Oskar the Blind Cat is living proof that one life can make a difference. After Mick and Bethany Szydlowski rescued Oskar as a kitten in July 2011, videos of the little blind tabby learning to play with his first toy — a ball with a bell — and “fighting” a hair dryer went viral. Since then, Oskar has been inspiring people to consider adopting special-needs cats by appearing on TV shows such as Good Morning America, sharing information about adoptable cats on his popular social media channels, and starring in videos with his sighted BFF and fellow rescue kitty, Klaus.
In addition to spreading awareness that special-needs cats can be terrific pets, Oskar inspires people to live life to the fullest. He visits blind children and adults in classrooms and is an honorary member of the National Federation of the Blind. His picture book series — available in Braille — won a 2016 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for working to improve the lives of the blind throughout the United States. In 2017, an astronaut at the International Space Station will read Oskar’s latest book Oskar & Klaus: The Mission to Cataria to classrooms on Earth through a program called Story Time From Space. Soon an Oskar plush toy with a white cane, a symbol of independence for people with vision impairment, will hit the market for educators.
As his dad quipped, “Oskar is a busy little dude!”
We caught up with dad — Mick Szydlowski — just before he and Oskar left for Southern California to support Walk a Mile in Our Paws: A Multi-CAT-ural and Special-Needs Cat Show hosted by Milo’s Sanctuary & Special-Needs Cat Rescue on Oct 22. The nonprofit rescue organization hosts the event to spread the word that homeless cats with disabilities deserve a second chance – a cause near and dear to Szydlowski’s heart.
Why did you adopt Oskar?
I found Oskar on a small farm when he was a kitten, completely by accident. Although I was not searching for a new cat at the time, I instantly fell in love with his relaxed and happy demeanor. He was born completely blind, but he was capable of hunting bugs, running around the property, and being very playful. Living outdoors on a farm, however, has its dangers, and I decided to bring him home with me.
Had you ever had a blind cat before?
Oskar was the ﬁrst blind cat that I ever encountered. I knew nothing about raising blind animals, and I was a bit anxious about what to expect. Oskar quickly proved that it’s not that much different from caring for any sighted cat.
What is your favorite aspect of life with Oskar?
Oskar shows me daily that blindness is not what deﬁnes him; he always ﬁnds a way to get what he wants, even if means ﬁnding an alternative method of doing so. For example, he may not jump to the top of the counter because he can’t see it, but the second you leave a box or stool anywhere close to it, he climbs up in a matter of seconds … and eats your lunch!
Does he ever get fan mail from people he’s helped or inspired?
Yes, he does — and quite a bit of it, too! The simple act of sharing the photos and videos of his daily antics has changed the perception of many, many people around the world about what is required to have a happy pet.
Has Oskar changed your perception of blind cats or special needs cats in general?
My perception of all special-needs animals has changed because of Oskar, and because of the vast social media network we built that introduced me to countless other unique cats, dogs, horses, and more. I feel that they are all capable of a comfortable, happy, and long life with just a little bit of extra care. I no longer feel sorry or sad for special-needs animals — I actually feel immense joy to see them thriving against the odds.
What drew you to attend the Milo’s Sanctuary Walk A Mile In Our Paws event with Oskar?
I don’t take Oskar out of the house too often, but knowing that his presence may attract more attention to the event makes it worthwhile for me. Milo’s is helping to redefine what makes a great pet. A pedigree cat or dog from a breeder may be a model pet, but you’ll never have the same adventures like you would with a special-needs mutt … I want more people to see how amazing special-needs animals really are, and Oskar does enjoy showing oﬀ.
Are you looking forward to the special-needs cat show at the event?
Absolutely! I would probably try to attend for that reason alone even if Oskar wasn’t a part of the event.
How does Oskar do traveling from Seattle to an event like this? Does he like meeting strangers?
Oskar does very well on the road, although he really doesn’t travel that much. He’s very mellow by nature, and he feels safe when he’s close to me. I would never try to sedate him or give him medication to relax him, so the key to keeping him calm is bringing a piece of “home” along. His travel carrier is always out in the house, and he uses it as his bed quite often. He goes on car rides around Seattle from time to time in his carrier, so he’s comfortable with motion. At the event, he will probably just sleep in his big bed, and gladly allow the fans to pet him, too.
What advice do you have for someone considering adopting a cat with special needs?
Make sure you can make a lifetime commitment, take the time to do research or seek advice about the unique condition of the pet, and then dive right in. You won’t ever regret the decision.