Ready for his closeup: Lazarus finds platform for tolerance message on national television

Nathan Baker • Feb 4, 2018 at 3:57 PM

A local feline celebrity appeared on television screens across the nation Thursday, showing viewers that being different doesn’t mean you’re broken or ugly.

Lazarus, a cat whose cleft palate left him without an upper lip and nose, was featured with his person, Dr. Cindy Chambers, on the Animal Planet show “Cute as Fluff,” in a segment about the beauty of uniqueness.

“I’m always pretty excited to see how he’s showcased,” Chambers said hours before the show aired at 8 p.m. “I know how powerful his story has been, and sometimes how he can change how people think of themselves and how the community thinks about disability.”

Chambers, a special education faculty member in East Tennessee State University’s Clemmer College of Education, was inspired by Lazarus’ unconventional appearance and general zeal for life to teach lessons of tolerance and understanding.

She, with the Washington County Humane Society, started Friends of Lazarus, a group with several programs, like a reading program by which children learning to read practice on the cat, a willing, non-judgemental listener. Friends of Lazarus also offers an internship program at the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter that allows people with disabilities to gain work experience.

The television appearance wasn’t his only brush with fame. Lazarus enjoys a fair amount of celebrity on social media, and was featured in Modern Cat magazine in 2014.

The film crew from Animal Planet followed Lazarus and Chambers for a weekend, attending a “Unique is Beautiful” they gave to the Power of Performing Arts cast and then, to a Barktoberfest event at the Humane Society.

Chambers said the crew seemed impressed by their work advocating for tolerance and understanding.

For the big debut Thursday, Chambers planned to watch the show with Humane Society President Lucinda Grandy, a longtime friend and supporter of her and Lazarus.

Before knowing how the show turned out, she said she was excited to see Lazarus’ programs and message showcased, but a little nervous, because, after all, he’s her baby.

“The point is not to think of ‘this poor cat,’ it’s to see past the fact that he has no nose, no upper lip, and a see cat who has accomplished life,” she said. “What I hope they gain from him, is they see past disability, and find ways they might contribute in their own communities.”

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