been through a lot together, so this award means a lot.

Saunders, who is now 63, was living in Christchurch when her then-husband brought home the tiny kitten, only weeks old, in 2008.

She said the ball of fur had been abandoned and was riddled with ringworm.

"He's always been a mystery."

Villé, whose nickname is now Mr Wrinkles, was put into quarantine in Saunders' bathroom.

"I bathed and put ointment on him for three months, morning and night. I think my devotion to him started then," she said.

Villé was a long-haired Persian. At least that's what Saunders thought he was.

His teeth wouldn't grow. He had an operation on one of his eyes. Then all of his whiskers broke off.

A further transformation unfolded during and after the Christchurch earthquakes.

Villé, who was found hiding inside a couch after one of the earthquakes, started to lose all his fur.

It turned out he was part Devon Rex and that was beginning to show more and more.

"We kept thinking, what the hell's happened to this cat – has some alien come down and swapped him? Because that's what it's like, we looked back on the photos and went, how does that go to this?"

Villé the 10-year-old Devon Rex has one eye, no whiskers, minimal teeth and very little fur. Photo / John Borren
Villé the 10-year-old Devon Rex has one eye, no whiskers, minimal teeth and very little fur. Photo / John Borren

Then, after moving to Tauranga four years ago, Villé lost one of his eyes to feline herpes virus, which had caused a painful eye ulcer.

He improved drastically after that but last year he almost lost the other eye for the same reason.

Tauranga's Holistic Vets surgically removed one eye and saved the other.

"We've done all that we can to preserve his good looks," veterinarian and director Dr Liza Schneider said.

"He's an absolute character. He's a really sweet fella when you get to know him well. But he does have a pretty vicious bark. He'll tell you off really, really quickly."

She said the trauma Villé went through in Christchurch could well have played a role in his transformation.

"Stress does a whole lot of things to a whole lot of animals. I don't think it's a pathological condition as such, I think he's part Devon Rex which can give him a little bit more of a sparse coat."

Saunders is adamant the stress and trauma played a part.

When Villé had the operation last year and his only good eye was covered, he was completely blind for three weeks.

When the patch was removed, Saunders said it was like he was a different cat with a new lease on life.

However, his immune system is still not good. He is a high-maintenance kitty.

"He has got attitude; he can hiss," Saunders said.

She clips Villé's nails every three or four months, cleans out his ears, makes all his food by hand, and takes him for walks.

Villé is "harness trained" and exercises both morning and night.

"Does most of his business outside," Saunders said.

"I used to treat him like a dog because he acts like a dog. He doesn't meow. He talks. They call it chirping. That's what Devon Rexes do, they chirp."

Saunders' daughter – who named Villé after the lead singer of her favourite Finnish band, HIM – has even set up a Facebook page for the cat.

It has attracted followers from around the world, some of whom voted for Villé in the Pet of the Year competition. The Devon Rex community is strong.

At one point yesterday, Saunders referred to herself as "the crazy cat lady". Her house – full of cat art and cat paraphernalia – aligns somewhat with that.

Three weeks ago she got a tattoo on her arm of a one-eyed cat with no whiskers.

But she's not crazy. She's just a proud, doting mother.