Lazarus, owned by Dr. Cindy Chambers of Jonesborough, is one of two cats that will be honored in the publication.
“It’s amazing,” said Chambers, who was flying to Florida Tuesday during the final hours of the contest. “When I got on the plane, Laz was in the lead. When I got off the plane, he was down 100 votes. I worked my butt off to get people voting. It was crazy.”
Interestingly, both of the winning cats have prominent disabilities.
Chambers rescued Laz about a year ago after he was discovered abandoned at just 10 weeks old. The odds were stacked against the small, malnourished kitten. He was born with a cleft palate that left him without a nose or upper lip.
Today, after much medical attention and the vigilant eye of his loving owner, Lazarus is not only surviving, he is thriving.
“He is doing great. His health is really on a good path right now,” Chambers said. “He’s, day in day out, just a regular cat playing with his siblings and having fun. And he’s a mama’s boy. He loves me.”
Chambers, who teaches special education for educators at East Tennessee State University, has used Laz’s disability to help others learn to look past a disability or disfigurement to see the person — or in Laz’s case, the cat — behind it.
“Just like we don’t look at a person with a disability having a disability as the primary thing, we look at them as people with a personality and people loving them,” she said. “We look at these animals as having their own unique personality and places to contribute in people’s lives.”
That is precisely why Chambers entered Laz in the Modern Cat contest in the first place.
“I was looking on the Internet for ways to share Laz’s story and to communicate the importance, to share the value of an animal with a disability,” she said. “I see something like that as another opportunity to share Lazarus’ story in hoping it hits a wider audience, so people could see the value behind providing homes for animals, whether they’re animals with or without disabilities.”
“Before the contest, I think he had somewhere around 5,000 Facebook fans,” Chambers said of Laz’s Facebook page, Care For Lazarus. “I think he has grown over 10,000 fans since this contest.”
Joining Lazarus in the winner’s circle is a cat named Aerostotle, who had to have both eyes removed when he was just a kitten.
Like Lazarus, the blind cat has a Facebook page with thousands of followers.
Chambers said it is the Facebook fans who helped Laz earn his upcoming photo spread.
“The magazine said this was an unprecedented number of votes,” she said. “Their website couldn’t even handle it.”
As one of the contest winners, Lazarus will be the subject of a professional photo shoot and, of course, be featured in the pages of an upcoming issue of Modern Cat.
While the celebrity status is fun, Chambers said she and Laz have a bigger purpose.
“When we first told his story it was to get help and advice from other owners of pets with disabilities,” she said. “Now that he’s on a good trajectory, we want to give back.”
Currently, Chambers is trying to get two service projects off the ground.
“Learning with Laz” is a program where she and Laz will visit schools to teach kids about animal care, finding your own unique characteristics and how to react when you meet people who are different than you.
Meanwhile, “Laz’s Pet Supply Challenge” is up and running across the globe. The program aims to collect pet supplies for local animal shelters across the world while spreading awareness for the joy of caring for pets with special needs.
“We have 22 sites across the U.S. and other countries where they have set up boxes for the pet supply challenge,” Chambers said.
For more about Lazarus, visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CareForLazarus.